Family and the financial priorities of the Hispanic/Latino community
A study reveals the concerns and aspirations of affluent Hispanics/Latinos in the United States today
By Carmen Rita Wong
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, DURING A COMMERCIAL BREAK on the television show I was hosting, one of my guests leaned over and asked, “Are you Hispanic?” It was a familiar question, one I’d heard dozens of times in my career. I took a deep breath before I answered and told him that yes, I was. He responded, surprised, “Wow — you’re smart!”
Along with many successful members of my Hispanic/Latino family, friends and community, I have defied negative stereotypes. To counter these biases requires tremendous support, hard work and a big dose of resilience. On top of these demands, many of us feel the weight of being “the first.” The first to finish college, or even high school, in our families. The first to land jobs with benefits, the first to own homes and invest. Our goal is to pass on our hard-earned financial success and wisdom to our children, who can then enjoy the opportunity of being “next.”
Voices of the community: A courageous conversation
We are an incredibly diverse group, encompassing multiple countries and territories of origin (including Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and Central, South and Latin America), as well as all races. We also self-identify as Hispanic, Latino/Latina or Latinx, depending on country of origin, language, social groups, age and more. Yet the survey results from Merrill’s in-depth study of hundreds of affluent Hispanic/Latino Americans, “Diverse Viewpoints: Exploring Wealth in the Hispanic/Latino Community,” found much common ground — particularly around the intensity of the financial and emotional commitment to our immediate families and a strong sense of optimism.
“My mother is the heart of my home. She’s helping me raise all of my children. How could I not include her in my future planning? I’m proud that I’m able to do that for her.”
“This research is just one of three studies1 Merrill commissioned to better understand the needs and priorities of diverse communities so that we can serve them better,” says Kenneth Correa, a managing director and market executive at Merrill, who also co-chairs the company’s Hispanic/Latino Advisory Council. “The study’s findings are near and dear to my heart,” he adds.
Read on for insights from the Hispanic/Latino study below. Then spend some time with the other “Diverse Viewpoints” studies, “Exploring Wealth in the Black/African American Community” and “Exploring Wealth in the LGBTQ+ Community.”
We value hard work. In Merrill’s survey, nearly half, or 46%, of affluent Hispanics/Latinos say that they’ve had to work harder to succeed, compared with 29% of the affluent general population. John Arriaga, the Mexican-American founder of JEA & Associates, a government relations firm in California, grew up with his father telling him, “If there are two people up for a job and you have the same education and qualifications, you’re going to have to be better or they’re going to pick the other guy,” he says. For us, working hard can be a point of pride — a valuable lesson passed on from our parents. Tiffany DiCarlo, a part-time registered pediatric nurse and mother of four, for example, grew up with a Puerto Rican mother and an Ecuadorian father who arrived in the United States at 18 not speaking the language, yet graduated from college and built a successful career as a computer programmer. “If he could do that, he didn’t want to hear any excuses,” DiCarlo says. Neither did my Dominican-American mother, who waited tables to help put me through college while she studied to get her GED, later immersing herself in continuing education.
“My parents’ sacrifice was a key driver for me to get as well-educated as I could.”
For many second-generation Latinos in the U.S., their parents’ immigrant experience provides inspiration. “I think you’ve got to be optimistic to leave it all behind and find a new life. So, that’s kind of our common DNA,” says Mauricio Vivero, founder and board member of the philanthropic organization Give2Cuba, who was born in Cuba and emigrated to the United States as a child. “I was fortunate that hard work helped me get a scholarship to law school, and I’ve been fortunate to hold good jobs all my life. My parents’ sacrifice was a key driver for me to get as well-educated as I could.” But, Vivero notes, “Passing on those values can become tougher when your children are raised in a middle-class home and they didn’t witness the direct sacrifices that we saw our parents make. It’s a challenge for more affluent Hispanics, but hopefully they will be able to pass those values on.”
