Understanding Personal Finance Across the Wealth Spectrum with Phuong Luong [Ep68]

Welcome to episode 68 of The Innovating Advice Show. 


I’m joined by Phuong Luong, Founder of Just Wealth in the US.

Phuong is a burst of inspiration. She’s a career changer from teaching to financial planning and when she decided to make the switch, she jumped right in and started her own virtual, fee-only financial planning business.

If you know someone that’s considering a career switch into financial planning, this is a great episode to share with them.


Phuong also shares her research and experience with financial history, wealth divides and the myths we tell ourselves about why people are poor. We discuss some of the challenges with giving back through pro bono work and the most effective way for you and your clients to contribute charitable dollars.


Phuong has won many awards and recognitions but remains staunchly focused on leaving the world a better place than she found it.



Resources


Guest Bio


Phuong understands personal finance across income and wealth spectrums. She provides accessible and objective financial planning, coaching, and education through her virtual, fee-only financial planning practice, Just Wealth. She consults with organizations and companies on how to build effective and culturally relevant programs and financial technology. She also provides training and workshops to the public on practical personal finance, financial history, structural racism, and racial and gender wealth divides.

Phuong deeply understands the current and historical barriers to financial wealth for so many communities in the U.S. This knowledge comes from her practical experience working with individuals and families across the country through her personal financial planning work, and from being a lifelong student of American history and the myths we tell ourselves about why people are poor. She knows that financial literacy is incomplete without knowing financial history. And understanding financial history and righting those wrongs is an important key to clearing barriers to wealth building.



Timestamps


00:45 - Introducing Phuong Luong

02:55 - Transitioning from teaching to financial planning

06:00 - Eye-opening first experiences

07:25 - Getting the CFP designation

07:39 - Experiencing stress and shame around money

09:25 - Why are people poor? And why are people rich?

10:15 - Some initial impressions of traditional financial services

13:15 - Becoming an apprentice

16:46 - Advice for starting your own practice

19:24 - Being underrepresented: women and people of color 

20:54 - Be careful where you put your energy into

22:56 - The positive impact of scholarships

22:56 - Battling impostor syndrome and taking risk 

29:00 - Wealth inequality and race

35:38 - Making financial advice more accessible


Transcript


Kate: Hi, Phuong. Welcome to the show.


Phuong: Thank you, Kate. It's such an honor to be here with you and it's going to be really fun, I think, cause I always enjoy speaking with you.


Kate: Oh, and I enjoy speaking with you and I love your story and we're going to be spending a lot of time on your story, kind of starting from the beginning.


Kate: And one of the conversations we've been having in financial services for years now is how do we attract more women to the profession? How do we attract more people of color to the profession? And it's been a conversation for a while, but it's really picking up steam during this pandemic, thinking about nurses that are obviously natural caregivers and like helping people. Can we attract some of them in? Teachers has been another big conversation. So Phuong, you cover all of that as a woman, a person of color, and a teacher who has come into financial services. So I really want to start with what was that initial transition like? Why did you leave teaching and where did you go?


Phuong: Yeah, yeah. So I taught for about seven to eight years before I moved into financial services. And it seems like a big job, but actually I was a personal finance nerd since I was a kid. And I really got deep into it in college where I started thinking, okay, I'm going to be financially independent. I mean, I was  financially independent in college, but I got scholarships, which was important because I wouldn't have been able to go college without that. But then when I was close to graduating, I realized, okay, I'm going to be on my own. How do I do this?


Phuong: I keep hearing from upperclassmen that there's something called security deposit. There's something called a first, last month's rent that you have to pay in the U.S.  when you move into an apartment, you typically have to pay an upfront cost that sometimes you get back at the end, sometimes you don't, when you leave your apartment and I thought, how am I going to save that?


Phuong: And so I had to figure something out and I was always really diligent about reading and self-learning and  none of this was ever taught in school. So I had to do my own reading and research. And so I kept doing that as an adult in my first career as a teacher. And then when I started transitioning, I realized I want to make a bigger impact. I didn't feel like I was making the change I wanted to make in the classroom. and so I thought, okay, what else can I do? And I thought we OK maybe financial services. So I started doing research and I learned something called financial planning, where you actually get to meet with people and work with people. And that is my, I think my superpower, my skillset, and what I enjoy doing. And so that's why I moved into financial services.


