When Justin Sullivan applied to be an “I am a CFP Pro” spokesman, he didn’t think much of it. He certainly didn’t think his application would be selected out of the sea of other qualified applicants. However, when he realized his application was accepted, he realized the importance of his new spokesman role held.
Justin’s path to becoming a finance professional started early. He knew that financial planning was his calling, and as a student he pushed to get involved with finance-related internships through the Inroads internship program. He knew that he wanted to have a respectable career path, and a challenging education experience. More than that, he knew what he wanted to do in his day-to-day after graduating:
He wanted to work with people, build relationships, and make a difference in the lives of his clients.
Justin took his CFP exam twice and passed on his second round. Now, he focuses on investment management, and continues to focus on building his expertise in the field. As someone who grew up without wealth, he felt as though he had to “learn” the world of high net worth individuals. When he first began his career, Justin felt insecure and worried that he wouldn’t find his place in the world of finance.
That’s why, when Justin was selected to be part of the I am a CFP Pro program, he felt strongly that his voice mattered. He knew that the financial space suffers from a lack of diversity. He also knew that when he started in finance, he wanted to assimilate, and that hindered him from being fully himself - and fully successful.
As part of the I am a CFP Pro program, Justin wants to represent his background, and he acts as a beacon to those from a similar background who may be feeling the same.
What You'll Learn:
How to step into the unique aspects of who you are to reach your full potential
How to embrace your background and heritage in the finance industry and within the financial planning profession
How to stand strong in your competence and skill and your identity
How you can live YOUR best life and encourage your clients to live THEIRS
Rianka: 00:00:00 Hello Justin, welcome to 2050 TrailBlazers.
Justin: 00:00:03 I'm so glad that you had me on as a guest, I've been really looking forward to this.
Rianka: 00:00:08 I am so happy to have you on because I didn't know you before, uh, the, I am a CFP pro campaign, so we're both spokespersons for the campaign and we'll definitely talk about that more here in a minute, but before then you're kind of like a diamond in the rough and I don't know if I would have ever found you if it wasn't for the CFP pro campaign so I owe them some uh, some credit for um, our relationship. Uh, and um, just beyond that, just happy to call you my friend.
Justin: 00:00:46 We've met a couple times in person and each time it's just gotten so much more in depth and getting to know each other, but you're right, the first time that we met in DC for the CFP pro campaign, we were just kind of brand new and excited to be a part of that. But I'm so glad to see where you've come, especially with this podcast.
Rianka: 00:01:04 Well thank you. Thank you. And now the world can meet and know Justin Sullivan. Like I know him,
Justin: 00:01:13 I'm happy to share as much as possible. I love this podcast and how transparent it is, so I commit to being as transparent as possible. So, uh, so let's get started.
Rianka: 00:01:25 Yeah. All right, so let's, I guess let's start from the beginning of our relationship, the CFP pro campaign. Uh, so I guess my first question is why did you apply to, um, to be a part of their campaign and when they selected you, why did you ultimately say yes to being a part of this?
Justin: 00:01:45 Yeah. So with the CFP pro campaign, honestly it just came in my inbox and I couldn't think of something that was more suitable for me. It really wasn't so much that I was seeking further exposure. I just saw the description, I was like, wait, this is me, this is like for younger CFP professionals. Um, it had to do with diversity, which I have a passion for and a lot of involvement with. And so I applied and I just didn't really think much of it. I just like, oh, this is, this is interesting. And when I was selected it, it almost caught me off guard because I thought it was just going to be like, share a couple ideas, um, maybe a blurb or two for an article. But they were like, no, we're coming down to Atlanta to we're bringing out a whole crew to do a personalized video of you and your life. And I'm like, oh my God, what did I get my? It's been really rewarding. And ultimately said yes to it because I do recognize the importance of branding and I'm just advocacy for the, uh, the lack of diversity we have in the profession. So I want it to be a part of that.
Rianka: 00:02:56 And I will make sure that I share your video in the show notes and remember you can find our show notes at 2050trailblazers.com. So I'll make sure that the listeners will be able to see more into your life because your life is a little different from mine. You know, I run my own firm virtually from pretty much anywhere. But you, you took a different path, which I'm so excited to talk about because you are still in corporate America, but you're like not in a RIA, which is a registered investment advisory firm or a broker dealer, which is one of those big financial organizations. You're actually at a bank.
Justin: 00:03:38 Yes. So a lot of what is discussed in the financial planning profession covers the two areas you mentioned, kind of the brokerage route and the RIA route, and I'm one of the, kind of the third but rare breed in the bank and the bank model. And this model comes from the old trust department of Banks. Back in the day banks would serve their clients and even their corporate and institutional clients, executives would have a need for private wealth management. And so a lot of the banks kind of built this department from that group. They're heavily rooted in trust and estate administration. Um, legacy money, legacy wealth. It is a bit of a different model than what you would see in the brokerage world or in the RIA route for a couple of different reasons. The first one is that we really are true fiduciaries in the bank model.
Justin: 00:04:35 We have a high level of care and a high standard that which we need to abide in. We are regulated by the Office of the comptroller of the currency, so we've kind of got a different level of regulation that goes around us, but some of the more practical differences would be our first all around our model. So I'm a specialized CFP, if you will. I'm just going to call coin that term. Focus on investments only. I'm, I'm an investment professional. I have other teammates on my team that represent the fiduciary trust and estate world, I have another teammate that would focus on kind of the cash management in the banking component. Um, another one that focuses on more traditional, a wealth planning. So we, each, each client gets a professional who is specialized in a different area of expertise rather than one person who's responsible to cover it all, which you see a lot of in the brokerage.
Justin: 00:05:38 In RIA space. And then another one would be how we're compensated. So I'm not a commission based type of employee, most of the time in the bank model you have salary based employees and we of course have room for a discretionary bonus, but that really bodes well with our client. They love knowing that our compensation is in line with theirs, with there's nothing I could sell them or recommend to them that where they need to worry like, wait a minute, what are you like, are you going to get paid on this or you make some kind of profit off of this? The answer is no, we are salary based. We just work in the best interest of the client.
