Growing up with little means, creating financial opportunity for people of all backgrounds drives Kimberly Etchings.
Kimberly Etchings has never been afraid to take risks.
From finding her own way to attend a college she’d never visited across the country, to building her own financial advising firm, to taking two years off to reevaluate her career, Etchings has never led with fear. And so far, it’s led her to success.
“I can look back and say, yes, every time that I've either paused or took a risk, it has proven to be the right decision,” Etchings says.
It’s this risk-taking confidence that landed her a regional managing director role—leading an effort to build a financial advisor network from the ground up—at Principal® nearly 10 years ago. And what drove her to rise in the ranks to a national vice president with the company just six years later.
Starting from scratch
Growing up in Boston, Etchings was surrounded by a big family with a lot of love and little means. After her parents’ divorce, Etchings watched her mom work three jobs—never complaining.
“A big motivator for me early on in life was making sure that she never had to worry,” Etchings says, “and that I never had to depend on anybody else financially.”
Without money for a plane ticket, Etchings found her own way to university, arranging rides from Boston to Tuscan, Arizona, with friends and family. An avid athlete fascinated by how the body works, she began her college career studying nutrition biochemistry. But after being approached by an acquaintance who worked in the financial industry, she shifted her focus to financial advising.
“I'm so grateful for him because he saw something in me that never would have been on my radar.” Etchings says.
After graduating, Etchings worked for eight years as a financial advisor under a corporation before deciding to go out on her own as an advisor in the Tucson area. Hustling for a couple years, it was clear to Etchings that for greater opportunity, she’d have to move. So, she packed up for Los Angeles, leaving behind her book of business, knowing she’d again be starting from scratch.
“I took that risk and networked nonstop,” Etchings says. “And that's when I started to build out my team, brought in two business partners, and then we started to grow and built out a team of 11.”
As business hummed along, Etchings relocated to Boston and managed her practice flying from coast to coast monthly. Eventually, it caught up to her. “I kind of lost my passion for the day to day of being an advisor,” Etchings says.
“After about nine months of hemming and hawing about what I wanted to do, I sold my book of business to my partners, and I took some time off.”
Etchings gave herself a strict timeline—no less than six months and no more than 24 months—to figure out how to translate her passions to her next career.
Was she scared? Sure, she was worried about being able to connect to and find her purpose. But did she fear that she wouldn’t be successful? Absolutely not.
Focusing on long-term potential
After about two years of reflection and conversations with her business coach, Etchings realized her passion: leadership. She cold called a financial company and earned a leadership position. It was a huge financial step backward, “but I knew that if I took that risk, and I doubled down and just believed in what I could accomplish, ultimately I'd get to where I want to go,” Etchings says. And she did
Through this success, Principal got Etchings’ name and tapped her to help build and lead a group of advisors in the New England area. Understanding she was stepping into another career gamble with no immediate financial upside, Etchings wanted to make sure she got to know the people she’d be working with.
Talking to her potential future colleagues, Etchings says, “I remember thinking there was one person that was there for less than 15 years—only one. And I thought, wow, Principal must be doing something right if all these people are still here.”
Etchings took the job on one condition: If she delivered on the expectations, she’d be given the opportunity to take on more.
“I delivered after two years. And to the company's credit, I was asked to take on a regional vice president role,” Etchings says. “Two years after that, I was promoted to national vice president.”
Etchings credits her ability to see past the short term as a key factor in her success.
“The short-term decisions really can help dictate that long-term growth,” Etchings says. “And I feel like a lot of people step over dollars to pick up dimes because they're more concerned about immediate gratification versus the opportunity to look at what a future opportunity can be.”
Creating more equal opportunity
Etchings’ success is somewhat of an anomaly in the financial world. If not educated by an acquaintance all those years ago, Etchings says, she may have never even known about financial advising as a career possibility.
And even with this exposure, Etchings recalls being the only female and one of only three out of 32 trainees in her class who successfully became licensed to practice. “There was always something fundamentally outdated in bringing people on,” she says.
So, Etchings and colleagues created the Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship within the Principal Financial Network, a program designed to create an additional runway for diverse financial advisor candidates.
“We need to create opportunities and a pathway to bring people into the industry so they can help create financial stability for individuals and families from all different backgrounds,” Etchings says.
She thinks about her own family and the difference a financial advisor could’ve made for them. Getting out ahead despite this is “gratifying for sure,” Etchings says. But that doesn’t mean she’s satisfied.
“I’m always looking at what impact I can make next,” she says.