Kate: That's awesome. And what were you teaching?


Phuong: I had a master's and I still have a master's in special education. And so I was a special education teacher in different roles. Sometimes I was working in the classroom with other teachers. sometimes I had my own special education classroom, or sometimes I took students out and gave specialized instruction.


Phuong: My last few years in the teaching profession, I was actually co-teaching, meaning it was me and another math teacher in the room, teaching math. So I taught math and I have a math certification as well. And so  some students didn't even know that I  was a special education teacher. They just thought I was just a regular teacher in there because I was working under something called an inclusion model where students are  all special. They're all different. Everyone belongs, everyone's learning uniquely. And I truly believe that. Actually part of the reason I left the teaching profession was that I felt like we were over labeling students as having special needs or having a disability when really they just learned differently or they didn't have the same educational access as other students that were ahead of them in terms of testing.


Kate: Yeah, that's fascinating. And I'm just listening to all these skills that you had that clearly carry over so well and so seamlessly into financial services. And so when you were looking to do that, you mentioned a bigger impact. Where did you then initially go?


Phuong: Yeah, so I started working in a nonprofit providing financial coaching and counseling to people living with low incomes or people living in a subsidized housing, which is public housing.  So government sponsored housing and it was really eye opening for me because I always knew even as a teacher, I knew about  income inequality, wealth inequality. I didn't realize how stark it was, especially in the cities that I was working in. I was working in Boston at the time, which is quite an unequal city in terms of income and wealth. depending on the community that you're in, depending on your race, depending on your gender, depending on your immigration status. And  how long your family's been in the country. It's really interesting because there's also a ton of  education facilities. And a ton of wealth in Boston.


Phuong: So that's a part of the reason of that wealth inequality, cause there's a lot of wealth and also a lot of poverty and Boston was a really unique place to start my career in financial services because of that fact. And so I had a chance to do a few things in Boston. I was working with low income populations and there was also a really growing and burgeoning, but now really strong financial coaching and counseling community where people with low income can access services. And I was a part of that, in the beginning and at the same time, I was able to shadow and network and meet with financial planners who work with wealthy people. And that is where I learned about the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER designation. And that is where I got my CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER designation, where I met many of my mentors.


Phuong: And what's so interesting is I've been in the room, I've been across the table. I've been at the same side of the table as people of all levels of wealth and income. And there are so many commonalities, but also so many differences of access. But a lot of commonalities in terms of the stress people feel around money, no matter how much you have. It's different stresses. And different access to solutions, but there's a lot of like what is enough for me? What do I want out of life? What does money mean to me? What's my next step? 


Everyone is asking these questions. And also there's a lot of shame that's involved around money, no matter your income and wealth, and it might be a self selecting bias because they're coming to get services. They're coming to see us as financial planners or as financial coaches and counselors. but  that's something I learned. And so I started digging in deeper. Like I'm always kind of someone who wants to figure out what's the  thing that I can do so that people don't need my help? Because I don't want, yeah. And even when I was a teacher, I never wanted my students dependent on me because I always knew that next year they're going to go off and they're going to be either on their own or with another teacher. And I don't know. And they don't know if that teacher is going to provide the same level of service or be helpful to them, or if the material would be very difficult for them. And so, and there, and sometimes they might move away out of our school district too.


Phuong: And so they're not in my care anymore. So you have to be independent, especially in this world that requires you to, many times, make your own decisions without a lot of help. And so I always wanted to help people develop the skills and confidence and clarity so they can make decisions on their own with the resources that they have. And so how do you do that in financial planning and in financial services? I started digging into that. And one of the main questions I started asking myself, was why are people poor? And I started with that. And, and I learned a lot about that huge question, and we can talk about that. And I think the next evolution of that question and what led me to that, I realized I didn't, I never really asked was, why are people rich? That's the other side of the coin. Yes. And actually they have some kind of sometimes the same answer.


Phuong: So I'll leave it at that because you can say, you can let me know which direction we want to go into.


Kate: Well, and I want to come back to that. Cause those are two huge questions and that'll touch on some of the things we're going to chat about in a minute. And one of the other things I was thinking is with your experience of working in this nonprofit. So working with people that are on the lower income side, and also you mentioned mirroring people and having all those mentors in financial services and getting to see the wealthy clients, what were some of your initial impressions then of traditional financial services, financial advice, financial planning?


Phuong: Wow. You know, it's really changed once I actually started meeting practitioners. So as a child, I grew up in New York city and the whole, the stereotype of wall street was definitely in my mind. Wall Sstreet was just a subway ride away. I'd walked around it as a kid. And I thought, this is not a place for me. This is a place where there's a lot of really loud people, mostly men, mostly white men.


Kate: Like loud New Yorkers.


Phuong: Exactly. And I got the loud part, but everything else like the wealth, I guess to summarize, I always felt it was a world for people who already had money that just want to make more of it.


Kate: Yes.


Phuong: And I didn't see my place in that, like in terms of my own interests, but also my own identity. And, once I started actually meeting financial planners and I know the financial planning world is a subset of the financial world. There's not, there's many of us, but I feel like we are a minority. I don't know if that's true or not.


Kate: Yeah, yeah, yeah. True financial planners in the grander scheme of financial services. Yep. Definitely.


Phuong: Yeah. So that could be the difference. And so I didn't know about financial planning until very close to when I started making moves into the career, into the profession. but some of the financial planners that I know and first met, like they're still mentors of mine. They're still friends of mine. They're just normal people that want to help others.


Kate: Yeah.


Phuong: And I realized, OK, I can work with this. This is a community I can be a part of. So that was really amazing and again, I was very lucky because the financial planning association in Massachusetts had a very strong nextgen community. Still does but I've aged out of it and then I moved. But I still keep in touch with the people and I didn't know about the resources, the scholarships, the ways of navigating a career and the options you have. You don't just have to work for a big firm or a firm at all if you don't want to. If you want to start your own practice, you can.    


Kate: And you did. Which is also fascinating. So you had this kind of initial perception, which honestly, I grew up with the same perception of wall street. And even when I first entered financial services, I was working with wealthy people. And that inherently bothered me for the longest time. I was like, why are we just working with people that are already wealthy? You know, we need to be working with people to help them get wealthy and identifying those barriers. And we'll chat about that, but you didn't go work for a large firm or even a small firm. You went and jumped in and started your own virtual fee-only financial planning business. So how did you make that decision?


Phuong: Yeah, that was, it was a tough decision to make. and at the same time, it was really the only way for me to do what I wanted to do and do financial planning the way I wanted to. What was incredibly helpful was that,  one of my mentors, he had, he recently has since retired, a practice of his own. And at the time he was thinking of taking on an apprentice and he thought, okay, I'm going to take on someone to maybe help me figure out do I want to scale back, do I want to grow, I'm not sure. And two people, two separate people told me about it and said, Phuong, you need to meet with this person. Cause he's thinking about building his practice or just doing something with it, but he wants to work with someone.


Phuong: And I think you'd be a good fit  together. We met and we really hit it off. And I started apprenticing with him and meeting with him, regularly. Sometimes once a month, sometimes every other week, depending on our schedules. And I could see, and he had a solo practice, but he's also, he was a former teacher and he taught workshops and he teaches ethics workshops to other financial planners actually. And so he would always give me mini ethics lessons even during our shadow days. And he started showing me the underpinnings of his business. The CRM that he uses, Salesforce at the time. All the technology, all the software. And we attended software demos together and he would ask great questions. And it was just like, like that's an education where like, if you watch an expert, do something, you can learn at an accelerated rate versus just learning something on your own.


Phuong: And that was the experience that I was able to get. And I hope to pass that on to someone someday. and that was invaluable for me to see. And he was the one that encouraged me. You can do this. I was always really nervous of course, but he said you can do this. And he worked and the here's the key, he never managed assets. He just advised people. He had a long career in financial service. He was one of the first CFPs ever to get certified, but he didn't charge assets under management. He only provided hourly advice. He was a pure financial planner. so that's what I do. And my practice has changed a little bit, especially during the course of capacity, because it's so accessible and there's not as many people that provide this type of service to people without requiring an income or asset minimum. Yep. So it, it, it is more accessible to general population than others. And so I think that that helps with the accessibility and it helps grow a business like mine that doesn't have a whole marketing machine.


