Referring to Alexandra Armstrong as a pioneer is a fair statement — it could even be considered an understatement.
She carved a pathway in the comprehensive advisory world that both female and male colleagues have learned from and emulated in the more than four decades Ms. Armstrong has grown with the profession. Anyone speaking to her about her career or reading her bio would be impressed.
Her career began in the 1970s as a junior rep for a top producer in financial services in the Washington, D.C., area. In 1977, she became the first woman in the metro area to get her certified financial planner designation, despite it being something of a fluke.
“As a registered assistant, I needed some training that could help me with all these questions I was getting about wills,” she said.
When asked whether earning such a difficult-to-obtain credential was overkill for such a narrowly focused set of tasks, she laughed.
“The test was a lot easier then. And besides, I thought it would give me a competitive advantage,” Ms. Armstrong added.
And it would seem that it did.
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She co-founded her firm, Armstrong Fleming & Moore Inc., in 1983, and is an active adviser — both in general and in specific reference to her investment philosophy of active portfolio management.
Ms. Armstrong is also an author, having co-written a book for widows with psychologist Mary R. Donahue in 1993 titled “On Your Own: A Widow's Passage to Emotional and Financial Well-Being” (Dearborn Trade Pub). It is now in its fifth edition.
And it's safe to say that several pillar institutions of the planning industry might have crumbled without her deft handling. She led the precursor to the Financial Planning Association — the International Association for Financial Planning — for seven years, retiring as chairwoman in 1987. She was the first woman to hold that position.
In 2004, she was the first woman to receive the P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award, one of the highest recognitions bestowed by the Financial Planning Association.
Adviser Bill Carter, owner and president of Carter Financial Management and himself a Fain award recipient, said he has known Ms. Armstrong as long as anyone in the business. All the accolades and achievements aside, what has impressed him most is that she is a doer who doesn't mind rolling up her sleeves to handle the dirty work.
“We showed up in New Orleans back in the '70s as ad hoc members of the IAFP for a board meeting, and at that time, we didn't know each other,” he said. “Very typical Alex, the chair was complaining about the poor notes he had taken, and she said she could take care of it.” In an era before PCs and word processing, she hunted down a non-electric typewriter and finished the reports in no time.
“I thought, wow, is she ever quick-minded and resourceful! And my respect has only grown over the many years since,” he said.
Ms. Armstrong also has run the Foundation for Financial Planning — an achievement in which she takes great pride.
“I'm still on the board and still in charge of fundraising for them,” she said. “The most exciting thing about it is that it is an endowment fund and we are leaving a legacy that will be here long after I'm gone.”
She has also given a great deal of her time to a handful of nonprofit charities, preferring to serve in deeper, more meaningful capacities — making more of a difference.
“I picked my charities very carefully and really focused. I know people in Washington who serve on 20 boards,” she said, adding that spreading yourself too thin can sometimes result in less impact.
One of her causes in particular might seem a contradiction. Despite having no sons or brothers, she was the first woman to serve on and head the board of a major council of the Boy Scouts of America.
“They asked for my help in fundraising years ago and I was so impressed with the organization's structure,” she said. “They run it like IBM.”
A lifelong Washingtonian, Ms. Armstrong, 73, was asked about her thoughts on the current state of gridlock in Congress.
“I've lived in Washington all my life and am as frustrated with their inaction and ineptitude as anyone — and I don't even get to vote for one of them,” she said.