Get to know the people behind the financial advice in our Planner Profiles series, where you’ll get the inside scoop on their best money tips.

Cindy Arocho’s path to becoming a financial advisor wasn’t a straightforward one. Her parents, immigrants from Puerto Rico, worked hard to support their family and stressed education as the way to a better life. Their efforts paid off: Arocho got a full ride to Princeton and ended up getting a job on Wall Street at a major investment banking firm.

Within a few years, she was about to get a big promotion. But while her parents’ dreams were coming true, she started questioning whether hers was. What she did next took her around the world, helping her find her true passion and leading her, ultimately, to become a financial advisor for Northwestern Mutual in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Why did you decide to leave your banking job?

I was about to be promoted to a new office in Bangalore, India. It was an amazing opportunity. But as I thought about it, I just wasn’t sure I was doing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So here I am, a young Puerto Rican female — my mom never graduated high school, my dad didn’t have a college education — who went to an Ivy League school, worked at an investment banking firm, and was moving up in leadership — and I decide to quit. My parents freaked out. They had all their hopes and dreams in me. But I wanted to make sure I was following my heart.

What did you do next?

I traveled the world for about 18 months. I did mission work in places like Mozambique, where I lived for three months. My travels also took me to Brazil, Sweden, Austria, Canada — you name it. I led teams of young adults to help orphans and widows. I went from handling billions of dollars every day to sitting in the dirt with children who had been physically and sexually abused. I realized that despite what they’d been through, they still had an attitude toward life that I just didn’t see in New York City. They were just happy kids. That changed my perspective. I realized that my life was really about making an impact. So I decided to go to seminary and business school to get separate master's degrees.

Seminary and business school isn’t a typical path. Why did you choose that?

Tell me about it. My main goal was going to seminary. I thought I was going to be a missionary for the rest of my life, so I wanted to know about church history. Then as I was in seminary, I knew I would need other tools. That’s why I decided to get my business leadership degree. I’m so glad I did that. I’ve seen it active in everything I do.

How did you end up as a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual?

I was doing some consulting work for a nonprofit and encouraged them to build more local business relationships. On the group’s behalf, I went to a networking group to try to connect them to a couple of business leaders. That’s where I met a Northwestern Mutual advisor. We talked and, eventually, I became a client.

As I was working with my advisor, she told me she thought I should come work here. I said, “No, thank you.” But she was persistent. So I went through the process in the hopes of proving that I wasn’t right for the job. I thought being a financial advisor was completely wrong for me because I thought it was all about the money. But as I met with advisors, they talked about the impact they get to make with families by helping them with their finances. I started to realize this was exactly what I wanted to do. It’s the convergence of my business and financial acumen with the desire to make an impact.

What’s the biggest mistake you see Americans making with money?

Concentrating solely on debt and forgoing saving. People who have made some financial decisions that lead them into unnecessary debt want to get rid of it as soon as possible, so they put everything they have toward the debt. They pull everything out of their savings and retirement accounts to get rid of the debt. They don’t realize that saving is actually eliminating future debt. That’s because life will happen and when it does and there’s no savings, it’s all going to go right back onto a credit card. Saving is so important, even if you’re paying off debt and even if it takes a little longer for you to get rid of your debt. It’s about a balanced approach. It's a both and, not either or.

What’s the first thing you do every day?

Forty-five pushups. It’s a pact I made with another advisor. He starts his day by doing 50 pushups. I said, “There’s no way I can do that.” However, I started with 20 and I’ve worked my way up. We text each other every day after we do them.

What do you do outside of work?

I love to dance. I used to teach salsa dancing. I do salsa, merengue, bachata. I also love to read.

Who is your role model?

There is a picture of a woman on my desk. Her name is Heidi Baker. She basically founded the organization I was with when I was in Mozambique. She's fed millions of children, she's given them an education. These are children who never had the chance to be educated, and are now the best-performing students in Mozambique. She's taught widows how to farm and grow their own businesses. Children who go to her school will become doctors, attorneys and teachers in Mozambique and will continually pay it forward to the people they will serve. That’s having an impact. That’s the impact I strive to have every day through Northwestern Mutual.

Recommended Reading