Kate: Well, and I like how you started out by saying it was sort of your only option because there was no one else out there doing it. And that's what we're seeing more and more. And I'm having that conversation a lot, even multiple times this week alone with people that are in bigger firms often and are kind of saying, Hey, like this business just isn't doing what I want to do. How can I break out? But so often people and women especially encounter, I don't know, like a lack of confidence. And I think once you're sort of in the machine for a long time, it can be harder to break out of that and just get that confidence and say, yes, I can do this. This is possible. So even though you didn't come from that big firm, any advice for those people and the women especially that are trying to decide if they should go out on their own and build the business that they want to see?


Phuong: Yeah. Income is a real thing. And I think that is the main barrier for a lot of people. I mean, other barriers could be like you said, self confidence, not sure if you'll succeed, but success sometimes often means it translates to, I'm not sure if I'll be able to make the income I need to make, to support myself and my family, that's usually the barrier. And we can see that the number of entrepreneurs that are most entrepreneurs and also most people go into the creative field that also has variable income and no guarantee of success. And also the academic fields tend to come from families that can support them financially or have partners that can support them financially, or have inheritances that can do that. And so I had to build my own.


I never thought about those when I had to go build mine. And I saved and I always maintained some part time income. And so I also am a financial planning facilitator. Basically. I help students through the online financial planning program for one of the registered programs in the U S and that has been amazing. I actually went through the program myself. It was really nice. Yeah. And so when I told the program director that I was leaving my job to start a practice that, Oh my gosh, congratulations. And there's an opportunity that's might come up and I will let you know. And so here's one piece of advice, tell everybody you know  that you're going to start a practice and take time to build your network before you make that jump. And I know it can be difficult.


Phuong: And again, I was so lucky that I was in Boston, big city, a lot of access to networking opportunities. a lot of people, period, you need people to have a networking opportunity. Now in the time of the pandemic there's a lot more virtual gatherings that are happening as well. it could be harder to make a connection there, especially since you're in a group. And it's hard to go off on your own. To have a one on one conversation. but reach out, schedule something, have a conversation. Send an email, send questions and emails. If they're not able to have a phone call with you. but I'm noticing more and more that more that people nowadays, if they're not young parents and they have typically have more time now to grab a coffee because they don't have to travel. So that was always a really hard thing for the people that you want to talk to.


Phuong: Like actually meeting is difficult, but now more people are getting more comfortable with zoom. So part time income, do the networking before you jump, access your network. I think we are the power of our networks, our combined power. And I think part of the difficulty with women and especially people of color and women of color is that we don't have a lot of built in network in financial services yet. We're definitely underrepresented. It's really difficult and I can't speak to the experience of Black and Brown people. Other than myself, I'm Asian, but I'm also light-skinned Asian. And I have a different  experience in the industry than some of my other peers that are darker skin that are Black or Brown. And that are, that experienced racism in a different way. There are stereotypes of Asian people in financial services, but they're generally are positive for my role.


Phuong: We're good at math and we're good at money. And that serves me very well. I did not really think about that going into it, but it's helped me. And I can't deny that. And it's important to say. And so the advice that I'm giving  is specific to me, not everyone may have that same ease that I had, although there has been difficulty at the same time. One is that I grew up very poor and the rhetoric and discourse around wealth and financial services continues to make me very uncomfortable sometimes. Blaming people and individuals for their lack of wealth. I'm not thinking about the greater systems that hold people back. you know, thinking that financial services is the end all be all and a solution for a global poverty is I think very problematic. and so that, that makes it difficult for me to fit in, in certain communities and spaces, because either I'll shutdown or when I was younger, I would speak up.


