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A new study reveals the concerns and aspirations of affluent Hispanics/Latinos in the United States today
By Carmen Rita Wong
A FEW 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.”
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.”
part-time registered pediatric nurse and mother of four
“This research is just one of three studies1 Merrill recently 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 driver for me to get as well educated as I could.”
CEO of the philanthropic organization Give2Cuba
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 president 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.”
former industrial engineer and mother of three
“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.
Financial professional and Baruch College MBA student
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.” Financial professional and Baruch College MBA student Miguel Barbosa, who grew up in Colombia, South America, 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 Latinos tend to fall behind the general population in achieving financial milestones such as buying a home or 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, by a margin of 40% vs 28%, the study found that Latinos are more likely to describe themselves as financially savvy and to say that they have a financial plan.
As with many underrepresented communities, there is a desire to see more members of the Hispanic/Latino community in the financial services industry. Says Barbosa, “Latinos are very entrepreneurial and they like to open new businesses. The financial services industry needs to be more approachable to Latinos and to understand our needs.” DeCarlo agrees: “I would feel more comfortable talking to people “who look like me—who share the same goals financially.”
How much more likely affluent Latinos are than the general population to say that planning to assist aging parents is their most important financial priority.
Even in the face of difficult economic times and a pandemic, as a group, Latinos are generally optimistic about the future and the opportunities it can hold. Says Vivero, “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.” And Zuccardi adds, “We all as a community are stronger than coronavirus.”
“Optimism is in my personal DNA,” DeCarlo agrees. “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 is the former co-creator and television host of ‘On the Money’ on CNBC. She has written for The New York Times and ‘O’ magazine. A member of President Obama’s ‘Business Forward’ initiative to further African-American, Latino and Asian business owners, Carmen was a faculty professor of behavioral economics at New York University and is the author of two best-selling financial advice books.
This article features third-party individuals not affiliated with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated ("Merrill") and is for information and educational purposes only. The opinions and views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Merrill or any of its affiliates.
1 Ipsos is the third largest market research company in the world, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people. Merrill or any of its affiliates are not affiliated with Ipsos. In partnership with Merrill, Ipsos conducted multiple waves of research throughout 2019, employing a variety of research methodologies, starting out by interviewing Merrill stakeholders who serve and represent the diverse communities. In parallel, they synthesized and reviewed an array of publications and academic research on the topics of diversity, wealth and inclusion in financial services and beyond.
The Online Community and the In-Home Qualitative research was conducted from July to September 2019. We spoke with n=6 respondents from each of the three affluent communities in their homes and hosted an Online Community of n=20 respondents from each of the three communities.
The Quantitative research was conducted from September to November 2019. We spoke with n=450+ members of each of the three communities and compared them to a representative sample of the n=1000 respondents from the affluent general population. We surveyed: n=455 members of the affluent Black/African American Community, n=512 members of the affluent Hispanic/Latino Community, n=509 members of the affluent LGBTQ+ Community.