Rianka: 00:06:12 That's interesting. I don't know if I personally know any other CFP professional that works at a bank like you. I'm in a position like yours. Uh, so I know if you know, I have a few friends and colleagues that work at a bank but, but not specifically as you mentioned like a specialized cfp within the investment in the investment world. So I want to kind of explore two of the items that you mentioned working in a team and then the compensation. So yes, it's a big difference. Um, and that I learned when speaking with you is that in the RIA world specifically, um, small RIAs, you know, you'll have a team of people, but the team has really broken out into the financial planning firm and then other, I guess other professionals like an estate planning attorney, a insurance agent, a and they all work for different companies.
Rianka: 00:07:14 So, so say for instance, if you have a client of mine though, I am their main point of contact as their, you know, financial planner as their CFP, you know, I'll connect them with an estate planning attorney. I'll connect them with an insurance agent because I too am fee only meaning I don't get paid any commission. I'm a fiduciary as well. And my client interest comes before my own. And so it's so important, especially in the type of environment we're in today in the financial regulation world to work with a professional that is in fact a fiduciary. And in the broker dealer world it's a little different as well. So from a consumer perspective, it's really great to ask these type of questions as far as just like, all right, I'm hiring you, but who else is on my team? Um, and then from a career perspective, I think it's also important to ask, you know, what my career path may look like, which is something I want to explore with you as well, Justin.
Rianka: 00:08:19 Here here in a second. Um, and then you also mentioned a compensation which I think is so important from a consumer client perspective and then also from a career path perspective because from a client perspective or a consumer perspective, I think we should be very transparent on how they're getting paid. And um, I'll, I'll, I'll say it, you know, I had some bias towards broker dealers in the bank world because I grew up in the RIA space. Um, and so really until I spoke to you, I really didn't know how it worked in the banking world, so thank you for sharing that with me.
Justin: 00:08:56 Yeah, you're welcome. And I think a couple things to, um, well first of all, so I want to talk about the teammates for as an example. So what you'll find in this space is like the fiduciary in trust advisor a lot of times on our team is someone who is a lawyer. They practiced, they were an estate planning attorney in a previous life and they've come into the bank model to be a resource for clients. Um, same thing with the wealth planning role. They might be have been like a CPA in their prior life and they've come onto the bank model. So by regulation banks are not allowed to, um, to practice kind of tax advice and nor are we allowed to give legal advice. But we have those professionals on our team. And so yes, we still interface with those outside CPAs and estate planning attorneys and such.
Justin: 00:09:49 But it's more on the sense of they are the ones who are actually executing the documents and um, and taking care of some more official business where we can provide some of the advisory and preliminary work that leads up to those documents being drawn up. So that, that's one important thing to, as people who are listening to this podcast consider a career in this field. Some things to keep in mind and then from the, from a compensation standpoint, I agree with you. I've had that same bias around the broker dealer space. Um, I definitely think there's a place for it, but, um, I think regulation speaks volumes and when you think about the regulations that are coming out now that are requiring broker dealers to be more transparent about the fees being charged on an IRA, for example, or they true fee that the true fee that they receive from selling a bond, for example, it's another recent regulation. It speaks volumes to the industry and what the issues are. I mean, if the government has to step in and tell a entire sector of industry like, Hey, you got to be more forthcoming with this stuff that it says a lot. So we've got room to go and is not to bash any particular. Um, uh, sector of business. We're, we're all family. Where there, whether you're are, we're all family, so if one of us suffers, we all suffer.
Rianka: 00:11:16 You can be a first cousin or second cousin, you might not get invited to the cookout. So Charlie, you can cut that. We'll probably keep that in. Um, okay. So let's talk career path real quick. Um, so as far as your career, uh, I want to take it to the beginning because how did you know about being a CFP? Literally everyone that I speak to, uh, accept the folks that I graduated with, who we are, and we kind of stumbled upon financial planning in college, but I never grew up saying I want it to be a financial planner. Actually, honestly never knew that this was a career path to take. So how did you find the world of financial planning? I guess specifically in your case, the world of wealth management, specifically investment.
Justin: 00:12:15 Yes. So I will jump right in. After high school, my first summer after high school I was doing construction work with my dad for his business and it was tough and it was hot and I knew I didn't want to do that. I went to college. I immediately, I mean from day one I was immediately concerning myself with internships. I heard about them. I knew they existed. I knew they were rare for the people who had just finished freshman year, but I wanted to find one. So I found a group called inroads. Inroads is such a great organization. It helps people of color and women and minorities across the United States find paid internships with reputable companies. And so I had two summer internships at Morgan Stanley and it went really, well, it was interesting, it was not in financial planning, but it was in finance. It was an asset management.
Justin: 00:13:14 And then from there I got acquainted with a, um, with a large bank and ended up kind of being recruited by them for a summer internship. It was in the wealth management area and I remember just being at a, um, like a networking event and sitting at the table with someone from that institution and they asked me what I, what I wanted to do for a career. And I said, you know, I, I, I'm not sure yet, but I know I want it to be technical. I want it to be investment based, but I don't want to be behind a screen all day, like I want relationships with people. I want to know the families of people with, um, I wanna work with people and understand their lives and that was a perfect fit for me. So I got into their wealth management department and I've been with that bank ever since and my career path was such that I was certainly leaning toward the investment side, but I was in a rotational program where I got to get a lot of exposure to different areas and a mentor of mine at that time, probably a year or two into my career, suggested the CFP.
Justin: 00:14:21 So I looked into it. Um, I pursued it. I took the exam and you know, the story. You know how the rest of that goes around. I did not pass one of the saddest days of my life. I got home, I opened the mail. I was so pumped up about it and it was like, no, no sir, you did not pass. I was like, ah. So I went to bed at like 6:00 PM that evening, I couldn't bear it, I was so upset and I was really embarrassed because, um, you know, a lot of people at my job had known I was taking it. I knew the next day was going by, so what would happen, what was the result? And so, um, the, the program I was in, the facilitator of that program called me and I was like, you know what, I'm just gonna I'm going to sit out for awhile. I need to like regroup.