Phuong: And I still do, but I think I'm more careful now about what spaces I'm in, and save my energy. Not that not that I don't want to make change, but sometimes I know where to pick my battles now. And I used to just say anything to anybody, and I hope it made a difference then, but it also took a toll on me emotionally. So I guess that's my other advice too, is like, be careful with your energy and where you put it. Right And so if something, if an Avenue is not working, if you're trying to create a mentoring relationship, you are trying to create a opportunity for yourself and you're hitting a wall diversify, diversify, diversify. And that's what we know as financial planners. It's important to diversify.


Kate: Yeah. And that, that's all great advice. And we even talked with Eric Roberge who is also from Boston. And he talked a lot about when he started his business, he was a part time waiter. So not having that ego behind it of, Hey, I have to jump in and make money from day one. You know, if you have a long enough runway to be able to plan that that can work out fantastically, but taking it slow and steady. And I love that your part time job is actually giving back to the profession. So you kind of get the best of all worlds there, having that extra income, giving back, continuing to build other people's networks with you in them. That's amazing. And for anyone thinking, again Hey, I'm a career changer. Maybe I'm new to this profession. How's this all going to work?


Kate: You know, you started this a few years ago and you were a 2019 woman to watch rising star, 40 under 40 young, adviser to watch. You're the chair of CFP board's council on education. You're on CFP board's diversity advisory group. You've had all these great accomplishments and, and you should absolutely make sure to pause to acknowledge that. And I acknowledge that in you I, I saw something, you came up on my iPad in my Apple news A few weeks ago. And I took a screenshot and I was, I was so proud of you to seeing you everywhere on these great things you've done. And the amazing example that you are to so many other people. And one of the things, and you said this earlier about going to college, having that scholarship, and I know you've also received multiple other scholarships. So how impactful has that been to you and your career and everything you've built? 


Phuong: Thank you for saying all that. And I guess that could be another piece of advice that I need to listen to like celebrate your successes. I don't typically do that. That is an exhausting list you just said. 


Phuong:  And I'm humbled. I'm truly humbled by all of that. And, I still doubt myself even with all of that stuff and we can, we can talk about it later too, but it's like, who is that?  Like the celebration and the recognition it's tricky balance. And for people with imposter syndrome that points more toward digging yourself more in a hole thinking, I don't really deserve that. And I battle that every day, like, Oh, they don't really know me. They don't really know.


Phuong: They think I'm great, and then I have to like, shut it out sometimes and friends and the network, again, the network is there. They're not just for income producing activities, but also for emotional healing actually. That's what your network is for and also say, Eric Roberge is one of the people that was super helpful to me in the beginning meeting with me. And he said, why not? Why can't you start your own practice? This was years before I started. Yeah. I said, well, I'm not ready. And he said, why not?


Phuong: And I was like, you're right, why not? 


Phuong:  I need to figure that out. financial planners are good at asking questions. And so is Eric. So the question of those scholarships, yeah. Super helpful, super impactful. you know, anything that you do, especially as a career changer is going to involve risks. It's going to involve time investment and also a monetary investment. and the time investment, that is something you need to work out. But the monetary investment, it was huge, because I didn't have to take on, cause I was still working full time while I was earning my financial planning degree. I was paying student loans from college as well. And so it's just, it allowed me not to have another part time job.  I'm the kind of person I was the kid that always had multiple jobs, even in college and studying for the CFP certified financial planner designation for anyone that knows is like a part time job.


Kate: Yes. It can even feel like a full time job if you do it fast. 


Phuong: Exactly. Exactly.


Phuong: And if I was a parent at the time. I don't know. If I was caregiving for anyone or I don't, I don't know how I would have done it in the time parameters that are required and people do do it all the time. I hear their stories as the chair for the council of education. And it's amazing to me, people are so resilient. People do it. And the scholarship helped that much because I didn't, I that that was a time investment for me, but I didn't have to devote my energy and time elsewhere to earn that, let's say an income and devote savings to it. And so it's huge. It's a huge thing. And it goes over that mental hurdle. Cause for me, spending money on something is very difficult. This might be a trait of many financial planners.


