Get to know the people behind the financial advice in our Planner Profile series.

About nine years ago, Mark Haywood was looking for financial advice — a decision that ultimately led him to become a financial advisor himself. Haywood had been working in corporate finance but was trying to figure out the next phase of his career, including possibly branching out on his own. His father was already working with a Northwestern Mutual advisor and suggested the two meet so Mark could get help putting together a financial plan.

At their first meeting, the advisor was so impressed with Haywood’s knowledge that he asked if he’d ever thought about a career in financial services. “I did my research and ran some of my ideas by him regarding how I wanted to structure my finances and the strategies that I wanted to implement,” Haywood recalls. “And he said, ‘Well, if you’re so interested in this, why don’t you do this yourself?’ ”

Then it clicked — he’d always helped his friends out with their finances, so why not get into the business more formally? Haywood now works in Houston as a Northwestern Mutual financial advisor. Below, he shares his earliest memories around money, how he overcomes trust barriers with the financial services industry, and why he thinks there isn’t a “perfect time” to start a financial plan.

Who first taught you about money?

I had the fortunate blessing of learning from my parents how to manage money. One of the earliest things that I remember my dad drilling into me was to never be house rich and cash poor. My dad also passed on what he learned from my grandparents, who were entrepreneurs. They always said, “Pay your tithes, pay your taxes, pay yourself.” Both those lessons taught me the value of proper cash management.

Then there was my mother. If there was a deal to be found, she was going to find it. She taught me the value of purchasing power and how to make your money stretch. She also gave me my allowance to get lunch every week. When she would give me $30, I would pocket $20 and eat lunch with $10 — for the entire week! When the time came for me to ask my parents for a Super Nintendo, they said, “Yeah, you can get a Super Nintendo — if you save up for it.” Over time that $20 built up to the point that I was able to buy my own game system. That taught me the value of saving and planning toward a goal.

This past year obviously had its challenges, but it also had its silver linings. What were some common themes you noticed in conversations you’ve had with clients?

The calls I’ve had with clients and prospective clients have fallen into two buckets. The first is, “Eventually, I know this quarantine will end and I’ll have to go outside. Am I insured enough? If something happens to me, what’s going to happen to my family?” The pandemic made the reality of the dangers to one’s health immediately vivid.

The second set of calls were around the market going down. I didn’t get a lot of calls from clients panicking; rather, they would ask, “How can we take advantage? Is there a unique opportunity here?” Also, a lot of my clients, who already had emergency funds in place and didn’t spend as much as usual, wanted to know how to take advantage of the surplus cash they now had on hand. So over the course of the last year, I saw my clients insure themselves appropriately and accelerate their investments far beyond what they thought possible.

My encouragement to everyone is start a financial plan as soon as you can, and not a day later.

Historically there’s been some mistrust of the financial services industry, especially among communities of color. How do you overcome hesitancy to work with an advisor?

Within the African American community specifically, I can share some wisdom that my father shared with me. When he was growing up in Oakland, California, there were a lot of non-Black people who came into Black communities. These people “talked a good game” about financial planning, sold a bill of goods, and then disappeared when it was time to file a claim or honor their word. That created decades’ worth of a trust deficit that needs to be slowly rebuilt.

But I think no matter who you sit in front of, there’s going to be an immediate trust deficit simply because it's the first time you’re meeting that person. Every community has a deficit of trust. So one of the things that I do is simply share my heart and my values. I let them know that I’m here to partner with them and make sure they’re a little better off today than they were the day before — no more, no less.

Also, I have a lot of people tell me about past experiences with advisors who used finance jargon, but didn’t take the time to simplify the language so anybody can understand it. So, another way I overcome hesitancy is to understand that there’s a big difference between education and training. If you have a heart attack and need surgery, do you want someone who’s educated about the operation, or trained to do the operation? It’s the same when it comes to financial planning. Clients don’t simply want someone who knows all the financial information, they want someone who can show them how it’s done. I take that to heart. I make sure that no matter how complex the financial strategy is, it can be simplified in such a way that it’s both easy to understand and easy to implement.

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

They tend to wait for the “perfect time” to start financial planning — they have to get their budget just right, or their debt situation just right, or their job situation just right. But the truth is, the perfect time doesn’t exist because we don’t live in a perfect world. I’ve had people come to me telling me they want to do a financial plan, but they just have to get a few ducks in a row first. Months or years later, I hear back from them. But when I ask them what’s changed, I find out that not much changed other than they waited months or years. So, my encouragement to everyone is start as soon as you can, and not a day later. Start with what you have, and don’t worry about what you don’t have.

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