Get to know the people behind the financial advice in our Planner Profile series.
While growing up in Buffalo, New York, Matthew Erickson’s interests leaned more toward the fine arts than financial planning. After graduating from the University at Buffalo, he had some success as an actor and producer before moving to Indiana to earn a master’s degree at Purdue. He moved to New York City about 15 years ago and after stints as an adjunct professor, a delegate for the United States in international artistic and cultural exchange, a senior fundraiser in the not-for-profit sector and a senior advisor for a major health and wellness brand, he was ready for another change.
One of Erickson’s friends at the time (who is now his managing director at Northwestern Mutual) knew he was not happy with his career and suggested Erickson become a financial advisor himself. “The suggestion surprised me at first, but after a series of interviews, I became convinced that all the different paths I’d followed had informed my experience and led me to this career,” he says. “I knew it would be a big leap, but my husband encouraged me to go for it. The big draw for me was the humanity I saw that the job required. I became passionate about wanting to serve the LGBTQ+ community, as well as people of color and women.”
Today, Erickson lives in downtown Manhattan with his husband, Jared. Below, he shares the biggest concerns he hears from LGBTQ+ clients and how he’s working to make the industry more inclusive.
What are your earliest memories around money?
My early relationships with money were pretty negative. I grew up in the 80s and during that recession, my parents lost their jobs. So things were tough but we didn’t talk about it; I could just see my parents struggling to pay the bills and keep us afloat.
How did that inform your approach to financial planning?
I believe that understanding how to relate to people and communicating with them is the most crucial part of financial planning. And I developed those skills from the other things I had done. Learning those lessons was more difficult than taking finance classes.
So when it comes to advice, I tell my clients, especially those with kids, that if they grew up feeling uncomfortable talking about money, this is a great opportunity to break those taboos by being be really open and honest about their family finances.
What was the best piece of financial advice you ever got?
I heard a take on the adage “money can’t buy happiness” that I really liked, which is: “Money doesn’t make people happy, but it gives you options.” That’s exactly it. Being able to choose what you want to do as opposed to always doing what you’ve had to do is the key to successful planning.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see Americans making with their money in general?
Putting too much into a bank savings account. I come across this all the time. Having that money in that savings account feels like a warm blanket around us, but it’s doing more harm than good if you have too much in there. You do need to have about six months of your living expenses in a liquid emergency fund but, beyond that, you need an account that is at least outrunning inflation. It’s so important to diversify all your assets.
What challenges did you face when you started out?
I wanted to focus primarily on helping the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and women, but a lot of people told me starting with such a narrow approach wouldn’t work. I love being told something won’t work. So, I really dug into diversity, not just of people, but of their varied needs. I started by working through community groups to find people who might want to have a conversation. I didn't realize the scope of how many professionals I could help with unique needs.
I also connected with Gays With Kids, an organization that helps people grow their families. I now write and do webinars for them. Part of my practice is focused on helping this community with gay adoption, surrogacy, fostering and IVF planning.
How has this helped shape your practice?
When you sit down to meet with a financial advisor, you’re talking about your entire life. So you need to feel comfortable enough to speak openly and specifically about everything in your life. And that’s not always easy to do with someone who’s not in the community. I know that I used to feel this way, and I can’t be the only one. It’s nice to sit across the table from someone and not have to explain that heteronormative solutions just aren’t going to apply to you. Yes, we all want to be successful and grow our money and have protection — but the reasons behind some things are different and will require unique solutions.
What are some of the challenges your clients face?
Family planning — pursuing gay adoption, surrogacy, IVF and fostering — can be really difficult, and there are some complicated state laws to navigate. Those issues get mentioned a lot. But not everybody wants a family, or even a partner — and those choices can be complex when it comes to financial planning, too.
Aging is an important topic in the LGBTQ+ community, as this is really the first generation that is legally able to set up eldercare. So how does long-term-care planning happen when you don’t have children, but later in life you need people and systems in place for custodial care? And asking about their family’s wishes can be a really touchy topic with people in the LGBTQ+ community since a lot of people were disowned by their families when they came out.
What would you say you love most about your job?
I get a tingle every time I’m helping someone create their financial plan and they have that moment when they realize, “Wow, there’s so much I can do!”
I also love that I can use my niche expertise to start conversations and create change in our industry. How we handle pronouns, how we handle sex assigned at birth versus sexual identity or gender identity — these are all things that come into play that need to be asked and understood. I’m excited to be a part of these discussions.
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