June 13, 2024

From Childhood Lemonade Stand Operator to Financial COO: Alumna Shapes an Industry

4-Minute Read

York College of Pennsylvania graduate Lena Nebel is challenging stereotypes and championing diversity in the world of finance and investing.

Whether it was lining up frosty 25-cent glasses of lemonade for passersby of her sidewalk stand as a child or selling hand-sketched admission tickets to homegrown concerts, York College of Pennsylvania alumna Lena Nebel ’99, President and Chief Operating Officer at BFG Financial Advisors in Timonium, MD, had a knack for entrepreneurship from an early age.

But her love of the sale was tempered by the fear of never having enough money. In her teenage years, Nebel often overheard her parents bickering about finances.

The hunger to build successful endeavors, coupled with a deep desire to never have to face the uncertainty and frustration about money that she saw in her parents, pushed her into the field of business. Nebel directed those interests into the study of General Business at York College.

“York was far enough from my Maryland home, but not too far,” she says. “It was small enough that I knew I could make a difference there.”

Nebel credits her time at York College with helping her not only to prepare for her career path but to grow and mature. While her professors didn’t force her to grow up, they provided the tools necessary to help her mature and treated her as an adult, making her feel that she had what it took to be successful.

‘I’d Tell Them To Quit’

At York College, Nebel found herself drawn to the world of finance. Through her General Business major, she gravitated toward investments, eventually spearheading the establishment of the College’s Investment Club, where she was the only female member. The Club met to discuss stock market challenges and industry careers and took trips to financial institutions such as the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.

“As I look back on my career and think about these pivotal things that have shaped my direction, all the places that we went to, the only women we saw were the secretaries, the receptionists,” she says. “Early on, I understood that I stood out. Women aren’t taught about money.”

Navigating college internships and then early career challenges, Nebel found her niche in financial planning, leveraging her experiences to ascend through the ranks. Still, she was in the minority and often in toxic environments that didn’t allow her to exercise her strengths as a leader and expert in her field.

She married and had two daughters and a son.

“I came home one day and said if my daughters were treated how I’ve been treated, I’d tell them to quit,” she says about working at a previous firm for 15 years.

So Nebel left that job and joined BFG Financial Group in 2018 as a Financial Advisor, knowing she would become one of the firm’s principals one day. Just 12 months later, that happened. Then in 2022, she was named COO; in 2024, she was promoted to COO and President.

Empowering Women in Finance

The stark gender disparities that Nebel experienced in the financial industry served as a catalyst for her commitment to empowering women in the field. Outside her work, she dedicates time to educating youth about financial literacy through organizations such as Junior Achievement and Leadership Maryland. Inspired by her journey and the lack of early financial education, Nebel advocates for a deeper understanding of money management from an early age.

Her support of women in finance includes mentoring aspiring female advisors and championing gender diversity in the industry. Her trailblazing efforts were recognized in 2007 when she became the first female President of the Financial Planning Association of Maryland.

Slowly but surely, Nebel has seen the industry begin to shift. More women are getting into finance and becoming Certified Financial Planners. At BFG, her Director of Operations and three of her team leads are women.

In the realm of education, her children are now required to take a financial literacy class in middle school.

Being financially literate isn’t just for financial advisors, Nebel points out. She encourages people of all ages and on any career path to develop a deeper understanding of how money works and its impact on our lives.

“The money in our life can hurt us, help us, propel us into the next phase of our life. Money surrounds us all over the place. It needs to be taught,” she says. “If I can help make the path just a little bit easier for somebody, I want to do that.”