December 26, 2013
by Brandon Brooks, Managing Editor,
Kenneth Miller, Asst. Managing Editor
& Jennifer Bihm, Sentinel Staff Writer
Nothing ever came easy for financial expert, Dega Nalayeh, but the Somalia native, who grew up in a family of 12 children, has made her transition into the billion dollar financial industry look as smooth as her beautiful skin coat.
Nalayeh migrated to Canada before arriving in the United States and her ability to learn quickly and move rapidly has been key in her escalation into the hierarchy of U.S. Trust where she continued to grow professionally in a male dominated industry.
“Dega is a motivating person,” said Miesha Carter, client sales and service officer, of her boss Nalayeh, who is a senior vice president private client advisor with U.S. Trust, a division of Bank of America.
“She stays on top of everything. She knows what she’s talking about. And, just to be able to get in front of clients and know what you’re talking about and when you’re able to come back and convey that to your employees and encourage them to do more and better, I think that’s her greatest attribute. “
Nalayeh began her career with Bank of America over 15 years ago, where she started in the Consumer Bank and quickly assumed higher responsibility. She joined Bank of America’s Private Bank in 2006. Currently, she oversees more than $2.5 billion of client assets.
“I deal primarily with individuals and wealthy families (minimum $3 million in liquid assets),” explained Nalayeh during a recent interview with the Sentinel.
“My job is to help them preserve their wealth. I also manage their risk while helping them accomplish their goals. My goal is to get to know that individual, get to know their family dynamics. [I get to know] their feelings about money. What is it that they want to accomplish? What legacy do they want to leave behind?”
Nalayeh was born the fifth of twelve children in Somalia, where her father had been a politician. He defected in the early 80s, she said, and sought political asylum in Canada.
“It was my father defecting from Somalia, which was home and finding out on the news, just like everyone else,” she recalled.
“Pretty much, the government came to our home and took everything away. It took about two years to get all of us out of the country one by one.”
She credits her success with clientele to being part of a large family.
“My 7 sisters and four brothers and I all grew up in the same household. I think that really makes me good at what I do,” Nalayeh said.
“It’s not just knowing the product, knowing the numbers… it’s about knowing human beings. A lot of what I do is like being a therapist, especially when you’re dealing with multi-generations of family and advising them on how to pass down wealth. There’s a lot of complexity when it comes to family.
“What gives me, I think [an edge] is I can walk into any meeting and I can read everyone. What are they thinking? What are their hot buttons?”
Nalayeh and one of her sisters left Canada for Atlanta where she began her career. They left Atlanta after two years for California. She’s been in her current position for a little over seven years now and it’s been hard work, she said.
“I started with no clients,” she explained.
“Luckily, I can say seven and a half years later, I manage over 2 billion dollars in assets. And, that’s really just going out there, going out in the community and just asking for business.
“It’s not easy. No one is just going to give you 3 million dollars and say, ‘hey, Dega, I see your title, here’s 3 million dollars for you to manage.’ I think it’s credibility and having your existing clients. The majority of my business comes from referrals from my existing clients… one thing that makes me unique is the passion that I have.
“[For example] I deal with a lot of international clients, not just local clients. A lot of them are very secretive when it comes to wealth. The matriarch of the family will have all of the wealth and the family doesn’t know it. I’m about educating that person and making them see the importance of setting their family to succeed instead of fail.”
That’s why she sets up customized classes for her client’s kids.
“They could be a teenager, they could be 40,” she said.
She begins with a test to see where they are financially. From there, she teaches them everything from the basics of banking to lending and investing.
As busy as her work schedule is, Nalayeh, a single mom, must also find time for her six-year old son and a variety of volunteer efforts, one of which is speaking to women about financial literacy.
“One thing I advise is that women need to take control of their finances,” she said.
“Throughout the years I’ve seen a lot of women hand over their finances to the significant other in their lives. What I do is more educational… how do we understand our own finances.
She also volunteers at schools, teaching kids financial basics.
“I think that children are so impressionable,” she said.
“I teach them the basic concepts of money and at the end of the year, I see what they’ve learned. Whether it’s an inner city school, a public school or a private school, I love educating kids. If we start [teaching] them young as mothers and fathers about money… education is great but as equally important as teaching them how to be successful and financially independent, is teaching them about money. They need to know how to save, how to spend and how to give.”
Being healthy and finding balance is how she keeps it all together, she said.
“I think health and wealth go hand-in-hand. Health should be your number one priority. If you don’t have health, you don’t have anything. ”
Eating well and staying active just makes for a better life.
“You manage better,” she said.
“You have more energy… and I don’t have energy to waste. I have a six-year old, so when I come home, I [still] have to be full of energy.”
Part of her health routine is doing marathon runs for different charities.
“Running for me, is peaceful and I have a passion for charity, so why not combine the two,” she said.
“She’s a go-getter and she doesn’t back down,” said Taire Hanson, a client services manager who has worked directly with Nalayeh for the past six years.
“She’s a great motivator and I actually look up to and admire her.”
Nalayeh works with high end clients but says anyone can apply her financial advice to their lives.
“I think it’s really important to understand the big picture. I don’t care if you’re making ten dollars or sixty dollars. Start saving. Be on a budget,” she said.
“The sooner you start saving the better. When you get your paycheck, don’t pay your bills first, pay yourself first. It could be $100, it could be $50… also, start investing. The earlier you invest the better. If you don’t know, seek the information. There are so many resources these days, especially on line.”
Nalayeh received her Bachelor’s Degree with Honors from York University in Toronto, Canada, where she majored in Applied Mathematics and Physics.