Justin: 00:15:06 And he's like, no, no, no, no, you need to sign up for the next one. I'm like, no, I'm just, I really did not want to do it. But he convinced me to do it and I passed. And I attribute that to a. for one I didn't tell people I was taking it at work anymore because that was just added pressure. And for two, I just kind of found my rhythm of study. I needed to. I got to work early. I studied in the morning. By the time people started to come in, I would just close up my books. No one needed to know what I was doing and I just, I think discretion really helped me out and in addition to just kind of I'm becoming a better test taker.
Rianka: 00:15:40 Yes, yes. So I want people to hear, especially if you're in the in know in the financial planning world or about to take the CFP exam or have failed, you're in great company. I failed. The exam is like a badge of honor that I hope you don't have to have this badge of honor, but if you do, it takes so much courage to see, to see failure dead in its face and say you are not going to win because I'm going to pick myself back up and I'm going to try again. I did not mean to quote Aaliyah. It just came out that way.
Justin: 00:16:20 I think that this is important advice, especially especially for younger CFP people who are pursuing the CFP at a younger age. Like look, you have not had the life experiences that others have that are at a bit of an older age and and I mean life experiences, not professional experiences, life experiences. So you may not have had a family member pass away where you were involved in settling the estate, you may not have done your own taxes, you may not have had complex tax returns, you may not have purchased life insurance. So a lot of the CFP content actually comes from and is supplemented by your own personal life experiences. So let alone the fact that you've only been a professional for six months or two years, what have you, those life experiences start to kick in as well. And you're like, yeah, I'm familiar with us because I had, when my grandmother passed away, I had to do this or when I had to buy life insurance, I remember them asking me about this.
Rianka: 00:17:21 Absolutely, absolutely. And um, one thing about the CFP exam is, is not a team effort. It is, is, is an individual sport honestly. So the effort that you put in, um, will actually reflect in the results and um, you know, and, and when to take the CFP exam really depends on what's happening in your life. There's not going to be a perfect time, but you know, when it's not right. So I applaud you, Justin, for still pushing ahead and pushing forward with, you know, taking it again, even though your first gut reaction was not to take it again because I had the opposite effect or the opposite thing happened to me where I failed the exam the first time and um, again, felt very embarrassed, uh, with, with failing that exam and I took the exam, the next exam cycle, but it was more so from a revenge standpoint like I'm going to show this exam who's boss and you, you legit just cannot do that.
Rianka: 00:18:29 You have to go in with an open mind, be gracious and graceful and just, and just honestly, it's so much content. You can't go in there trying to remember everything. What you have to do is test how to pass the exam. I mean, what I mean by that is like you have to understand the exam and how they ask questions. Of course, understanding the technical and content is important as well. But those questions and or, or, or everything. But you know, it, it, it's, it's very tricky. And so if you go in there with honestly not, not an open heart and you going in there with revenge, you're going to fail again because that's what happened to me. And I took time off Justin. I took two years off. I was like, forget this. And then, um, during that time I was trying to find another career because this isn't for me.
Rianka: 00:19:27 I failed twice. I'm smart. What do you mean? I failed, but it was kind of like a self reflection moment for me of just like, it's not, it's not me, it's the exam and I need to learn how to pass it. And the third time I took it, uh, I passed. If we could have gotten a grade, I probably got an a plus because I was laughing the entire time I was taking the exam because I honestly knew all the answers. But I was at a point in my life where I was ready. I wasn't getting married, I wasn't planning a wedding like I was during the first couple of times. So it really depends on you. So I applaud you for just going with it. Even though your gut reactions that no, but you also went in with discretion and not telling anybody that you're taking it, so the pressure was a little off.
Justin: 00:20:12 It feels like you really need to build instincts for what they're trying to get you to say. So you train, you learn the content, you need to know what you're talking about, but those questions are like you, you're building up animal instincts sense what they're trying to get me to say. I can understand. I can really appreciate your comment about laughing during the exam because when you know it, you realize it and you're like, uh, I know I know what they're trying to do. I know they're trying to get me to say and they're, nudging me toward this answer. But you understand where they're nudging you to go if you haven't practiced and built that instinct.
Rianka: 00:20:53 Yeah, absolutely. And you know, speaking of the CFP exam, um, you know, one of my favorite is Zahn program and um, they were so gracious to sponsor a 2050 trailblazers listener, uh, this past for this July exam cycle. And then we're going to also have one for November. So keep a lookout for that, but that's the program I went through and um, I, I really loved them. I mean, and you have to take a prep course for the exam. There's no way you can just go through, just take the classes and then go for the exam because the prep course actually trains you to understand how to take the exam.
Justin: 00:21:33 Yeah, I agree.
Rianka: 00:21:34 And so Justin, you were in inroads to ask where you are, a distinct cousin. So I was in inroads as well and so I got my first internship when I was a sophomore in college and so I would definitely put the inroads info in the show notes, especially if there's any college students listening to this podcast. Um inroads literally changed just my mindset, my understanding from a professionalism standpoint. Um, yeah, I mean in, inroads really helped train me
Justin: 00:22:14 Inroades gets you right is the best way I could explain it. Like it took a kid like me who's from the city. I grew up in a blue collar family. I did not know what a lot of us are influenced by other things. So like when you go to a typical black church growing up, for example, the suits and the way people dress up there, are not the same suits, there's a lot of things that you might say or do or you might think are appropriate and then their inroads is like, no, this is, this is how it's done. We're going to get you cleaned, polished and get you ready for the corporate setting. And they get you paid internships because a lot of get into this content. But look, it takes a lot of privilege to be able to go a whole summer and work for free. That means you have an incredible support system or you have a vast amount of savings, which, you know, what college level person has those types of resources. So they understand and they're like, look, we're going to get you something that you can make your way to survive through the summer and even into college. Go into next semester with some money in your pocket.
