Alexandria: Soraya, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast. This is a long time coming, but I’m really excited to talk with you today about your journey through the fintech community.
Soraya: Thank you so much for having me. Excited to chat with you today.
Alexandria: I just have to share a slight story because this is just to share the power of Twitter and Instagram. I would say this is about two and a half, maybe three years… You correct me if you know a different number, but I’ve been knowing Soraya for about that long, but we didn’t actually get to meet in person til this past year.
Alexandria: It’s just funny because we just would be talking via the internet about different things we were working on, sharing a, “Go girl,” every here and there. It just shows the power of virtually starting off a relationship even if you don’t know somebody in person yet. I think it’s just really cool. Then when you finally meet them in person, it’s like you really know them already.
Soraya: Right, exactly. I’ve known you for years.
Alexandria: I know, exactly. They’re like, “What? What do you mean? You’ve never met this person before?” I’m like, “No, but that’s okay.”
Alexandria: Anyway, so we’ll go ahead and get started because I know there’s several things I want to discuss with you today, this being fintech month. Before we kind of dive into that, I want listeners to basically get to know you a little better, so let’s just kick it off by having you share with us where your passion for finance began.
Soraya: All right. My passion for finance began really early on. I grew up in a low-income household in the low-income community. I always saw that everyone was living the same way we were living, kind of paycheck to paycheck, not able to do everything we always wanted to do, and maybe sometimes robbing Peter to pay Paul, trying to decide what to do with your money.
Soraya: As a kid growing up and watching Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, I’d see these kids on TV, and they’re going on vacations, and they were on the gymnastics team, and they’re doing all these extracurriculars that we weren’t able to do. I wondered how could they get to do these things and live in these big houses? It really just came down to money, and managing your money, and moving up in the socioeconomic status.
Soraya: My granddad, he was really the main family member I knew that had money, and he was working towards retirement. I would just talk to him and try to understand how do you get money and what do you do with it? He used to sit down with me and look at the newspaper. In the newspaper, there are different stocks in there and the stock prices, and he would show them to me and go through them with me. He would actually ask me, “Which one would you buy and why?”
Soraya: I have this very fond memory of telling him I would buy Deer Park, I think it was at the time, because water, and everyone needs water, so we should invest in something like that because it’ll always go up, and just understanding the stock market from a really young age and the value of wealth within the black community. That’s really where it started, and it just continued to grow and build as I got older. In high school, I was involved in the FBLA. We had a entrepreneurship class where I was the CFO for that class. The passion for finance and understanding finance and understanding financial literacy just continued to grow.
Alexandria: That’s awesome. I really enjoy hearing people’s… just hearing how where the passion build. It’s typically that one family member that really just poured it into you, right?
Soraya: Yeah. Yes.
Alexandria: They just had a couple of gems. You know?
Alexandria: It wasn’t that he was doing anything too financially savvy, but he just knew the importance of sharing knowledge with the next generation.
Soraya: Yeah. Yep. He worked hard. He was a police officer, and he worked really hard and retired and saved and invested. It just shows the value of long-term planning versus just thinking very short-term and, “What’s the quick fix, and how can I quickly get a lot of money?” He was always really big on working hard and saving and growing your money over time.
Alexandria: You talked a little bit about high school and being involved there and the assumption of then going into college and majoring in… What was your major exactly in once you got to college since you had that background of finance? How did it maybe convert there?
Soraya: Yeah. I went to Virginia Commonwealth University here in Richmond, Virginia. Go, Rams. I loved it. It was very diverse. It’s right in the city of Richmond, which I loved. I lived on the business floor. They actually had a floor of all business students. It just created this ecosystem of other students with a lot of the similar prerequisites that you have to go through. That’s when you first start taking your intro econ, your intro accounting and intro finance classes. I knew, going in, I wanted to study finance, thinking I wanted to go into investment planning or I’m going to be an investment broker one day.
Soraya: I discovered the Financial Planning Association. Surprisingly, I didn’t know it when I applied to VCU, we had the second FPA chapter, student chapter, in the nation. I quickly got involved with that Financial Planning Association, and that just really just sparked my passion for financial planning because I was involved with that almost my entire time at the school. That’s where I met one of my really good colleagues, Joey, who’s also still involved in FPA. We just kind of grew up in planning together. We got to meet different speakers, different financial planners in the area.
