Get to know the people behind the financial advice in our Planner Profile series.
Melissa Gonzalez was born and raised in San Diego in a home filled with three generations of women. After graduating from San Diego State University with a business degree, she started her career in banking at a nationwide financial institution.
“I loved my career at the bank,” Gonzalez says. “I had a lot of success managing a branch for four years but eventually I wanted to have more control over how I helped people with their finances.”
Gonzalez’s own financial advisor at the time encouraged her to join Northwestern Mutual. “I was afraid of making such a big change, but one day I realized that I needed to bet on myself,” she says. “So I agreed to have the conversation and decided to take the leap. The other big draw was that owning my own business would give me the freedom to manage how I spent my time.”
Today, Gonzalez lives in San Diego with her wife, Marisela, and their two dogs and two cats. Below, she shares some of her earliest memories around money, the biggest concerns she’s hearing from LGBTQ+ clients and the importance of trust in her relationships with clients.
What are some of your earliest memories around money?
Money was a limited resource in our family when I was growing up and not something we talked about that much. But I always liked to play with money in some way — I had these cashier boxes when I was little and would love to count money for fun. Then, when I was in my late teens, one of my sisters explained how she had gotten approved for her first credit card. She had learned from my grandma how important it was to take care of your credit score, and that lesson really landed for me. I took it very seriously as I understood how it would give me increased options as an adult.
What advice do you give clients who want to start teaching their kids about money?
Financial basics aren’t really taught in schools. Plus, many parents have similar experiences to mine in that their families just didn’t talk about money, so it feels awkward to them. I stress that it’s very healthy to talk about it and remind them that money is just a tool. We also discuss setting up some type of savings or investing accounts for their kids, whether it’s a 529 plan for college, some type of brokerage account for their future or a life insurance policy in their children’s names. That’s a great way for parents to pass the torch and break the cycle: “I obtained this life insurance policy when you were a child, there is value in this policy and I think you’re mature enough now to have a conversation with a financial advisor to learn how this policy can help you as an adult.”
You also work with the LGBTQ+ community. What are some of the biggest concerns they have right now?
Family planning for LGBTQ+ couples can sometimes feel unattainable — the medical costs and legal fees can be costly. And then the issue of how health insurance will work — there are different laws depending on what state you live in. But, in general, some LGBTQ+ clients have had negative experiences in the financial industry, so they will shy away from these types of financial conversations. In general, a challenge is finding a person who really understands them as an individual. That’s why I believe it’s crucial for me to connect with my clients on a deeply personal level and establish a high level of trust.
What’s the most satisfying moment you’ve had as a financial advisor?
Whenever a client sends a message of thanks for my support and the work we have done together, it feels amazing. Those positive notes from clients and introductions to their friends and family reassure me that I’m doing the right thing. There have been a few times when I have been one of the first people to know that someone is expecting a baby — it’s a true honor. Of course, as their financial advisor it helps to know about these big life events, but I feel so fortunate to have earned that level of trust.
What’s your biggest financial goal?
True financial freedom — my wife and I strive for that. For us that is having the means so we can live comfortably, help our families and be able to focus on giving. Neither of us comes from an affluent background and as our parents are getting older, we want to be in a financial position where we can comfortably help and be able to act on what is important to us. I’m happy to say we’re absolutely on the right track.
How do you like to give back?
I was very fortunate to receive many benefits when I was growing up. I was able to attend a private elementary school primarily through scholarships and financial help from the community. Attending that school did so much for me and my sisters. I donate to it now and go to certain events to rally the community. I also donate to several local LGBTQ+ organizations and others on a national level.
At work, I spearheaded the Diversity and Inclusion Council in the downtown San Diego office, and I’m still a part of some affinity groups in the local office as well. I helped support our diverse advisors mainly by finding out what they needed and starting those conversations. The idea is to encourage them to not be shy about speaking up and be solution-oriented. I personally learned a lot about how many similarities we all have regardless of how different we are, which has helped create a tight-knit culture in our office.