Rianka: 00:23:20 Yes. And I couldn't remember, you know, my um, my first year out of college, uh, and I started working at an RIA firm and I recall having a conversation with someone. It's just like, how do you know all of this, like how do you know even from when, when we, when we go to dinners and knowing what utensils to use or just anything. And I, and I honestly, how did I forget about inroads? That's, that's where I learned everything. Inroads, inroads, shout out. So going back to your career, so you started off, um, you know, within inroads the internships which ultimately led you to the bank that you're at still today. So from internship all the way to, you know, I, I know you just recently got a promotion, so congratulations on that sir. Uh, and, and for you, how did you, it's something that you mentioned during the process of just knowing what you wanted. And I think that's what a lot of, especially with young professionals try to kind of figure out as is like, what, what do I want to do? Especially in the financial planning world, but you, you, you just laser focused in on it. You were like, I want to work with people. I want to build relationships I don't want to sit behind a desk. Like, how did you know this about yourself?
Justin: 00:24:52 This may sound a little weird. Hopefully it doesn't come across as pompous, but when I went to college, the business school I went to, I went to University of Pittsburgh at that time they only had four majors, believe it was general, like business management, marketing, finance and accounting. And I went in there and said which one is the hardest. Like what's the most challenging major? That's the one that I want. Um, and so that's what I went for it. And I kind of did the same thing with my career. I'm like, what is the most challenging? And hopefully the most respected or revered path as well. And I kind of sensed that it was the investment path. And so that's what I, that's what I took. And so I just always wanted to. I didn't want to be about fluff. I didn't want to be, a generalist. I really wanted to have some depth in a certain area.
Justin: 00:25:45 And so whether it was on the fiduciary and estate side or in the banking, I mean there's lots of depth in, in all of those different areas of expertise. But I just personally felt like the investments was the kind of the captain of the ship when it came to the client relationship because they've got a couple million dollars with you. That's what they are most concerned about is, is how, how is the market driving their, their wealth, and I want to be a part of that so that, that was it. I mean, it's kind of shifted and been calibrated over the years in terms of what my passion was, but it always has fallen into the investment side. Now, most recently I've gotten into more of a management role, so I'm responsible for about close to a dozen investment professionals, I still manage assets myself. Um, but now I'm responsible for other investment professionals. So it's been a different challenge and a different set of skills that need to be developed. But, um, you know, you can have a lengthy career in the financial planning space and do dozens of different tasks.
Rianka: 00:26:51 That's the one thing that I do love about the financial service industry, the financial planning world, is that your career paths really are endless. You can honestly have different chapters. And still be in the financial services world and have different chapters of your career, um, ultimately just building up to making you just a super cool, awesome professional.
Justin: 00:27:18 Agreed.
Rianka: 00:27:19 Right now you work with high net worth individuals. And so this means that, you know, they have at least a million dollars of investible assets or more. Um, and so how have you found yourself to be successful in this world? And working with high net worth individuals?
Justin: 00:27:43 That's a really good question. And I'll hit it from a couple of different points. There was intimidation, you know, who, who is going to trust me? Like I just got out of college, like who's going, who's got all this money and is going to trust me to advise them on their assets. So I, I definitely had some moments feeling a little discouraged just because of my age. And um, thankfully one thing that overcame that was, was working for a reputable institution because I think people assume like, well they wouldn't have put this person in this position. If this is a big, a big corporation, fortune 500 company, they're not going to put an inexperienced person in a client facing role. So I think I had some of the backing of the, of the bank, um, but he's still, there's still some personal points where it was like, man, I don't know that they're really gonna intrust me because I, because I'm so inexperienced.
Justin: 00:28:43 Um, but from the other side, kind of growing up in a area without wealth and not having those connections. I mean, it was just really interesting Rianka. I mean, I remember starting and being in this associate program and just being around a lot of other people who, it was really evident that they came from money. In fact, when I was an intern, there were maybe seven of us. It seems like almost each week it was revealed to me that one of those, the six other interns were a relative of a, of an employee or a or a client. And that, that exacerbated my, my insecurity around like, oh my gosh, what am I, what am I doing here? Um, but thankfully things kind of turned around for me, even within that summer internship, it got to a point where I was sort of, um, informally leading them, like the managers would tell me to, hey, would you, would you teach them how to do this?
Justin: 00:29:39 Would you teach these other interns? So it was kind of rewarding and fulfilling to have that type of experience. Um, but yeah, like when you don't come from a wealthy background, you definitely have some unique thoughts about it. And even around when you think about the time I started around 2008 like we were, that was around the time of this big exposure around the wealth disparity in the United States. And so to be working with the one percent of wealthiest people, the wealthiest people, you're like, oh my gosh, am I like a trader? Him? I like, you know, I'm helping them to be helping people that are on the lower end. But one thing that I also keep in mind though is we've got a large generation of baby boomers who are retiring. And if you think about it, these are people who, if they started working in their early twenties, and especially if they're a married couple and they've been saving in their 401k or what have you, there's a good chance they've got a million bucks. Like one thing that happens in the high net worth space is your perception around wealth changes because you realize like, you know what, over time, you know, with investment time horizon being, being such a powerful factor, if two people had 30 years to save and even if they were earning something that was, you know, less than six figures, there's a good chance they'll have a million bucks. So I'm actually working a lot with everyday people. They have just spent a lot of time saving.
Rianka: 00:31:07 So Justin, you mentioned there was an intimidation factor, especially with your age. And I trust me, I hear you on that. I, I recall sitting across from um, you know, clients that honestly could be that actually, that were my grandfather's or, or, or Nana's age. And um, it was like, wow, they're supposed to be taken advice from me. But, you know, confidence and that shared trust of the other, the senior advisor that was, that was sitting next to me helped with that. So from definitely understand the intimidation as far as the age. And then also I'm a woman. And so I, I noticed quite often when clients will ask questions, they will also look to the male advisor if it was me and a male advisor. Um, but I will give them the answer. He, he, um, but for you, you may not have to deal with that. But then also, I mean, you know, from a, from a diversity standpoint, you kind of stick out justin,
Justin: 00:32:14 that's a reality of the space. And that is the genesis of why we have this podcast. And while we have the CFP pro campaign, um, we, we lacked diversity in this field. And um, you know, I've had similar experiences where you go into a meeting and the client or prospective client or even a coworker who doesn't know, you kind of assumes that you're the assistant or the, um, or, or the what's of the word I'm thinking of the apprentice. Um, and so I've had those experiences where I'm like, no, I'm actually on the investment advisor. I'm the one who's making. Yeah, I've had those. But you know, one of the examples that sticks out to me the most as I think about that level of intimidation was I just really wanted to fit in. I wanted to assimilate. I wanted to be considered a really good investment advisor, not a good young investment advisor or not a good black investment advisor.