Soraya: That’s where I learned about fee-only financial planning, which I was very passionate about and something that I realized that’s what I wanted to go into. We met fee-only planners and insurance planners and all different types of planners in the area and more investment-focused planners. That’s how I got into the fee-only space. We did different case study competitions, so we got to travel the country and go to the FPA national competition and NAFTA conferences. It was a great experience.
Soraya: We had a financial planning major, so finance with a concentration in financial planning, that I was able to receive. That was one of the CFP® undergraduate programs, which is pretty rare. There are more of them popping up now, but back in 2010, ’11, ’12 when I was there, it was a fairly new program.
Alexandria: Gee, so it sounds like it really just took off for you once you got into college. You just super dived in. You got really involved.
Alexandria: It really just points out once you’re in college and when you really know what you want to do early on, not saying everyone needs to, but when you finally explore enough and you go, “This is what I want to do,” it’s so cool when you get to just start taking off in the space. You’re like, “All right. I’m involved in the student factor. I’m involved in meeting new people.” Everything just starts to become you wrap your life, kind of, in what you want to do.
Soraya: I did. Yep, got internships, and it’s just a great opportunity to just jump right in, and I loved it.
Alexandria: Is that how you maybe started or found your first job in the profession is after college?
Soraya: It is, yeah. Our FPA student chapter liaison or maybe the professor who managed our student chapter, he introduced me to a company that was looking for a student intern. I am still in communication with those folks. They’re still Richmond-based financial advisors, and they use our software here at Envestnet MoneyGuide. Sometimes they’ll reach out with a question or we’ll just grab lunch, and they’ll talk to me about their practice, and do I have any tips or suggestions on what other advisors are doing? I really enjoy that opportunity to still have that relationship with them.
Soraya: At the time, I worked part time. I would go maybe two or three times a week to their office. I sat at the front desk, so I would answer any calls that came in, get the mail when it came in, so I was client facing from the beginning because they would see me when they came in, but I was also helping them to build their financial plans, which is really, really good opportunity, as a student, being able to work in different softwares.
Soraya: I recommended they try MoneyGuide because, at the time, they were not using any software, so I say, “Yeah, let’s try this. I used it at school. I think it could be a good opportunity for you, as a firm, to try something new.” They were open to it, which is great because not all firms are open to new technologies and trying new things and creating efficiencies because, a lot of times, they’ll say, “I’ve been doing it this way for this long, and it works.” They were so open to trying something new, and it helped them create more plans. When you can create more plans, you could reach more clients, which is something I’m really interested in is how can we reach more clients and help more people?
Alexandria: A lot of the things you’re learning in college or being exposed to, you never know, when you go to your first job, that you might be the one exposing that job to a lot of those things.
Soraya: Exactly, right.
Alexandria: You just mentioned that with Envestnet MoneyGuide. You were like, “Oh, my gosh. I can bring this to this firm that wasn’t doing anything.” You know?
Soraya: Definitely, yep.
Alexandria: Now you’re extremely valuable to that company. You know?
Alexandria: Let’s start off your first job was kind of in that associate planning role speaking with clients. Can you maybe share a little bit about the journey and what made you drive to your transition to Envestnet MoneyGuide?
Soraya: Yeah. After that internship, I got a job at another firm as an associate advisor. It was great. I jumped in. I was immediately sitting in client meetings, helping prepare and run the client meetings, and present topics over time as I gained more confidence. It was such a great firm. It was a women-founded firm, which is really cool. I did also work at another firm that was a much bigger firm, which I really enjoyed, right after the internship.
Soraya: I found that, while I really enjoyed the planning, I enjoyed working with clients. I loved being in the meeting and showing a client, “Look, you can retire when you want,” and seeing that excitement or, “You can help your child pay for college,” and seeing that relief that they can do something they really want to do.
Soraya: There’s a lot of analysis and a lot of attention to detail, a lot of paperwork, a lot of things, behind the scenes, that you don’t realize is a part of the role at the time. It’s very time-sensitive, a lot of things. I’m sure, as you can understand, also being an associate, at times, and being the person who does a lot of the analysis, that it could be pretty stressful. I found that I was spending a lot more time behind the scenes than… What I really enjoyed doing was being in front of the client and sharing and communicating with the client and communicating different financial planning concepts.
