Shelter Cove finance advisor finds niche helping sex workers

When Lindsey Swanson, founder of Stripper Financial Planning, moved to Humboldt in 2019, she initially set up a more traditional financial planning business.

Swanson aimed to provide financial advice to marijuana farmers and other cannabis industry workers, many of whom exist on a fringe with the industry being legal in California and illegal federally. However, she soon found another clientele in which she could offer her services and fill an underserved niche: sex workers.

“As an advisor, that is kind of like declaring myself to be a safe person, it’s more being like, ‘hey, let me walk you through how these systems work and what the process should be like, and if you aren’t being treated fairly by these institutions, then I’ll help you figure out a way that you can be treated fairly,’ ” Swanson said

Sex work is an umbrella term for many different jobs operating within the industry, including stripping and pornography, but most of Swanson’s clients work online through webcam sites.

Swanson’s clients are in a position similar to more traditional freelance remote work jobs, in that they work from home using technology, pay taxes quarterly, and can make tax deductions based on their work-related purchases. Swanson also helps clients, who are often freelancers working for themselves, find a health insurance plan that suits them.

Helping sex workers access financial institutions such as banks is a noteworthy aspect of Swanson’s job, as many including Chase, Bank of America, Visa and Mastercard have morality clauses that allow the institutions to freeze or seize accounts if the clause is violated.

“A lot of the typical recommendations that you would give to someone who’s running a business or someone who’s just trying to prepare for retirement and go through the steps of being alive don’t necessarily apply to them, because we have to take extra precautions,” Swanson said.

While Swanson fills a niche not many other financial planners specialize in, she said negative attitudes regarding sex work have affected the kind of work she gets when contracting.

“I was doing contracting out in the financial field, and I had a couple clients that, once I started to get some publicity, I had an article in the investment news magazine come out, they really didn’t want to associate with me anymore, just because they didn’t want to offend their conservative client base,” Swanson said.

Early in her career, Swanson worked with more traditional financial advising companies, an experience she said was valuable, but ultimately unfulfilling in the long-term, as they often existed primarily to help the rich get richer.

“The people who are already millionaires have a lot of options available to them for financial advice. It’s an oversaturated market, and I was interested once I opened my firm in being able to serve underserved communities that really needed help in getting access to quality financial advice,” Swanson said.

While not part of an ordinary financial advisor’s responsibilities, Swanson often finds herself calling financial institutions on behalf of her clients to see whether or not they are sex worker-friendly and will not freeze an account should they learn it belongs to a sex worker.

Swanson works with sex workers operating legally in their area and who accurately report their taxes, and she has clients across the country and locally in Humboldt County.

“People can always talk to me, even if they’re doing something that they think is illegal, and then I can just tell them ‘here are the resources I would use, but unfortunately, I can’t work with you as a client,’ I’m choosing to do it that way so that I don’t get shut down,” Swanson said.

Sex work and cannabis had many similarities beyond existing in a legal gray area: Swanson found that much of her work centered around helping clients create financial safety nets such as emergency funds in both cannabis and sex work.

She said that by talking about sex work and being open about her work is part of an attempt to diminish the taboo behind her clients’ jobs.

“Sex work is the oldest industry, so everyone knows it exists, it’s always existed. If you outlaw it … it just kind of pops up somewhere else. I think talking about it and being honest that it’s a part of our society, even if you don’t want to support it or participate in it at all, just acknowledging that a lot of people do,” Swanson said. “I think a big thing for me is just being willing to talk about it openly, and kind of force people into awkward situations. Just because you don’t really interact with that part of society doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be a safe place.”

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