Justin: 00:33:11 I really just wanted to identify as a smart, a competent professional. And I had, when I was younger in my career, I kind of felt like I wasn't being taken out on deals or as many deals as a wanted or almost felt like the only time I was being asked to be involved was when it was a, an African American prospect or client. Um, and, and that was part of, that might've just been my perception, but in some cases I think that was a, they wanted to demonstrate like diversity or to. And I was like, okay, well I'm trying to get a shot so I'm going to, I'm going to go on this. But in one particular example, there was a, a wealthy African American perspective client that I was working on and I was going out and meeting with him along with a partner who is a white male and I'm again really just trying to be identified as a without race or without age, just as a good professional.
Justin: 00:34:15 And the prospect was kind of making me uncomfortable because he kept saying he kept bringing it to attention that I was black in a positive light and it was making me uncomfortable because I was with a white colleague and I just didn't want that to be an area of focus. And so as we continue to pursue his business, he eventually decided to work with us. And um, his business I'll just say was in black media. And so he made. He made a lot of his wealth. He made all of his wealth on black, a black client base. And so there was one particular time he said, Justin, I'm going to end up doing business with you guys and I want to make it clear that I'm doing it with you because you're black. And that made me really, really uncomfortable. I didn't like that until he explained to me that he's like, look, I would not have had this money if it was not for black clients.
Justin: 00:35:06 Like it took me years in this particular. He's an older gentleman. He was living through an era where white clients, were not doing business with him. They were not buying his product. They were not involved in his promotion and growth of his business. And that's when it really stood out to me like, you know what? This is something I don't need to. I need to remain with that idea that, you know, I want to be a professional and considered for my skill and competence. But I don't need to be ashamed of my background, my heritage. I need to embrace it. And I need to be excited about it really. Because this is exciting for this gentleman. He wants to give business to somebody who looks like the people that made him wealthy and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It took me awhile to get to that, to that point, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I appreciate that about him and I respect him for, for doing business with me for that reason.
Rianka: 00:35:59 Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned you didn't want to be identified as like the black investment advisor and you kind of ran away from your identity. Um, and, and I hear that a lot with just professionals of color and it's, you kind of mentioned it, but I really want to hone in on this of like what made you finally comfortable of just standing out and just saying, yeah, I'm a, you know, investment professional, I'm a CFP and I'm black.
Justin: 00:36:32 Well, here's what it is, like, what you realize is that your competence and skill that I keep mentioning, that's a given. Like if you're in that seat, you would hope at least you're smart. They understand that. They're like, yeah, you're obviously smart and competent or you wouldn't be hired into this role. And so I think they want to do business with someone they like and someone that they respect and someone that they have common interests with. And that's why I think is so critical to look at things like golf. I don't like golf, but it's important to look at things like that. So you have common ground, it's important to belong the certain clubs and expose yourself to different things. I mean, I live in Atlanta, I'm in the south, I've got one of my best friends got me into skeet shooting. I like to go skeet shooting and I meet people that way and it's totally different and it's not what I would have grown up doing.
Justin: 00:37:26 But it exposes you to different people and it makes you more well rounded so that you have these opportunities. Because look, I do not shy away from this. If you try to see if you try to be the black investment advisor or the woman investment advisor or the LGBTQ investment professional, like if you put yourself into certain boxes of diversity, then that's probably all you're going to get. And I want to be. I want to have my opportunities as open as wide as they can possibly be. I want to work with everybody and I do have a passion for working with people that, um, that also look like me. I think it's odd that, you know, if my entire book of clients are older, white men I think that's strange and shouldn't be. And so I do. I am concerned about diversity and inclusion as well. But I also like to keep my options open, you know, when you think about the legacy of wealth in this country.
Justin: 00:38:25 And I try to share this message with people frequently. Um, it was by design that certain people did not have access to wealth. And when I say was intentional, I mean government sanctioned intentionality, whether it's redlining policies that made it so that people of color could not get, get loans for mortgages. And the impact that has on education systems. I mean our, our home taxes, property taxes, pay for school districts if you've got poor property tax or property tax base. We've got poor schools. You look at the over policing of certain communities and the breaking up of the home. So the fatherless homes and even down to, um, you think about Vietnam in the wealth exchange that happened during that time when the soldiers came back and white soldiers got a certain set of privileges and black soldiers did not. And one of those main privileges was around real estate and property and home ownership, which is the way most Americans built their wealth. So with that legacy in place, I don't shy away from the realities of why there aren't as many black wealthy people, but I'm passionate about helping those get, you know, get into that space and those that have made it there to help them preserve it and grow it.
Rianka: 00:39:44 Yes, yes, yes, yes. You're hitting on a lot that Phuong, she's episode six. That Phuong and I discussed and we went into detail about red lining and how, uh, you know, just the wealth gap started and, and still is being pretty much exacerbated, uh, even today. Um, and so if you want to learn more about that, definitely check out episode six with Phuong and I. But yeah, we, we dove deep into that. Justin,
Justin: 00:40:19 you have to go to that subject because I emphasize this word a lot was it was intentional, it was explicit and it was intentional and our solutions need to be explicit and intentional as well. These, these were, these were by design and so we're in a long period of repair and as certified financial planners, we play a role in that repair.
Rianka: 00:40:45 I agree. I love it. The solutions have to be explicit and intentional, so we have to stop saying, let's try and let's actually do. I love that Justin. I absolutely love that. So just knowing all of this like, you know, just knowing this history, knowing that sometimes you're looked at as the apprentice apprentice or the assistant or sometimes just get looked over. How do you make sure you bring your whole self to work. How, how do you navigate in such a high caliber in a high performance career with sometimes a mental state of uneasiness?