Soraya: Going all the way back to my time at VCU being involved in the student FPA, someone I met there through networking and coming to speak to our organization, she actually worked at Envestnet MoneyGuide. She was a CFP®, and she was a local advisor, and she recommended me for my current role, which is a trainer. It’s a really neat role because it combines all my passions and interests and my best skillsets. A saying that we have here sometimes is, “What’s your highest and best use?” What are you really good at? What do you enjoy doing, and how can we combine those things together?
Soraya: I find that I really enjoy public speaking. I enjoy helping explain concepts to financial advisors. I enjoy helping them with their practice because, as I mentioned before, when you can help an advisor improve their practice and create efficiencies and learn to use their softwares and technologies, they can reach more clients. At the end of the day, that’s what I want to help them do because we believe everyone deserves a quality financial plan, not just the 1% or the people with a lot, a lot of money.
Soraya: I think advisors do want to serve more people, but they don’t have the time. There are so many things they have to do in a day, so I enjoy being able to present webinars, and I travel the country, which I love, being able to help advisors create more efficiencies and learn how to use their softwares and technologies better.
Alexandria: Wow. Okay, so now we got to back up because there was so much information there. We want to make sure to listen up.
Soraya: I’m sorry.
Alexandria: No, that’s okay because it was good. It was really good information. I don’t want people to maybe think that it just like jumped right into that role like-
Soraya: Oh, no.
Alexandria: There was the parts of the journey that people really need to make sure they hear so they know that like, “Oh, okay. These are realistic things that happen.”
Alexandria: One of the things that I want you to share a little bit with us, I know this is a lesson we both have learned, was really preparing for the CFP® and how you bounced back in that lesson and your setback for a comeback situation, if you could share that with us.
Soraya: Yeah. Preparing for the CFP® is really challenging. It takes over your whole life. I mean I really invested a lot of time, a lot of hours into studying. Coming out of that CFP® undergraduate program, I didn’t have to take the course work. It was already included in my degree, so it’s really just about focusing and studying for the exam.
Soraya: I took that right out of school, and I didn’t pass it. I was very disheartened. It was very challenging. They do give you results and tell you where you need to improve. I got a lot of feedback of, “Once you’re in the practice longer, once you’re in the industry longer, you’ll do better at it just knowing how things work in the real world versus how they work coming right out of school.”
Soraya: I did take it again a couple years later, and I didn’t pass it again. I was very discouraged, very frustrated. Again, I put a lot, a lot of hours into studying for the exam. I know that there are things I need to work on, so instead of just taking it again, I took a step back and I thought, “All right. What are things that I can improve upon? What study skills or strategies do I need to work on? What topic areas am I continuing not to do well in? How can I improve on that?” Instead of just jumping in again, I did take a break. I decided, “Okay Let’s wait. Let’s give it some time. Let my brain refresh a little bit.”
Soraya: That’s when I decided to do the Charter Financial Consultant or the ChFC® designation. It’s another top industry credential. It is all of the education requirements of the CFP® including, at the time, it was two additional courses. Now it’s just they combine it into one. I took those two additional courses, and I passed those two exams, so now I do have the ChFC® designation. I really enjoyed those two courses. They are more of like behavioral finance, more practice-related, which I really, really like to learn a lot about planning for modern families and families with disabilities and children with disabilities, so that was really interesting.
Soraya: It’s just challenging. You’re not always going to pass. Even when you’re working in the field, you’re not always going to get everything right. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s about remembering your passion, remembering the people that you’re trying to help, and not giving up. The CFP® is certainly still a goal of mine, not just for my position, because I don’t technically need it for my position, but for myself as something I would like for myself.
Alexandria: That’s amazing. Congratulations for completing that.
Soraya: Thank you.
Alexandria: Like you said, I mean even the CFP®, I mean any designation, honestly-
Soraya: That’s right, yeah.
Alexandria: … requires a lot of work and just dedication. Sometimes it’s little things that we don’t always have control over, but the fact that you were able to basically reassess, that’s huge. Most people aren’t able to do that, so congratulations on that.
