Lazetta Rainey Braxton, CFP® professional, knows that, many times, sitting down with a financial adviser might be the first time a couple has had a conversation about money. In the African American community, money conversations don’t often happen organically. Money might be viewed as a stressor, and talking about money might be seen as rude or uncomfortable.
I recently sat down with Braxton for a 2050 TrailBlazers podcast episode to explore family dynamics and money, what guilt African American professionals may carry with them if they feel they’ve “made it” while their community still has financial need and how the importance of serving your clients best interests.
There are people who feel a sense of fear to talk about money. Where does this come from and how does it impact the African American community?
Regardless of race, there is lack of money talk in various families. What we should anchor this in is the statistics that really highlight the racial wealth gap that try to figure out how to navigate the disparities. There’s a New York Times article that says for every $100 in white family wealth, black families just hold $5 and 4 cents. So yes, as African Americans, as blacks, we say money talk is even more important because we have to try to make up for lost time. Also, each generation is trying to figure out how to navigate what they’ve inherited or not inherited in terms of the wealth transfer.
African Americans who I like to call first-generation wealth builders might feel an obligation to help everybody else in their family. Tell me more about how we can help clients put on their own financial oxygen mask first before helping others.
There is this obligation that you feel to give back and lift others up. When I work with clients, I ask them, “Do you have people who will be financially dependent on you?” And oftentimes I hear parents or aunts and uncles helping a niece or nephew get through school or they’re also dealing with their own children as well, but the extended family is typically on the payroll—or are a line item for that budget.
When family members ask clients for money, use the line item as a reference saying, “You know, my family fund is depleted.” I go a step further if you’ve learned how to put your mask on first—it’s your responsibility as you’re giving to help others put their mask on. Ask some questions. Why do you need the money? What went wrong? How can we not let this happen again? Because if we don’t try to educate and elevate, then the wealth gap within our own family will continue to persist.
Educate and elevate—what does that look like?
I start first by helping them name the family members who may be draining their finances. I couple that with asking, “What are you proud of that you’ve done well with their finances, and where do you need to improve upon so that we can get everything out on the table?” We can eliminate what I call that money fog—fear, obligation and guilt. Having the conversation lifts the fog so you can be clear about who’s responsible for what.
When you start liberating people to take the deeper dive and own how they want to live, it gets contagious. Then when people are asking them for money, they can say, “Well, hey, I improved my situation, you can too.”
Historically the African American community has navigated toward annuities and whole life insurance as a way to invest versus the stock market. Also, they tend to want to own rental property. Shed some light on that for us.
In terms of exposure as African Americans historically, we like things that we can see and feel and know that there is a contract. That goes in line with what we’ve experienced within this country of having property taken from us. So if we know we own it—with the deed and with the contract and paying the premiums—there’s a feeling of having guaranteed income, even if there are other opportunities to grow that income. African Americans historically have anchored their wealth in real estate. They are also very comfortable with insurance because insurance has been around for a long period of time. Also annuities have a component of insurance tied to them as well.
Now I’m not disparaging any of those asset classes—they are important. What I’m also saying is, I see wealth transfer among the white populations—which have significantly more wealth—is happening through the stock market. There is the ability to grow your wealth exponentially with this concept called compounded growth, while your money is constantly working for you. There are also tax considerations that make stock ownership or exposure to the market more attractive as well. African Americans have to be more comfortable with the stock market because a lot of their assets are in retirement plans. And there has to be that basic understanding and comfort level with knowing that there is potential for growth, noting that markets do go up and down. We’re not saying that there’s not that volatility, but over long periods of time it has worked out well for other populations.
[Wanting to own rental property] is still an extension of what you know—if you own a home, you know what you need to maintain it. How we in our community fall short is that we don’t have the capital. You need a capital fund for home ownership. That capital fund is going to cover you when your renters tear up your home. When you have to fix stuff, right? When you’ve got to keep landscaping or if you can’t rent it for four months and you’ve got to still cover the mortgage on it.
I’m sure there are some [readers] saying this happens with my clients and they’re not people of color. What I want to emphasize over and over again is that the wealth gap and the economic conditions compounds these issues within our community.
Something that is important in both of our lives and especially in the African American community is our religious beliefs. Tell us how that plays into money.
So what institution historically has the most longevity in terms of organizational strength? The black church. Now we’re looking at several generations later where there is still some strong residual commitment to supporting the church. So the black church has been kind of the center of economic distribution—good or bad. It has supported people when society couldn’t really be there for them—whether it was helping them with rent, making sure they were fed, proving a place of refuge when the world was still saying you’re not welcomed here. So as a part of the biblical understanding of stewardship, I grew up with this understanding of you give to God first of your fruits and that really equated to 10 percent. So if you’re giving to God first and then yourself, you have to help people understand how to live off the remaining 90 percent when that 90 percent reflects a terrible income gap and a wage gap as well. So that cultural understanding of giving to the family and also giving to the church is a sensitivity that advisers have to be aware of when serving black clients.
This is where the f word comes into play: fiduciary. That means keeping your client’s best interests first. Our clients are telling us what their interests and what their goals are, and if you don’t have the cultural competency to understand that and take the deeper dive, then you’re not being that fiduciary that they need and deserve.
Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP® professional, is the founder and president of Your Greatest Contribution (YGC), a virtual, fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm dedicated to serving entrepreneurs, first-generation wealth builders and thriving professionals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. She also hosts 2050 TrailBlazers, a podcast aimed to address the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession by engaging industry experts and leaders in conversation.