Justin: 00:41:29 Yeah. I, I'm so glad to use that phrase because I kind of have a love hate with that statement, that statement with bring your whole self to work. Because when I think about that, I think about like, well, don't bring your alcoholism to work, don't bring your abusiveness. If you're a jerk, don't bring that to work either. Like I don't, I don't want people to just be bringing their whole self, bring your professional self to work. And that's my response to that comment is like just being professional really helps you to be a high performer in different arenas. Especially when you're in a, when you're a minority in the workplace, like don't you don't, you don't need to be cursing at work. You don't need to be late, you don't need to be loud, you don't need to be wrong. Like you just need to be a professional, be a good teammate, smile, be friendly, be polite, be accessible, be transparent.
Justin: 00:42:27 I really, and again going back to inroads, they really planted the seed of that for me and I realized that I kind of realized like, look, every person, no matter, white, black, old, young, big, small, whatever it is, there's like a stereotype laid out for you to fall into. Like, are you going to be that person or the office you're going to feed into this stereotype and when you can avoid that, like just just bring your professional self to work. You avoid the stereotypes, you avoid being closed off and people are, they just view you as a good professional. I mean, they're never going to look past your age, your race, your gender, those things exist. Um, but all you can really do take to combat that is to be a professional, be. Yeah, that's it. That's the only way I could really explain it. Be Professional.
Rianka: 00:43:23 Yeah. All right. So that's how you bring your whole self to work. I see justin
Justin: 00:43:29 I bring my whole professional self to work. There are elements of me that don't come to work. I mean, look at that. There's an element of me that's for hanging out with the guys is element that's with going on a date. There's an element. That's with just spending time with my dog was like, dude, you can still be you. You're not being disingenuous. You're just being like the pete. My clients and colleagues know the Professional Justin Sullivan and that's appropriate. I feel, that that's all I can really say. It's appropriate.
Rianka: 00:44:01 So thank you for sharing how you bring your whole self to work and what you mentioned. You just bring your professional self. There's different elements of Justin, you know, and you know, the bank and its clients only see the professional side, which I 100 percent agree with you there, but there some times in our life where just the reality of what's happening in America today seeps into our professional world. And what I mean by that is just what's happening today, the, the conversations that are happening, um, you know, from our leaders in America, um, our elected leaders in America and um, things that are happening with, um, you know, just unarmed black men being shot and killed because, you know, of a cell phone or a pack of starburst. And um, you know, it got so bad a couple years ago that I honestly had a conversation with my husband.
Rianka: 00:45:06 I really did not want him to go to work. Um, and it was very scary because just the week prior, the week prior we got pulled over for driving in DC. It was really late at night. It was like 2:00 in the morning probably in an area that is like, you know, I, I don't know, but we got pulled over for no apparent reason and since then I just, you know, was just a little uneasy. And then a couple of things happened the following week and I was just like, wow, Reggie, can you please just stay home? And he's just like, no, honey, I'll be fine, you know, he's a very upstanding citizen and all that good stuff. But I went to work that day and was not able to concentrate and I felt so alone and so I was the only person of color at this time working in this office.
Rianka: 00:45:57 And I felt like no one else cared or, or I was living in an alternate universe where everybody was still going about their day. Like everything was normal and I'm like, what's happening is not normal. And so I don't feel like I could have emailed my manager, my boss at the time, just be like, I need a mental day because would he understand, he's a white man. Like would he have understood what I was going through as a woman of color who has a husband who's a black man. And so for me it was one of those days where I could not perform.
Rianka: 00:46:41 Has that happened to you before and how do you handle this?
Justin: 00:46:45 It's a complex issue, and I would start by saying your first, whether you, whether you grew up in a trailer park or in the projects or no matter what walk of life that you come from. There's trauma that people experience every day that they have to bring the work. So you have to look around your office, your place of business and assume that there's somebody there who might have a terminal illness or has a loved one who does or lost a child or is dealing with a legal issue or is in a divorce situation. I mean there's all kinds of trauma that people have to bring to work. That is just really, really difficult. Especially when you work long hours like I know you and I do. There's times where it's just really difficult no matter who you are, but related to your question, it's even that much worse when the issues seem to be systemic and frankly from a top down standpoint.
Justin: 00:47:45 So now you've got people that, those assumptions that I gave as an example, you have to layer on some other, some other ones as well, like if maybe you've got a Mexican American people that you're working with that family members that are now feeling threatened around, uh, when you hear rhetoric around building a wall or, or deporting certain people or LGBT issues that still exists where people don't have certain protections around employment, various states. I mean, there, there are things that are really, really painful and you know, when you work in a diverse place, um, you work with people that have different viewpoints. And so I have taken a mental health day. I mean, I don't call it that. I don't, I just say I'm not, well I'm out today, um, or I might just have to take out, take a walk at lunch or have a trusted, a trusted friend at work that I can talk to about these things. Um, they're, they're difficult. They're just really, really hard to overcome and they are kind of scary and kind of saddening and disappointing frankly, but they exist and we just got to find our way to work around it.
Rianka: 00:48:55 I don't think you're answering my question, Justin,
Justin: 00:48:57 you want me to go deeper?
Rianka: 00:48:59 Yeah, because it's like, I understand, I understand that you just gave me the most pc answer. I get it. Like everyone has trauma that's affecting them and for this particular situation in this particular profession specifically when you're the only person in the office. So that's what I'm talking about,
Justin: 00:49:28 Rianka, what I would say to that, particularly in the situations where I'm one of, actually. Yeah, I'm the only African American like advisor. What I do is this, overtime I can pick up on how people feel about different topics. It just comes over years of working with people. Um, they're the little comments they make the little, um, their, their body language and expression. So I know that if, um, if, uh, if there's, uh, another senseless shooting of an unarmed black man, I feel kind of sense. Who at the office is going to say, well, I wonder what they did to do that. I'm sure they did. I think I kind of know who might say something like that and I know the person who, who wouldn't say that or who, who might empathize or who might even bring it up to me like, oh, this is so crazy. I'm tired of this. Something's gotta be done.
Justin: 00:50:19 I just kind of know who those players are. And I just very, very carefully. If it's an opportunity for me to drop some knowledge on somebody, talking about those legacy problems that exists. Giving the facts because I'm, I'm well read and I'm well aware and woke frankly, I take those moments and share it with people and just share the facts. But I really, really make an effort concerted effort not to go too deep with people because I'm not going to let them take me off my game. Like I need to be high performing, I need to be sharp, I need to be on point and if I feel like God opened a window for me to explain something to someone into express a point of view to someone who can receive it than I do. But if it's someone that can't, I mean at this point in the game Rianka.
Justin: 00:51:05 If, if, if I'm going to have a discussion with somebody, if we can't agree up front that both of us are going to agree to something that we didn't start out with. In other words, we're both going to come to this table and say, you know, you make, you make a good point there that if we can do some of that middle ground work, then I'm not going to engage in the discussion because I'm not going. Especially in the workplace. I'm in my suit. I'm trying to focus. I'm trying to bring in new clients. I'm trying to serve my clients well, I'm not going to be taken out of my element for anybody for it.
Rianka: 00:51:37 No. Yeah, I definitely agree with you on that part and yes, I'm not in the business of trying to change people's minds when it comes to that, but however, if I feel like God is trying to tell me something and there's. The door is kind of cracked. Yes. Just like you, I would our will drop some knowledge and have this person be informed. The point that I want to make is that in our offices we just have to be aware of who we have as colleagues because we spend more time with our colleagues than our family on a day to day basis. Like, you know, eight to 12 hours a day. We could be in an office with our colleagues. Our colleagues honestly becomes family and as the leader, as the boss, you have a responsibility to know what's happening in the world and how it's affecting your employees. That's all I'm saying because I, I felt alone, Justin. I've honestly felt alone.
Justin: 00:52:53 I know the feeling and you know, one thing that really has taken me by surprise throughout my career is the perception that I give off at work. And again, I'm, I keep on praising inroads because they've kind of helped me to develop professionally, but I'm not from the environment. I think people assume I'm from a well to do situation that I, I'm not exposed to certain things or don't have certain sensitivities to to issues that directly relate to
Speaker 3: 00:53:26 black people in this country and around the world. And so, um, I think just sharing my story with people. I mean I can, I can think back to one time early in my career, um, I actually lost my brother, my older brother in 2009 to gun violence in Philly. And it was a very difficult time for me. It was, it was sad and I was all the things you would think would happen. And um, it was on the local news. I mean all this stuff was just infiltrating my professional self to work, if you will, like that. That was not available to me anymore. The professional self at work because I had a very traumatic and very public situation that was going on and something that just still saddens me today. It was very, very painful. Um, and so, but people I think need to understand that like, just because you're in this professional world and just because you're in a suit doesn't mean that you don't relate or don't relate.
Speaker 3: 00:54:25 Like these are life issues and so whether we're relates to the personal setting, like my older brother were, you know, I just had to go to, I took a couple days off of work, but it was just so much exposure to, to my personal world. But then even taking it up a level to the things you talked about with kind of the police shootings and just a whole plethora of, um, of injustices that exist. I just think it takes, um, tact and poise to engage where, where it's meant to be, where we're avoid where you need to just so that you don't get thrown off your game.
Rianka: 00:55:09 Agreed. I'll make one more comment and then, and then we can definitely move on from this. But what the one thing I've really appreciated about my, my husband's company, I can't remember if it was the CEO or if it was just the principal or partner of his sector, but they actually wrote a firm wide email about what was happening, um, that, that point in time a couple of years ago where I felt just so uneasy, like it was just rapid and what those leaders chose to do was to get in front of it. And so that's just something I really want to see more in the financial service industry and in the financial planning profession specifically. It's just to understand that those types of emails or, or just coming to us and just saying something, it makes me feel like you see me and you kind of want to try to empathize with what I'm going through.
Justin: 00:56:00 That was a really good practice that they did and I value that kind of stuff. The world needs more of it. And um, I can think back to the day after the last presidential election where there was a manager at the bank who covered a really large group of people. I mean like hundreds and hundreds of employees and it was a day where he was supposed to deliver a tough message around sales and, and things that weren't really going so well. I remember speaking to him and he was like, I'm not doing that today. He told all his sub managers do not share tough sales news with people today. People are going through a lot about all the rhetoric around the election, especially as it relates to the topics of diversity and inclusion. It was too traumatic of a day. Do not deliver that message today. And I really appreciated that as well. Just like, look, give people a break for some of these tough things that are going on. And like you said, just let people know that they're seen, they're acknowledged and they're cared about.
Rianka: 00:57:03 Yeah, that's true. Leadership right there. That's true leadership. So I want to transition a bit and um, it, it's something that we both are very passionate about. It's just working out and fitness. Um, you know, I follow you on social media. Um, and uh, I know you followed me too, so we were always cheering each other on when it comes to fitness and, and as we share our goals and it's something that you mentioned a while back and it's something that just continues to resonate with me that I want to make sure the listeners here is that the concept of health is wealth. And you mentioned that it was by a certain age that there's a split. Let's talk about that.
Justin: 00:57:50 Yeah. I mean this is just recently did a set on a local news station where the topic was about how to, how to handle a health crisis in retirement because the reality is that you live and you save and you retire and you hope that it's graceful. Going on cruises and taking the grandkids places and then one day you peacefully pass away and your sleep and that's it for you and then people inherit money that you left behind. That's not always how it goes. A lot of times the health crisis around retirement is, can be really, really draining on your finances. And when you and I are speaking recently, I just feel like around the age of 50 you start to see people that are on two different tracks. There's people who are 50 and taking care of themselves and they're, they're eating well, living well exercising and then you've got people that are 50 and it's like they are not going to, they're either going to make it for a long time with a low quality of life or they're not going to make it at all. And it's just, I'm curious about that connection between finances and health. This isn't something of deeply studied up on. I'm still kind of in the observation stage right now, but there is a connection and I think um, you know, some small, some small contributions today to a gym membership to buying more quality groceries. I'm pays dividends for your future and all these prescriptions that you can avoid being on and hospital visits and just not being able to live your best life when you retire.
