It Starts with a Conversation

[A version of this article appeared on Morning Consult]

As a financial services industry leader, I believe there is no better cause than helping people achieve financial wellness. Someone helped me with this early in my career and today the need for financial guidance and planning has never been more important.

Growing up, my family had little experience with financial planning, which was not unusual for people of color. In my experience, people of color generally don’t like talking about money (in terms of retirement planning). Frankly, it can be difficult to look that far ahead early on in one’s career. Even those fortunate enough to accumulate wealth often do not talk about finances or what to do with their money once they have it. They go it alone. Too often, this leads to costly mistakes — especially for households that can ill afford it.

My financial wellness journey began with the help of others at my first corporate job. I had a lot of college debt and no assets — just my starting salary. I listened to my coworkers discuss their 401(k) plans. While I knew what one was, I didn’t know why I should use it to save. But, after seeing people much older and (seemingly) more educated than me in such matters participate, I followed their lead and diverted some of my salary into a 401(k).  

Years later, I was fortunate to have a conversation with a life insurance agent who helped me understand that financial planning is more than just savings. I knew very little about insurance products at the time. He showed me how protection products such as life insurance, disability insurance, and annuities could be critical components of financial wellness. 

The agent was offering insurance products through a commission arrangement paid by an insurance carrier. He stressed that whether you’re married with kids, or have a partner or other relatives who depend on you financially, owning protection products like life insurance and annuity products can be important. That conversation helped me better understand how insurance can help you plan for your family’s long-term financial needs. 

That was 25 years ago. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have success in my financial services career. The decisions I made with the help of my agent were foundational to building financial security for my family. 

Even after all these years, I know I still need guidance from a professional. The last thing anyone can or should do is go it alone. There are too many variables and things are constantly changing. 

Several years ago, I shared a personal story at a financial literacy event. It was about a close family member several years older than me who was nearing retirement. During his career, he did well and worked in a blue-collar profession. He did not have a financial background nor did he work with a financial professional. When I asked him how much he had saved for retirement, I learned he had little to no retirement savings and planned to rely on Social Security to support his retirement. As a result, he didn’t have the financial security in retirement he should have after working for so many years.  

It was a conversation I wish we’d had earlier. For him, it was too late. He simply did not have the runway of another 25 years to work and save to build a financial nest egg. Sadly, this story is not unique to my family. It plays out over and over for families — especially those of color — lacking financial literacy and resources.    

So, there is an impetus to help more low- and middle-income individuals engage financial professionals early in their careers. This need has been exacerbated by the global pandemic, which has disproportionately hit the underserved communities.  

I consider myself lucky to have an agent who took the time to educate me. I wouldn’t have sought out that help on my own. You don’t know what you don’t know.  

Today, I have both a financial adviser and an agent — that same agent who worked with me 25 years ago. They work in tandem to help me with both short- and long-term financial planning based on the ever-changing needs of my family. I am comfortable with and confident in my financial future. And it all started with those early conversations with my agent which led to investing in the annuity and life products that I still own today.

(Skip) Milton M. Edmonds Jr.

(Skip) Milton M. Edmonds Jr., M.A. is chief compliance officer for LIMRA, Loma and LL Global, a nonadvocacy research trade association for the financial services industry.