Are you good with numbers but not a bilingual grammar geek? If so, would you like to help Hispanics, families, and businesses understand how to use money more effectively? Read the following interview with Certified Financial Planner Elaine King, Partner and Director at WE Family Offices, and learn how.
Please tell us about your childhood–where did you grow up?
I was born in Lima, Peru. My father was the regional director for a multinational company, and my mother was a kindergarten teacher. Because we moved to different cities every two years, I grew up in Canada, Mexico, Peru, and the United States.
If you lived in another country, was the transition to the US difficult?
When I was a kid, it was difficult to leave friends behind, move to another city where a different language was spoken, and begin in a new school system. I learned, however, to adapt and share my experiences. Some of these experiences manifested later on in life—e.g., as part of my high school’s welcome committee in Massachusetts, as the President of the International Student Association at my university in Texas, and as a mentor to high school students in New York.
What do you remember being the biggest obstacle you overcame because of your Hispanic background?
Most experiences were positive. In Wellesley High School, I was one of only three South American students in the entire school, and being different was actually cool; I was embraced by the other kids. The only obstacle was not being fluent as a native English speaker early in my life. Since we moved from Spanish to English speaking cultures back and forth, neither of my language skills developed properly. Because of this, I think I developed a better relationship with numbers-driven subjects—i.e., those that do not require language skills, like math, statistics, and finance.
Did you go to college? Was being a Hispanic an advantage or a disadvantage?
I attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas and obtained a B.B.A. in International Business. Because most students had a Mexican heritage, I realized that knowing how to speak Spanish and having attended middle school in Mexico City were advantages for me. I then obtained an M.B.A from the Thunderbird School of Global Management
What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
After studying International Business, I started my career as an advisor for an investment advisory service on Wall Street in the late 90s. I have worked in the financial industry for the last eighteen years, mostly as a professional Certified Financial Planner ™. Currently, I am a Partner and Director at WE Family Offices.
In what ways does your Hispanic background help or hurt you or change the way you do your job compared to your peers?
I attribute the success of receiving professional opportunities to my background and knowledge of Spanish. My background definitely contributes to the value that I offer the families I serve. Living in Mexico after the market crisis in the late 80’s, in Peru while terrorism created economic instability during the late 90’s, and in Japan after the fall of the “little tigers” gave me a unique perspective that now enables me to provide thorough and holistic advice. Also, I was offered my first job because I spoke Spanish.
Please describe the things you do on a typical day.
There is no typical day for me, but the first thing I do is meditate. One day, I might create a social impact investment process through a committee for one of my clients; another day, I may plan a philanthropy camp for teenagers. Yet for a part of any given day, I do financial planning and am researching and evaluating tools to improve the processes with the families I serve.
What did you learn the hard way in your career and how did that happen?
In a job at the beginning of my managing career, I felt very comfortable with my culturally-diverse team. Another member thought, however, I crossed the line one day when I literally translated to English a phrase that is commonly used in Spanish. The team member from a different part of the world found my phrase offensive and noted it to the Human Resources Department.
What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
Culture and International Business books should be read regularly, especially when working with teams from different cultures. Though I had the knowledge and awareness, I assumed that my team—given the nature of our relationship—would confide in me about the problem rather than going to HR. In this case, I think better training in communications would have helped.
On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
One of the most positive things in my career is watching families come together to plan, share and invest. I love to observe “aha” moments during meetings; sometimes these are silent, but I do perceive them. The best day for me is when I combine my financial planning background with a learning experience that benefits a family or community—i.e., they understand how to become sustainable.
On a side note, I once spoke in the Peruvian Congress to present the Program for Families.
Were you intimidated when you had to address the Peruvian Congress? What advice would you give a Hispanic who has not delivered a speech before?
A little bit. I encourage Hispanics to join Toastmasters; I learned to give speeches that way and became a competent communicator (after ten speeches) and also joined their Board. I learned a lot!
When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
I am not involved in situations that require real-time involvement; most of the things I do take some time to come to fruition, thereby allowing things that are out of place to adjust. I do not dislike anything particular about my job.
How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
My job is usually not stressful; however, families require my attention at the same time on several occasions every year. Because of this, my personal time seems to decrease. Market instability is what creates the most stress to professionals working in my industry. I think, however, most of my colleagues can create a healthy work-life balance.
What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
The compensation ranges widely depending on the specific responsibilities you choose. For example, I have created a Financial Planning Institute at a Trust Company as a Certified Financial Planner ™ professional; I have managed a large portfolio of investments at a large Family Office; I have directed Family Learning Programs at a Multi-Family Office. All these positions have different compensations and benefits.
What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in your current position? Did you feel pride in being Hispanic?
One of the most rewarding projects I developed was a program I created for a client’s foundation: young donors had to teach their children about the value of money. Through the program, our client was able to obtain more donors, we met prospects, and the client referred us to his family.
What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
Throughout my career, I have been blessed to fill positions that did not exist and were created because of me. In a sense, this provided me a clean slate. But sometimes this can pose a challenge because of the uncertainty that comes with the territory.
What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
I honestly believe that everyone—whether you love numbers or not—can succeed with their personal finances. However, knowing that work can take up to 70 percent of our time, I recommend that one should choose a career that they absolutely love and would not mind doing even after winning the lottery. I believe that one must feel comfortable with numbers, want to truly do what is best for the client, learn something new every day, and stay up to date in everything that is going around the world.
What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Genuinely being interesting in empowering the client to improve their relationship with money is a must to consider this line of work.
Have you gone back, or considered going to your native country, or that of your forefathers, to give back to the community?
In 2010, I published my first book called “Family and Money Matters – Next Generation” in Miami and donated it to the community and not-for-profit organizations to help them raise funds. I also developed programs for them.
In 2012, I built a strategic alliance with the largest bank in Peru and distributed 10,000 samples of my second book “La Familia y El Dinero – Hecho Facil”.
In 2014, I published the first financial planning book for children in Spanish. As a result, the Family and Money Matters Institute was formed – a 501(c) 3 in the United States and Peru with the mission of empowering families with financial tools to improve their relationship with money.
Does this job move your heart? Feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
I am absolutely convinced that my mission in life is to help families with what I know how to do best: financial planning. It moves my heart and it is my calling. I know this because if I were to win the lottery, I would continue to do what I am doing but on a bigger scale. I also know because I end up helping organizations, a family, or an institution on the subject even when I am on vacation. I am in it until I am allowed to perform.
Check out my profile on LinkedIn: