Ileana Dominguez had work ethic instilled in her at a young age when she accompanied her mother to the swap meet on the weekends to sell clothes, waking up at 3 a.m. to drive an hour south of her native Los Angeles.
The daughter of Cuban immigrants who fled to the United States in the 1960s, her parents lost nearly everything in their move. Her father was a chemical engineer and her mother went back to school and became a social worker. Aside from her social work, her mother always had what Dominguez calls a “side hustle.” From owning a boutique to selling jewelry and Avon products and of course selling clothes at the swap meet.
“We would set up tents and heavy clothing racks nearly every weekend from seven to 15 years old, it was hard labor,” Dominguez says. Her mother worked full time but these other ventures helped afford private school and as Dominguez puts it, “afford us the lifestyle that she thought we deserved.”
“Growing up and seeing my mom break her back that way, I always used to say there’s got to be an easier way to do this. Even though my mom provided everything for us, she wasn’t the best at saving or investing her money,” Dominguez adds.
While putting herself through college, Dominguez, 49, worked as a teller at Washington Mutual, later acquired by Bank of America, eventually learning about the world of investing from a private banker in the branch. She ultimately chose to get a degree in finance and worked her way up from bank teller to private banking before being recruited by Merrill Lynch. Nearly a decade later, she moved to UBS where she has spent the last dozen years, currently serving as senior vice president and managing $434 million with her four person team in Henderson, Nevada.
“Early on I would work 80 or even 100 hours a week cold calling and doing 401k plans. Being Spanish speaking opened the door with clients that needed help introducing Hispanic employees to 401k plans,” she says.
While her work ethic helped her ascent through the industry, she has also had to make adjustments, being a woman of color in an industry largely dominated by white men.
“After beating my head against the wall for 10 years, I’ve learned that men keep close relationships with their managers. They go golfing, they tell them what they have going on and so forth. Women expect that if they do a great job they will be recognized and that they should be afforded the opportunities that the men are,” Dominguez says. “If you don’t tell them what you have going on and brag about yourself, it’s out of sight, out of mind. That realization was the biggest change in my career because it taught me how to leverage the firm and show the firm that we can deliver.”
Having overcome the odds and found success in financial services, Dominguez has tried to open the door to others like her, having two other women on her team along with another woman of color.
“When we interview, we always make sure to interview not only women and people of color but everyone because we want to have diversity. Clients are diverse and are going to gravitate to a team they are comfortable with,” she adds. “It’s very important to have a diversified team because we all bring different things to the table.”
In her almost three decades of experience, Dominguez has seen changes to how clients approach the markets, with strategies around buying and holding falling out of favor as clients become less tolerant of large drawdowns from market volatility and bubbles. Therefore, in many client portfolios she has less downside exposure and will even go to cash in extreme circumstances.
Last January, before we were all talking about flattening the curve and social distancing, Dominguez was de-risking portfolios, having seen profit cycles coming down. That strategy became even more appealing as the virus began to take hold in China. Eventually they raised some cash and ultimately were able to take less than half the downside of the market at its worst.
Over the last year, Covid-19 has dominated much of our lives. This prompted Dominguez to start a monthly newsletter to keep clients posted on what is happening in the global macroeconomic picture as well as what the firm and team were thinking and their portfolios.
“Staying in front of them, coaching them through this was key, not going away or hiding,” she says. “When markets are bad, we have to make sure we call our clients and keep them up to date.”