Phuong: We're very careful. And so  you want to do the cost and the ROI in your head of like, is this something that I can do? Is this something that's worth it? And this is not, it wasn't exactly my position, but yeah. In a way it was, you were always calculating, okay, is this worth it? But sometimes it's not in your control, especially if there's an emergency pops up. And so for people that I know that are thinking about the CFP or thinking about any other kind of career change or going back to school, you always have to weigh the cost benefit analysis of like, am I going to be able to support my family if I devote this money to this endeavor that could pay off later, but it's delayed payoff. Yeah. Can I float myself during that period of time while I'm devoting my energy and my money toward this investment. And sometimes it, the choice answers itself or it's like, no, I have to take care of my family now or take care of myself now. And the scholarships are huge.


Kate: Yeah. And thankfully we're seeing more and more of them popping up all over the world or to attend conferences. I spoke at a conference earlier this week and I got a note from one of the large companies and they said, Hey, we're providing financial assistance to make sure anyone who wants to attend this conference can. And I thought that's really great. So just knowing how important that is to so many people. And that was a great way of putting it kind of looking at do you then have to work harder or work more hours in that part time job, if that's what you're doing,  taking that time away from putting into education or networking. And just having that network also to let you know which scholarships are available is a super important thing. Cause they're not always posted on the front page of your email or social media.


Phuong: I'll say one thing on that too, you got to apply because you never know. I'll tell you one time I was on a scholarship committee   and there was only one person that applied and so they got it. So that happens. I hear that happening a lot. Either,  there was no one that applies or only one or two people apply. And sometimes we just give it to both people because they, they made the effort to apply. Yeah, yeah. Apply. Why not.


Kate: Everyone listening: apply. And that could go back to an ego thing too. I mean, it's easy to say, Hey, and, and so I want to shift into those conversations of why are people poor, Why are people rich, But then I also with that it's mentally poor or mentally rich.   Do you think that you're worthy of the scholarship or are you taking it from somewhere else and all, all these mindset things.


Kate: So circling back to our earlier conversation on why are people poor and why are people rich We need to spend a few minutes on that.


Phuong: Yes, yes. So that those are heavy questions and we're not gonna be able to cover all of it, but a framework that I've found helpful. You mentioned mindsets, but we've also talked about history. And systemic and structural issues. And I found that whenever we're talking about a big topic, like wealth inequality, and you know, for your listeners who are, and many are outside the U S as well as inside the US.


Phuong: I'm not sure if others know this, but wealth inequality, especially between different races is a huge topic right now. Everybody's talking about it. Even in financial services. When I say, even in financial services, I mean, even financial planners who traditionally don't have communication or work with people, low income, it's still in the mindsets. It's still an understood topic that people are recognizing is an issue because that decreases the diversity of the profession and also decreases the diversity of our client pool when there's such huge wealth disparity. And, a helpful framework that I found is, thinking about things in terms of, different levels. And so you can think about, things in terms of internalized that's the mindset. Internalized poverty, racism, any of that, where the issue of poverty or racism is turned inward, it's kind of like imposter syndrome.


Phuong: I mean, it could be because I'm a woman, it could be, cause I'm a woman of color, but it's turned inward. Because I'm thinking, okay, I can't apply for this. Or I can't apply for this job, or I'm not going to ask for that raise because I'm not going to get it anyway. That's when you start getting  something called learned helplessness,  when you just give up, because you've tried so many times before, or you've seen other people trying and failing maybe other people in your community or people that look like you and you don't see models of success. So that's an internalized blank. And then there's interpersonal.  So now we're moving into the bird's eye view. But that's the next level of interpersonal. So you could experience a relative poverty and wealth. So you could feel poor compared to another person that has more money than you.


Phuong: That happens a lot. Keeping up with the Joneses. Yeah. You could also feel that, someone aggressed against you. Maybe they said something racist or said something biased that upset you or pointed to their own ignorance, or something that was xenophobic. that's interpersonal.


Phuong: And then once we get to the third level, it's really high up there, institutional. it's when those internalized issues and the interpersonal issues, they can solidify in cultural norms, in financial rules, tax rules, and how money is distributed, globally, or even within a country and to who and who doesn't have access to it. And the ways of building wealth and of poverty and racism. It's very hard to separate In the U S definitely. Cause that's where my experience comes in. I think there there's a global context of those too that is applicable. From what we're talking about, the internalized, the interpersonal and the institutional can not be more so when we talk about mindsets, I bristle a little bit. When someone says that, because oftentimes when someone brings up mindset like, well, yeah, but poor people are poor because they don't save, someone actually said this to me at a wedding. They said, yeah great what you do, so noble, but do you advise people not to always buy the latest iPhone?