Soraya: Thank you.
Alexandria: The next thing I want to talk about, because I know it is fintech month and we want to hear all things about that, is really could you share… I know you touched on your current role. Can you share with us, basically, a little bit more of a description of what your job is, because I know people will hear fintech company or these different company names, but there are so many different jobs within these companies that-
Soraya: Oh, yeah.
Alexandria: Sometimes people don’t even touch the software, right? You’re not even actually on the technology side. If you could maybe just debrief us a little bit about your current role and what your day looks like and what you do.
Soraya: Yeah. That is so true. There are so many different roles here at Envestnet MoneyGuide from the developers, like you mentioned, the front-end and back-end developers doing the code. We have analysts who work between the developers and our clients, and of course, we have marketing, accounting and HR.
Soraya: I am on the training team. I’m a lead trainer. My role is to travel the country and to train financial advisors, broker-dealers, insurance folks, bankers, anyone who uses the software, on how to use it effectively in their practice. We have advisors who I train who have never opened it before, I show up in their office, and we’re just starting from the beginning, all the way to advisors who have been using us for 10 years, but they’ve just been doing it the same way. Are there any new tips and tricks that they need to know? Are there any new best practices or new features? We’re always rolling out new features within the software, so they want to stay up to date on those.
Soraya: I do that via keynote presentations at conferences or breakout sessions at conferences. I do individual training. I come to advisors’ offices, and I will sit down with their advisors and paraplanners. I also do webinars, which I enjoy. I’ll do webinars based on different topics, and advisors can sign up. I work within the software with the advisors, but I’m not actually doing any coding work. I am familiar with SQL and C#. Those are the two coding languages that we use to build our software. That’s just to understand what’s going on behind the scenes and being able to answer any questions if they come up, but usually they don’t. Yeah, that’s my role.
Alexandria: I just have to point out, because I thought it was so cool, I was speaking at a student chapter meeting one time, and I was sharing. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. My friend Soraya does this job, and it’s so cool, so if you’re not into maybe meeting with clients, that’s maybe not your jive or your skillset, there’s all these other positions.”
Soraya: There are.
Alexandria: It was so unique to be able to talk about what you do and what your day looks like. People were like, “That’s in finance?” It’s like, “Yeah.”
Alexandria: It’s just really interesting to know about that. You kind of talked about this a little bit, briefly in the beginning, about your skillset and knowing what you were good at to help you really figure out what job was best for you.
Alexandria: Could you maybe share a little bit about what skillsets you know you’re good at and how you knew that that was really a good position for you to step into as a lead instructor?
Soraya: Yeah. I am an extrovert. I love being in front of people. I love talking to people. Those networking receptions at the end of events and conferences, that’s my thing. I love it. I love working a room. I love being in front of people. A lot of people fear that. A lot of people fear public speaking and don’t enjoy being in front of crowds, but it’s something I thrive on. Just that being so rare that most people don’t enjoy it, that is a really important skillset.
Soraya: If you enjoy public speaking and being in front of groups, I highly recommend taking a look at a trainer position because it’s something that you could be really good at. Certainly, still skills you need to learn, like adult education is something that we always brush up on, different learning techniques for adults, learning different presentation styles and techniques, but if it’s something you naturally enjoy doing, that’s a great way to segue into your career path.
Soraya: I also think having the financial planning background. Financial advisors really appreciate that I did what they do. I did the paraplanner work. I sat in the client meetings. I sat in the advisor position. They can really appreciate that I understand some of the issues that they face and I’m trying to help them make things easier and faster. If they want to go more in depth and they want more detail, I can help them with that too. They really appreciate I’m not just someone coming to tell them what to do but I’ve never actually did it. Having that expertise, I find a lot of advisors appreciate.
Alexandria: I guess that is an interesting point. There are probably trainers that get hired at these companies that have no financial background. They’re just maybe good at that role. That could be a learning curve for someone.
Soraya: Exactly. The lingo and the terminology, it’s definitely a learning curve.
Alexandria: Oh, I have totally been… I mean just explaining something, they’re like, “Yeah, could set up a IRA,” and you’re like, “What the heck’s that? What’s a IRA?”