Rianka: 00:59:34 Yeah. And you know, just as you mentioned, it starts way before age 50, but at 50 there is kind of like a split of how your health is going to go and if your wealth is truly going to be affected by it because of now it's instead of being in the state of where there's a preventative measures that you could have or that could have happened. Now you're in the more so of triage. And then in er mode of like, all right, now we just have to recover, recover, recover. Um, you know, I was listening to a interview by Bakari sellers. He was recently on the breakfast club and he was talking about how in just low income communities, just, they, the children, they don't see doctors and, and I think, you know, just the finances are a part of that. So as far as just from your observation stage, um, I think that's an interview you can check out and kind of add to your observation.
Rianka: 01:00:47 But it was something that he mentioned about from a doctor perspective, we have to go to the doctor, like as kids, we have to go to the doctor and get our shots, but dentists is that we don't have to go to the dentist as kids is like, is something that our parents take us to and it's something that our parents have to pay out of pocket for. And especially if they don't have dental insurance, like not all companies offer, you know, dental insurance, the health insurance is there, but it's like the dental, the vision, um, all, all the extra health insurance that we need. Um, but yeah, it, you know, he was just sharing how in, you know, impoverished or in low income communities that a lot of the kids just don't see doctors regularly. Like they should. And maybe those kids when they're 50, those are the ones that have the health issues.
Justin: 01:01:42 It starts early and in fact, those who know me know I don't, I don't like exercise that much. Like I, I try to find things that are fun. Like you've seen me doing those, those mud runs or.
Rianka: 01:01:57 Yeah,
Justin: 01:02:00 just something that's not so mundane, but I don't like it, but it's just something that needs to be done. Like you just gotta take care of yourself is really detrimental. Especially know a major focus of this podcast is around kind of diversity and inclusion and some of the things we've not been exposed to in our communities. Again, in some cases very intentional reasons, um, but some of it is just associated with poverty in fact, most of it is just associated with poverty and lack of education and you know, when you're raised on certain snack foods and junk food and you're like, oh, this stuff is okay, and then you just get doomed to this destiny of poor health and which is very costly. So yeah, you're not going to have to investigate that together. That'll be next time you have me on. I'll have my full write up on this study that I'm kind of curious about Rianka, but I definitely think we're on to something here.
Justin: 01:02:57 And it does start at a young age and I will also add this. Another thing that starts at a really young age is, um, is the education path and reading, and I know there's a lot of studies around were third graders are able to read at a third grade reading level or higher. Their pathway also looks a lot more brighter than those who do not is something that is on nearly impossible to catch up on. It's something that you don't quite learn in school. It requires a lot of practice and reading at home and a single parent home or your mom's working two jobs, you know, that may be difficult for her or anybody to spend that time. So. So that's just another thing I want to point out as well that early childhood development from a health and reading standpoint have a very, very tight connection with wealth and prosperity.
Rianka: 01:03:51 Yes, I would definitely be a happy to join you on that journey of just that observation and exploring stage and maybe that's something that we can just bring back to 2050 trailblazers and um, talk about, you know, just, you know, reading as we know, reading is fundamental and the early onset of reading as well as um, just exposure to various doctors and doctor visits, how that may be a connection of a financial prosperity later on in your life. I think that's, I think that would be really cool for us to explore it together. So my last question for you, Justin, before I let you go now, as you look back on your career and your personal journey, what are some of the ways that you have invested in yourself either professionally or personally that has supported the growth of you as a person?
Justin: 01:04:52 That is a very strong question, Rianka, one has been through the CFP and I know that's kind of a layup answer, but I have to say it, I, I have so much more knowledge, so much more confidence and I am so much more well respected in the industry by having earned that designation. And on top of that as part of the story I shared and how I got there and failing one time and just the difficulties around that have just made me a stronger person. So one way of investing in myself, was becoming credentialized. Another way that I've invested in myself is through personal coaching. Um, there's something that I think a lot of us kind of look at like, yeah, I don't, I don't really need that or what is this person going to tell me, but I will just say I had a very difficult and turbulent time in life.
Justin: 01:05:58 I guess it might've been about four or five years ago and I was just kind of knocked down a little bit. And one thing that really, really helped me to get out of that was getting connected with someone who was a personal coach. Now they come in different forms and fashions. And at that time I was kind of skeptical as well. So I didn't go with the one on one coach, but rather this person had a um, kind of like a group, a group class, and it was online based. And we just had some conference calls for a couple of weeks in a row, um, but the knowledge I got in there, some of the things I took away, which just about gratitude, writing down things that I'm grateful for every day, goal setting, setting weekly goals, having a dry erase board and checking off my goals. It really helped propel me to get back on my feet and exceed even more. In fact, I'm in the process of getting back in touch with that coach to continue kind of another chapter of that coaching. So, um, I would say credentials being credentialized through the CFP and then also participating in a relationship with a personal coach had been two things that were investments in myself that have really, really helped me out.
Rianka: 01:07:11 That's awesome. And I can definitely advocate for a, just a professional coach or business coach. I have a business consultant myself and um, she has pushed me outside of my comfort zone so many times. And um, I can honestly say 2050 trailblazers wouldn't be in existence without her pushing me. She was one of a handful of people that knew about this project, so, um, yeah, just, I can't advocate for it that enough. And, and also being a CFP, I wholeheartedly agree with you being credentialed. That confidence and competence that come with it is out of this world and I'll make sure that I'll put more information about the, I'm a CFP pro campaign, which is spreading awareness around the career in financial planning and exposing it to young professionals, people of color and women. So. Wow. Thank you so much Justin. Thank you so much for joining us today, sharing with the listeners a all that you had to share and I'm just so happy now that my, my listeners will know an extended cousin of mine.
Justin: 01:08:35 I'm so proud of what you've been able to achieve in your career. I've got a lot of gratitude around you having me as a guest on this awesome podcast, Rianka.