From receptionist to lead consultant: How one adviser rose through the ranks

Meredith Colbert’s birthday fell around the same time as Affordable Care Act reporting in 2015. This is a detail she remembers — vividly — because she was driving to her birthday dinner when she received a panicked call from a client about it. They hit a snag in payroll, she says, and were suddenly unprepared to report.

“I just pulled over and I was like ‘you guys, it’s going to be OK,’” she says. “’I’ll be right there alongside you.’”

Colbert turned her car around and headed straight to their offices, where she set up in a conference room. Once she got them back on track, she left for a brief birthday celebration, and returned to the client’s office afterwards — finally heading home around midnight.

“Whenever I meet new clients I tell them that people don't really care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” she says. “That’s how we try to act.”

Colbert, 34, has worked in advising for about 10 years and is currently lead consultant at Alliant Employee Benefits, where she manages anywhere from five to seven clients at a time.

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Colbert is known at her firm as someone who goes above and beyond for clients, colleagues say. But there was a time when she didn’t wasn’t even aware that benefit advising was a viable career path.

“I didn’t even know this industry existed, to be honest,” she says. “But it’s amazing.”

When Colbert graduated from Georgia College and State University in 2002 with a degree in English, she thought she wanted to work in retail. She took a job at Nordstrom where she stayed for nine months before realizing she wanted a change. So she went to a recruiting agency to see what else she could find. From there she got a job as the receptionist for Alliant.

As receptionist, Colbert learned the ins and outs of the industry. But she was hungry for more — and she wanted a promotion. Colbert liaised with other consultants at the company and sat in on client meetings. She read everything she could get her hands on. From there, she was promoted to analyst and eventually to her current role.

“I expressed to them that I'm really interested in moving up,” she says. “They were awesome.”

Since starting at Alliant, Colbert has encouraged friends to come aboard. Sara Grooms, associate consultant at Alliant, joined the company in 2010 after Colbert encouraged her to interview. At the time, Grooms was working at Bloomingdales and Colbert suggested she apply for a job at Alliant.

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“I was working commission retail in the worst economy I’ve seen in a long time,” Grooms says.

Grooms says that as Colbert has raised through the ranks at the company she has made sure to help junior employees reach their goals. She takes time to help them learn about the industry and helps to boost their mood if they’re having a bad day. Grooms says Colbert has a small stash of gifts in the office to help cheer up workers who may be having a tough day.

“I think that tells a lot about who she is as a person and as a colleague,” she says.

Since starting her job, Colbert says she has learned that the key to succeeding in this industry is patience. Her advice to young advisers is to take the time to learn and to ask lots of questions.

“Don’t be afraid to ask the question,” she says. “Because otherwise you may never know the answer.”

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