Soraya: Right, especially when you get to estate planning and taxes at the-
Alexandria: Oh, yeah.
Soraya: Yep, it can get… definitely a learning curve, yep. Everyone on our team is credentialed, so they have CFP®s and ChFC®s and industry experience. We have folks that were in insurance. Everyone on our team at MoneyGuide is experienced in the industry, but I just think that, at other places, right, they may not be.
Alexandria: You kind of talked about this a little bit of not needing, necessarily, a CFP® in order to work in your position. What kind of requirements do you think are needed for working at or being successful in a fintech company? It could be for your position or just, overall, what you’ve seen working there for several years now.
Soraya: As a bare minimum, everyone here at Envestnet MoneyGuide needs the FPQP, which is the Financial Paraplanner Qualified Professional designation. We find that that helps everyone from sales to our support team to our training team because, at the bare minimum, you have to understand the basics of financial planning, the lingo, the different steps in the financial planning process. If you’re going to be talking to advisors, you at least have to know that much.
Soraya: To be really successful, I think you just need a hunger for knowledge and for learning. Everyone that’s very successful here actually is passionate about financial planning. We’re always talking about different articles we find in InvestmentNews or going back and forth about different podcasts that we’re listening to, because it’s not just a job for us. It’s something we really enjoy doing. We enjoy coming to work. We enjoy chatting about the SECURE Act and best interests and going back and forth about what we think’s going to happen next, so I think just having that hunger for learning, even when you get out of school, even when you have your designation.
Soraya: What’s your expertise going to be? Someone once told me, “There are riches in niches,” and I really believe in that, not just for planners having a certain niche, but anywhere you work having a niche. I can be known for presenting on things like interactive planning and how to engage the client in the meeting or how to work with younger clients. Someone knows, if they have a question on one of those topics, they can come to me. I have colleagues who are really, really into income planning and annuities or life insurance because they worked in it for so long. They know all the ins and outs and the rules. Having that niche, I think, allows you to have a lot of value at a company.
Alexandria: I had never really heard much about the Financial Paraplanner Qualified Professional designation. I’ll make sure to add that in the show notes because we normally hear about CFP® or EA or estate planning attorneys. We normally hear of really just the high-up designations. We don’t always hear about maybe the supporting role designation, and so I’ll make sure to put some notes or links so people can do a little bit more research on that.
Alexandria: Also, you did talk a little bit about this, and so I want to get maybe just a little bit more deeper on different other types of roles that people could possibly do if they were interested in joining a fintech company. I know you mentioned marketing and then technology, but could you talk about like, “Oh, there’s this position, and this is what a day looks like for them,” if they were interested in doing something like that?
Soraya: Yeah. We have our Client Services Team, which I’d say 90% of our company actually starts on the Client Services Team. I started there. My boss has been here 12 years now. He started on that team. Almost everyone on our training team started on the Client Services Team. This is a team that works directly with the advisors when they call in, when they email or chat in with questions. They’re calling in all day with complex questions on how to model this tax situation, this estate planning situation, “How do I get the life insurance to look like this? How do I model and do this and that?”
Soraya: We find that it’s valuable for everyone to start there on that team because, wherever you go next, you’ll be able to tell those stories. You’ll know and can empathize with our advisors because you actually have talked to them. I have a lot of stories about my time on that Client Services Team and answering the questions, and the best practices, and how to be clear and concise with the advisors because they’re so busy. The Client Services Team is a great team.
Soraya: They have some other teams, kind of smaller teams built in to the Client Services Team, like we have an advanced planning team. We have a team that works on webinars. We have a team that works on white papers and deliverables. We have a team that works with our hundred of integration partners. I think it’s just about finding your spot on that team and what you enjoy doing. Not everyone likes to do webinars. Some people really like to write or to edit, and they can kind of find their niche within that team. I love the Client Services Team. They’re great. They provide great service. They all have industry experience.
Soraya: Then, a position I never really knew about until I got here is called an analyst. I love our analysts. We have two different types, a technical analyst and a business analyst. Our business analyst, I think, is really neat because they have the ability to be the intermediary or the person between our clients and our developers. We have these great developers on site. They’re writing the code. Then we have a company that might call in and say, “Hey, we want to change our colors,” or, “We want to know if we can do this or model that or put our specific products into MoneyGuide.” They will tell that to the analyst, and the analyst can then communicate that to the developer, give them input, feedback, ask additional questions, go back to the client.
