Get to know the people behind the financial advice in our Planner Profile series.
Deidra Willis knew from a young age that she wanted to help people understand the power of money. “In my high school yearbook, under the question, ‘What will you be doing 10 years from now?’ I wrote financial advisor.”
After starting her first job at a fast-food restaurant in her hometown of Grenada, Mississippi, she opened a savings account with $500. “I’m proud to say I have that same account to this day,” she says. “Every time I learned something new about how money works, I would be excited to learn more. I always knew this was a gift I could benefit from but also share with others.”
After graduating from Mississippi State University, Willis became a corporate financial analyst, eventually working her way up to becoming a business development manager. “It was a great start to my career,” she said. “But I was still always helping people with their budgets and giving them advice about how to invest in their 401(k) plans — so that passion for financial planning kept nudging me. It never went away. I knew this was my purpose and I needed to pursue it.”
Today, Willis works as a Northwestern Mutual financial advisor in Charlotte, North Carolina. Below, she shares why she’s passionate about sharing her financial knowledge and the importance of tying body, mind and financial wellness together.
Who first taught you about money?
I was the youngest in a large family, so I picked things up from listening to my family’s conversations about money and observing their reactions. Within the family dynamic, you can learn so much. If you pay attention, you don’t have to bump your head after somebody else has bumped theirs.
What’s the best piece of financial advice you ever received?
Stewardship — I do recall learning at a young age from my parents, and also in church, that it is important to be a great steward over money. If you honor and respect money, it will honor and respect you as well. It can greatly influence your decision making and how well you manage your finances. You have the best control when you can map out exactly where your money will go and assign percentages to how much goes where. I implement these same strategies when I am designing recommendations for a client.
Who is your role model?
My mom taught me so many valuable lessons and even though she had seven children, she was able to make each one of us feel like we were her only one. I have worked hard to embed that standard of care into creating personal financial strategies. After a group event, one of my clients came up and said, “Deidra, you know, I always thought I was your only client.” She was joking but that was the biggest compliment I have ever gotten.
How do you incorporate financial wellness into your practice?
Just before the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020, I held a client appreciation event, and the theme was all about wellness. I do believe that your health is your wealth, and your wealth is your health. They tie together for sure. I brought in a Zumba and a high intensity workout instructor; I also had a therapist and a yogi.
You can have all the money in the world, but if your health is not there, physically and mentally, you are not well. If you’re unhealthy, you’re probably spending a lot of your money on your health. So, to be successful from a financial planning standpoint, we have to take a holistic approach and include all these aspects into our entire picture.
What are some of the biggest concerns you’re hearing from members of the Black community right now?
The pandemic has changed how everyone approaches things. There is often detriment in delay. Most of the members of the Black community who I work with are driven and proactive with planning their goals. However, people have become more aware that they can’t really put off important actions — they have a sense of urgency about getting their affairs in order and reorganizing their finances. They not only want to be prepared for themselves but to ensure that they have properly done their estate and legacy planning. A lot of people have been in a position to save and have extra money to invest. The members of the Black community are concerned about not missing any opportunities that are out there and passing on that knowledge, so the next generation is fully equipped.
Even though people have become more money-conscious, they are concerned about where to put their money and who to trust. And some in the Black community are still unsure of the market. Everyone wants to make sure they will still have a safety net. It has been a time of real service and I’ve appreciated being in a position to assist them.
What would you say to someone who is on the fence about financial planning?
I would explain that financial planning is simply arranging competing goals. So if you have a desire, a vision, or plans that you need assistance with, then financial planning is the vehicle to take you to the next level of success. I think a lot of times people miss the boat on understanding the definition of financial planning. Most think about savings or investing as being financial planning. While those are vital components, comprehensively it is more about coming up with a method that can help you accomplish your goals.
How do you like to give back?
I grew as an advocate for giving back, volunteering and caring for others. This still rings true today. I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., where I serve on the economic development and scholarship committees. This allows me to empower the community and members of the organization to be fiscally sound and assist in educational development by determining student candidates for scholarships. I also serve on the board of Career Mastered magazine, which promotes women empowerment and sponsors Excel Village, an organization that offers career planning and mentoring to girls in grades 5 through 11. A summit is held once a year where I will teach the girls about money and answer financial questions they have. Closer to home, I make a point of being a career mentor and staying in touch with my nieces and nephews on a regular basis. We have a group text message chain and I share tips with them on all areas of life.
What are the biggest mistakes you see Americans make with their money?
We don’t use our money to its fullest potential. Money was designed as a tool and resource, which is why financial planning is so important. When we avoid planning, we don’t give money its proper place to grow and to work.