Family is a source of support — and responsibility. For Hispanics/Latinos, the drive to become financially successful isn’t just about accumulating wealth — rather, it’s driven by a strong feeling of responsibility to support our families and the Hispanic/Latino community. In the Merrill survey, 15% of affluent Hispanics/Latinos said that giving back to their community and supporting causes they believe in are important to them, compared with 12% of the affluent general population.
“I’m very grateful for the people who helped me when I first came to this country — I couldn’t have done it alone. So I would like to give back.”
“I’m very grateful for the people who helped me when I first came to this country — I couldn’t have done it alone. So I would like to give back,” explains Daisy Zuccardi, a former industrial engineer and mother of three. Zuccardi came to the U.S. alone, with only $100 to her name and no proficiency in English. Yet, with the help of people she met along the way, she found her footing, earning two associate degrees before attaining her bachelor’s in engineering. Once she achieved financial stability, she helped her brothers and a sister when they first arrived in the country. “Now they’ve all been able to succeed themselves in their own way.”
My brother also helped me get on my feet after college, welcoming me to live rent-free with him and his new wife until I could save up enough for my own apartment. I was then happy to help the next generation, assisting with tuition for their daughter (my niece), a student and now graduate of M.I.T.
“The financial services industry needs to be more approachable to Latinos and to understand our needs.”
Affluent Hispanics/Latinos in the Merrill survey were also four times more likely than the affluent general population to say that planning to assist aging parents financially is their most important financial goal. “My mother is the heart of my home now,” DiCarlo says. “She’s helping me raise all of my children. So, how could I not include her in my future planning? It’s the least that I could do for all her hard work and dedication, and I’m proud that I’m able to do that for her.” Miguel Barbosa, a vice president and operational risk officer at a financial services firm, who grew up in Colombia, South America, and was a Baruch College MBA student at the time of the recording, agrees. “Family is like the core thing,” Barbosa says. “Even though my parents have pensions, I’m ready to help them if they need me. I consider it a responsibility.”
We’re savvy — and optimistic — about our finances and the future. Though the study found that affluent Hispanics/Latinos tend to fall behind the affluent general population in achieving financial milestones such as buying a home or building retirement savings, it also noted a belief in the ability to achieve those goals in the near future. One source of financial stress is juggling the competing goals of paying for our children’s education and caring for aging parents. The study reveals a byproduct of that strain: 32% of the affluent Hispanic/Latino community rely on loans and credit to cover expenses vs. 21% of the affluent general population. However, when it comes to finances, Hispanics/Latinos are more likely to describe themselves as financially savvy and to say that they have a financial plan. “If we’re not doing well now, we’re going to do better,” says Arriaga. “We’re always looking forward versus complaining.”
“If we’re not doing well now, we’re going to do better. We’re always looking forward.”
As with many underrepresented communities, there is a desire to see more members of the Hispanic/Latino community in the financial services industry. “Latinos are very entrepreneurial and they like to open new businesses,” Barbosa says. “The financial services industry needs to be more approachable to Latinos and to understand our needs.” DiCarlo agrees: “I would feel more comfortable talking to people who look like me — who share the same goals financially.”
Even in the face of difficult economic times and a pandemic, as a group, affluent Hispanic/Latino respondents say they are generally optimistic about the future and the opportunities it can hold. “I try to advise my kids on how to navigate this complicated economy and how to save and build wealth and prepare for emergencies like this,” Vivero says. Zuccardi adds, “We all as a community are stronger than the coronavirus.”
DiCarlo says, “I think my kids will have every opportunity in the world. I feel very fortunate to be able to give them that steppingstone — something that I didn’t have — and I expect them to be more successful than I am.”
Carmen Rita Wong, former host of “On the Money” on CNBC, is the author of “Why Didn’t You Tell Me? A Memoir” (Crown). She has written for The New York Times and O, the Oprah Magazine. She was an industry professor of behavioral economics at New York University and is also the author of two best-selling financial advice books.