Soraya: They’re in the middle, so they are providing customer service to our customers, but they’re also working and speaking that coding language with the developers, so they have to be very knowledgeable on several different fronts and have to be ready, at any point, to answer any types of questions that might come in. That’s also a really cool role that I never learned about until I came here.
Alexandria: That’s really cool.
Soraya: Yeah. We have front-end and back-end developers if you’re into the coding. The front end is what you see when you go to the website or the software. The back end are things going on behind the scenes. We run a Monte Carlo simulation, which a lot of you may know about, so just make sure that’s running smoothly, that’s working properly. That’s something a back-end developer would do.
Alexandria: Wow, that was a lot of detail. I hope people are taking notes because I know, if I knew this stuff earlier on, that I could even explore the idea of like, “Well, let me see if I’m interested in doing this type of… I’d like to be an analyst,” right?
Alexandria: “I want to see more about what that means,” and, “Okay, I could actually apply for those positions,” because it can be kind of overwhelming if you’re applying on a website and you see analyst. You’re like, “Analyst of what?”
Alexandria: You’re not even sure what you’re kind of getting into, but maybe knowing a little bit more that like, oh, if you’re looking at a fintech company, that there’s multiple type of analysts and what the differences might be-
Soraya: Many, yep. Exactly.
Alexandria: That might help you scope and really maybe become more specific as to what you apply for and what you really start looking into exploring.
Soraya: Yeah. We’re really community-oriented here at Envestnet, so we actually have a lot of high schools that come visit us throughout the year. That’s something I really enjoy doing. We’ll give them a tour. Then we’ll have some different departments come talk to them about different positions. We tell them about the company and our background. They love it because our offices are really cool, very Google-esque. It’s dog-friendly, which people love. We wear jeans, so it’s a casual environment. I don’t have to dress up like I used to as an advisor. I wear jeans every day, most days. We have a massage every other week. We have a nap room or a restoration room just for those days you just need a second to recharge and just step away from your desk.
Soraya: There’s a lot of cool perks, food trucks and snacks that we get here, so the high school students love to visit and just to learn there’s a company like this in your area. You don’t have to move to Silicon Valley or DC or New York. There are companies like this. You just have to search for them and see what’s out there.
Alexandria: I’m curious, you now have been working there for a couple of years, what your aspirations are within that company or just your career aspirations now that you’re at the space you are in your career.
Soraya: Yeah. One of my current goals is working on adult education. I feel very good about my financial planning knowledge. I’m still continuing to learn and study and to… especially topics I’m weaker in, because I have colleagues who worked in insurance for years, in annuities for 10 years, so brushing up on some of those topics that I always am reading articles and reading some different books and podcasts, but learning more about adult education.
Soraya: I went to school for finance. I’ve always focused on business, but I want to be the best trainer I can be. There are whole worlds out there of people who just study and master presenting and training and teaching. My degree is not in teaching, so I just learn more about adult education and how to better help train and facilitate those trainings for advisors. That’s one of my big goals this year.
Soraya: I do volunteer a lot, so I want to continue to do that and give back to the community. Our company is really big on giving back. They actually give us some paid days off to volunteer, which I always take advantage of, so continuing to do that and just continuing to learn. I mean everything’s always changing. If it’s not tax, it’s estate, those topics that things are always up in the air with financial planning, so just staying at the forefront of what’s going on, being a part of the diversity and inclusion conversation, being involved with organizations like Quad-A. Those are all those things I want to continue doing in the new year.
Alexandria: That’s awesome. It sounds like you got some great goals starting off 2020.
Alexandria: This, it actually kind of segues us because you talked about having some paid time off to volunteer. One of the things we’ll make sure to add in the show notes, your Instagram page so people can follow too and learn all things finance. One of the most impressive things that I really enjoy following you on is the interaction you have with your giving back outside of the office. I want to kind of just tee up that conversation to hear more about how you are basically sharing your knowledge with your community through financial literacy.