Phuong: And you know, I don't remember what I said. I might've gone white with  rage blindness, like after talking to him so much about like the struggles and the people and that's, that's what he brings up. Right Like the issue I have with the mindset conversation. I'm not saying it's not a part of this whole discussion, but it's not the only part of the discussion. And if you use that as a rebuttal to negate interpersonal and institutional issues, then we were not having the same conversation. It's all of these things. And  the question, I think the next thing is once you recognize that, then where are your specific skills and, gifts, where can they be used to make the most change if you want to make change. And, and I still think about that. I don't have the exact answer yet, but I try to do that through my work.


Kate: Well, there's, I mean, a lot going on there and those are really big issues. And is that kind of, I'm just going to paint a broad stroke here, knowing how many challenges are behind that, and especially when you get into systemic issues and barriers that people face to achieving wealth, is that why most people have kind of taken the easy road and it is easy to work with the people that are already wealthy.


Phuong: Yeah. It could be all And when you say easy,  it's also like, and like sometimes when people hear the word easy and I do this too, you think lazy, you think like, okay, that's the lazy road. You can cause it was just there for you. Some of the most hardest working people I know are people who are wealth managers and financial planners. So it's not, it's not that they're lazy.


Kate: Oh no. No.


Phuong: Right, I'm not saying, you're saying that either Kate. When I talk about institutionalized, it means the road has been paved. It means there are systems and businesses and job openings and career pathways that have already been trailed that are codified, that exists already for you to just pop into, not to say that it's easy to pop into. I don't mean, but  they're there for you.  The other thing is that the mechanisms to build wealth is very, easy to access for people who already have wealth. It takes money to make money. People say that, and I didn't realize how true that was until I became a financial planner.


Kate: Yeah. So I'm trying to think of what are some of the things that financial advisors and financial planners can do to help you on you've dedicated so much of your career to helping, but helping people that are more on the underserved spectrum. And you've done that in a way that has built a successful business and you're working on some other ways of making a bigger impact, but what actions can people that are in a big firm do? And I am working with some big firms to kind of say, Hey, how can we make advice more accessible? And thankfully there are new fee models out and technology helps with all that. But what advice would you have?


Phuong: So, I would say so, so different things. One is that if there are financial planners that want to get involved and, want to help people of lower income or lower wealth, it doesn't always mean that you have to work with them. Cause, cause I see that effort a lot. Well, Oh, I'm going to do some pro bono. I want to do more pro bono. And the tricky thing with that is, when we know very well as financial planners, that there are many things we know and many things we don't know. And it's important to be clear on that. And actually that was another level of another piece of advice that I should share is that you have to really clear on that and be really clear with yourself and also with your clients, because you can't build a business with trying to serve everybody.


Phuong: And I think financial planners and all this. And like, you don't have to niche so specifically, but you're going to drive yourself mad if you, try to know everything for every type of situation in the, in the financial world that can happen. And that's the same thing, not just the people that have wealth, but people who don't have wealth because people who don't have wealth are under different rules, but they also have rules that are over them regarding their income, their public benefits, their housing and the resources that have access to. So providing pro bono services where your training has predominantly been with people who have income and wealth and other resources, and really are in charge of their own financial situations. And don't have government rules other than taxes. Of course, there's a total, there's a lot of rules there, but there are different rules for people of different economic needs.


Phuong: And so being aware of that is really hard. And so pro bono, it's a tricky thing unless you have experience working with that population. And usually even then it's super local, super specific to location. In the US we have a very like antiquated state based system Of different rules and laws. Even across the state line, I could just step  under a totally different structure of how I could lose public benefits or lose certain government programs if I make too much income or if I have too much in savings.


Phuong: And then another issue is in giving.  And so that is an area that I think financial planners can make a lot of change in. a lot of times we're advising clients on giving and where to contribute charitable dollars.