Soraya: Yeah. I try to volunteer 100 hours or more a year. I think that financial literacy is something that will impact our community, not just this generation, but the next generation and the next generations to come, so I really try to stretch myself and to educate as many people as possible.
Soraya: I do that through a few different organizations, the first one being Junior Achievement. I love going into schools and doing JA In A Days, and I always try to grab one of my colleagues to come do it with me, especially ones who haven’t done it before, because sometimes I think people get overwhelmed or nervous that they won’t be able to teach students or younger children since we train adults. I find that everyone always has a great time. I even brought my husband to do it with me before.
Soraya: Junior Achievement’s a great organization that brings financial literacy to schools and helping… It starts all the way at kindergarten through 12th grade. They give you all the materials, and you can do your training and do your review. You go into the classroom and you teach them about needs versus wants or you teach them about the power of a community and where your taxes go and why taxes are important. I really enjoy that.
Soraya: I also volunteer with my church. Our church has something called The Finance Bar, and I’m one of the leads for that. It’s myself and two other colleagues. One works in finance. One works in accounting. None of us work directly with clients, so there’s no conflict of interest there. We work first and third Sunday. We have a little booth, a little table outside of the sanctuary where people can come up and ask us questions.
Soraya: Some of the common questions we get are, “I have these different student loan options. What do they mean?” or, “I really want to buy a home. What’s the first step that I take?” We can answer questions just at our table. We also do one-on-one appointments with people from our church, usually after service. That’s often just creating a budget. A lot of people don’t know where to start. I always like to start with creating a spending plan. No one likes to call it a budget. Here at MoneyGuide, we call it the B-word because it’s scary and it’s a bad word. No one wants to talk about it, so I call it a spending plan.
Soraya: We create a spending plan together. Then we could follow up and do follow-up appointments, but it’s just a great starting point, “Let’s create this spending plan. Let’s see where your money is going and what we can do with it. What can we do to improve it?” We don’t give recommendations, but it’s just a good opportunity to just help them lay everything on the table.
Soraya: We also do workshops throughout the year like how to buy a home or how to start a business where we have different community leaders come into the church. Usually, we do panel so we can get several people up there, and people can ask questions and pick people’s brains about, “I’m a realtor, so you can ask realtor-based questions.” We did the small business and asking, “How did you start your business? How much did you save before you started your business?” We do those as well.
Soraya: We have a budget boot camp. We do that twice a year for about six or seven weeks. We meet once a week for about a hour, hour and a half, and we go through those six or seven weeks with creating a budget, implementing the budget, how to cut spending in different areas. Every single week is a different topic, but they all build up to creating that full, comprehensive spending plan. Then we meet the next month to talk about how it went. Do we need to make any tweaks or changes? We found that goes really well.
Soraya: Over the, I believe it’s been four since we’ve been around, maybe it’s three years now, we’ve helped people pay off over $170,000 in debt. We keep our tally on how much people are paying off. That’s just at our church. We’re just really proud of people paying off debt, people finding financial freedom and just being a part of that. It means a lot that I could be a part of that and help people reach their goals.
Soraya: Then, my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, I am a chair of our Building Your Economic Legacy Committee. The purpose of that committee has a few pieces of like helping people build their credit and understand credit, understanding financial planning and building wealth, and giving back to those in need. We call it AKA Assist, giving back to the homeless community. We do programs all throughout the year.
Soraya: I try to get different speakers from financial planners within the community. We had a great estate planning speaker last year talking about women in estate planning and a lot of the unique challenges that women see and face with estate planning because we’re often the caregivers. We’re often the ones that have to deal with a lot of these things because we pass away after men. That was really interesting. We had a couponing workshop, so just finding different ways to make financial planning and financial literacy interesting for the community. I do it a lot. I really enjoy it. If I have free time, if I’m not reading or working out at Orangetheory, I’m probably volunteering somewhere.
Alexandria: The amount of things you just listed off, I just am like, “Do we have the same 24 hours in a day?” because…
Soraya: It is often in the evenings. There’s often a lot of evening wear. Like I said, we do have some paid days off as well that we can do things like Junior Achievement, which I really enjoy.
Alexandria: That’s really amazing, though, I mean just down to the several things you’ve shared. I mean the Junior Achievement, I really like the idea of try to bring a friend. One, it just makes it fun.
Soraya: It does.
Alexandria: You can do it with someone else. One of the things, too, another person shared on a podcast was being able to explain things to children is much difficult than talking to an adult.
Soraya: It is.
Alexandria: You can go and talk to kids, kindergarten room, and you can explain money to them, oh, you have no problem doing it with your clients. It actually is like a challenge for everybody.
Soraya: Yeah. I usually skip the kindergarten. I usually go to second or third grade because sometimes you get the criers and the not-potty-trained problems, so I try to go to second grade, but it’s just a personal preference.
Alexandria: There’s the tip.
Alexandria: Yeah. No, there’s the tip. I mean, even just in junction to that, I mean I really enjoy hearing about what you guys do with your Finance Bar at church. It’s just kind of amazing. I love the idea that you don’t stop your financial education just at work. You know?
Alexandria: Sometimes we can get really bogged down with what we do through our nine-to-five hours of working with clients all day, but you got to think there are so many more people out there-
Soraya: There are.
Alexandria: … that need your help or maybe can’t afford it yet.
Soraya: Yep, exactly.
Alexandria: That’s a really cool way that you guys have started that Finance Bar to help people, basically no strings attached. I mean you guys are doing your own financial planning days and workshops for your church congregation.
Soraya: We are, yep.
Alexandria: That is amazing that you’re doing that. What a huge goal it is.
Soraya: Yeah. Going back through history and even back to civil rights movement and even earlier, I mean the church used to… Usually, it is or tries to be this place where people can not just commune on Sundays but commune throughout the week and to come together for help, and not just their faith, but also their finances and also with health issues, having somewhere to go and get support. We don’t want to just be somewhere you could go just on Sundays. We want to be every day, so we try to have different things. We have some fitness things, and they have a gym, and people can go play basketball. We try to be more than just the Sunday, and we find that this works really well.
Alexandria: Then the last thing that I just want to point out because I know we… You slightly brushed over this, but I got to make sure everybody knows about this. You said you also read. I just know people to know she is not just a reader, okay? She is a avid reader. Every time she starts a new book, I’m still on my last book. Did you read about 39 books last year? Is that how many I saw you say you read?
Soraya: Yep, 38, 38 last year. It was-
Alexandria: That’s amazing.
Soraya: I love reading. I love to read.
Alexandria: That’s amazing.
Soraya: It’s like a stress-reliever for me. I love going to a different world. My husband and I read a lot of sci-fi, a lot of just… We read fiction and nonfiction. We read all types, but yeah, I really do enjoy reading.
Alexandria: I mean that’s above and beyond all the other reading you do for finance and [inaudible]. I mean that’s fun reading, right? That’s-
Soraya: Yep, right.
Alexandria: You guys are really amazing. That’s really great. This has just been a great podcast with you, Soraya, but before we wrap it up, I just want to thank you again so much for sharing your journey, your aspirations through the fintech space, and just a big thank you for spreading and sharing all your knowledge through your finance it with your Finance Bar and all your constant giving back to your community.
Alexandria: Finally, before we close, I just want to see if there’s any last tips you want to share with our listeners about how they can navigate or, if they’re interested in joining the fintech space, what you have for them.
Soraya: Yeah. I just recommend networking. I think there’s so much power in networking, going out and talking to people, doing informational interviews, talking to someone who’s doing something that you’re interested in. You really don’t want to get into a job that you think you would love and you never talked to anyone about it and realize you hate it. Go out, meet people, shake hands, build relationships. Me and my husband, we call it making deposits. Make deposits. Help others. Do things for others.
Soraya: Don’t always expect something back in return when you’re networking, but 2, 5, 10 years down the road, who knows where it might lead? I think if you’re interested in the fintech space, add me on LinkedIn, add others on LinkedIn, ask questions, get introductions. It’s not always what you know. A lot of times, it’s who you know, so build your network and build those relationships. If you’re a person of color, a woman, there’s not many of us in finance, financial planning or fintech or technology, so just know there are communities out there that are there to support you. Any time you’re in a room and you feel like you’re alone, you’re never alone. We’re always there together.