Phuong: And in, from what I've read from people have done the research on this direct cash transfers and cash giving is the thing. It is the most efficient way to give aid. And it's the most efficient way to make an impact on someone's life and change an entire community, just giving cash and their organizations for that. I can share with you if you want to share it with the podcast as well. That's a huge, huge thing. And not just on an international basis, although that's where most of the research has been, but there are pilot programs happening in the US and they're showing great results that surprisingly, I say that sarcastically, not a surprise I should say, because I know sarcasm doesn't always translate right to an international podcast. Not surprisingly people are saving that money. They're using it for education, they're paying for education for themselves or their families.


Phuong: They're building businesses. They're not doing all the things that people are scared of, like wasting it on alcohol or other things that people deem inappropriate or irresponsible. Yeah. They're building, they're building wealth for themselves, either through community or through monetary wealth. And that's where those cash transfers are going. And so I really am a firm believer in, and I hope more aid and more giving movement moves in that direction because it's just more efficient and you can make more impact with it.


Phuong: And also just to learn about the history, learn about the history of what we're talking about, about the institutional stuff. Cause we were looking at a lot of diversity equity inclusion programs, talk about the interpersonal racism that people experience in the workplace or in their lives. Rarely does it delve into the internalized, that's a really tricky area, but I think there's a lot of work that can also be done in the institutionalized education. How, how are the systems that we're a part of, how are the laws that we can impact, that we can actually change and how are companies and businesses perpetuating these inequalities and what can we do about it.


Kate: Yeah. And we could go for quite a while longer. I've got a lot of other questions, this might have to be a two part episode, cause I'm just thinking of all the ways that we can impact things. And thinking back to that nonprofit that you worked at or having kind of that stepping stone, cause I'm not saying financial planners should just go out andnot make any money and just work with people that don't have money. That's not the answer, but it's, how can we help people move through the system. And I'm gonna make an assumption here, but you know, starting with  that nonprofit that you worked with. Working with those community nonprofits, the NGOs, the companies that are there to help and then prepare people to continue moving down the ladder, then having financial planners that work with lower income. And then as people's situations get  more complex throughout time, or if they do build more wealth then maybe, maybe moving along, but knowing that we need more of those stepping stones along the way and more rungs on that ladder to help people move along.


Phuong: Yeah. Thank you for summarizing in that way. And an important thing that I learned from my experience in the nonprofit was that I was only as strong as a financial counselor as the social programs available to me and my clients to help them with. I couldn't connect them to a wealth building mechanism if one didn't exist. And actually we found that there was difficulty because what we tried to do is expand to other States and it was so hard because Massachusetts, again, another reason I'm lucky in my career is that we actually, there were a lot of programs for people in terms of first time home buyer programs, for people that don't have the means to pay for a large down payment, a first time home buyer mortgages that have lower interest rates and income provisions for people to give them a, a boost if they couldn't make their mortgage payments for the first several years. And a lot of different nonprofits, a big nonprofit community that had varying satellite services. Not just in financial counseling. Other States definitely don't have that same ecosystem. And so it was it again, the community model, understanding what  resources are available. It wasn't just the education that allow people to move forward. Education was only one part of it. But you had to have the access and the resources to make a change, even with the education that you have.


Kate: And speaking of making a change, I mean, that's what you're doing. You've taken your career as a teacher and you're like, I want to do something bigger. You went to the nonprofit. You're like, I still want to help people in a different way. You just went and started your own business. And we'll tease something for the next episode, but you're working on something even bigger than that to make a difference. So overall to me, it's a lesson to listeners that are thinking, Hey, what am I capable of? What can I do? Phuong, you're  an amazing example of continuing to make a difference, continuing to put more goodness out there into the world and doing it in a way that still builds a great life for you and building a profitable business. And there's a way to do it all. So amazing encouragement and inspiration for others to go out there in whatever path they take. And that's the thing everybody's path is different. Every journey is different. Every end destination is different and that's what makes the world beautiful.


Phuong: Thank you so much, Kate. I really appreciate you saying that. I really appreciate all the excellent questions and I'd love to come back  and to continue. I mean, any chance to talk to you again would be awesome.


Kate: Oh, I love it. Yeah. We'll make that happen.  Thank you, Phuong.


Phuong: Thank you.

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