Paths into Planning

Three professionals share their paths into the financial planning profession.

Journal of Financial Planning: May 2021


The Visionary

Tyrone Ross Jr., CEO of Onramp Invest

Tyrone Ross Jr. didn’t know what the stock market was until he was in graduate school at Seton Hall University.

At that point, he hadn’t taken any business classes.

“I tried to avoid numbers by any means necessary,” Ross said with a laugh. But his passion for learning kicked in, and he wanted to know more.

Having grown up in an unbanked home, seeing and living extreme poverty, and later on in life “making all the financial mistakes possible,” Ross voraciously consumed content. He gained knowledge on not just stocks, but also on money and how to manage it. He quickly became an expert and immediately started giving back.

Giving Back

If you follow FinTwit or any podcast in the financial planning space, you’ve seen or heard Ross’s positive messages about money and felt his passion for helping people—whether that be his clients, the next generation, or the financial planning profession overall.

“I’ve always wanted to give back, but now I have the financial knowledge to help so many people avoid the same fate that I did in my family,” Ross said. “That’s where this passion comes from around financial literacy, financial education, homelessness, poverty, [and] child hunger—it all comes from my experience.”

Molding the Next Generation

Ross has launched financial literacy initiatives for children from underserved communities. He’s developed the “Learn to Money” video series and curriculum to share free, evergreen financial literacy lessons for teachers to implement into their classrooms.

“I want to make it enjoyable, make it fun, make it happy, and make it informative,” he added.

He’s also cooking up something with Jamie Hopkins, Esq., CFP®, LLM, CLU®, ChFC®, RICP®.

“We’re going to do a financial literacy initiative to get books into the hands of inner-city and poor, rural children,” Ross explained.

Ross notes that “currently, only 21 states require financial education in schools. This is abysmal, considering we pick up our financial habits by the age of seven.”

So, he’s put that work on his plate until all 50 states mandate financial education in schools and at younger ages.

“If we are truly going to resolve the issue of financial education in America, we have to enrich the soil. We are planting really rich seeds in barren soil,” Ross said. “We have to go as big as the problem with our solution and we haven’t done that—we’ve danced around it. We’ve addressed the symptoms, but we haven’t addressed the problem.”

Mothers Are Always Right

When Ross was a teenager, he remembered watching the Atlanta Summer Olympics.

“At that moment, I realized that I wanted to become an Olympian,” he said. “That was my lifelong dream.”

When Ross was training to make the Olympic team, his mother would always tell him that he was more than “just a runner.” At that time, it would upset him because he said it felt like she wasn’t supporting his dream.

“She would always remind me and say, ‘You’re playing small if you think this is all you are. You’re more than a runner; you have all these other talents and gifts that your father and I and, more importantly, God, gave you,’” Ross said.

After piecing back together his broken heart from not making the Olympic team, he started achieving outside of the running world. Just a few of those achievements include becoming a financial adviser, a motivational speaker, a financial literacy evangelist, and a well-respected expert on cryptocurrency.

What He Loves Most About His Work

While it’s impactful for him to see people make that first million, it’s easily more impactful to help that single mother hit all her financial goals for the first time.

“What I love most is just seeing people go from struggling financially and [having] a lack of financial awareness and then seeing them able to free themselves to make financial decisions for themselves and their family,” Ross said.

The Gratitude Mindset and Advice to the Next Generation

Ross says he’s able to have the things he has in his life because of his gratitude mindset, and you’ll notice it in your interactions with him. He ensures people know he appreciates them and takes the time to write thank-you notes. “The effects of the gratitude mindset compound,” he said.

Betting on yourself is Ross’s top tip for success.

Another tip is to network incessantly. And lastly, write thank-you notes.


The Career Changer

Rachel Elson, CFP®

Rachel Elson, CFP®, went from being the deputy editor of Money magazine to becoming a financial planner helping young professionals navigate their financial lives.

Moving from New York to a New Career

After being homesick and itching for a change, Elson and her husband made the journey west.

“I’m from California, my husband is from the West Coast, and we both wanted to come home,” she explained.

Upon finding there were fewer journalism options in California than in New York, she decided to pursue a career in financial planning.

“I got into journalism because I got to learn something new every day,” Elson said. “You have a license to ask anyone questions. But then once you’ve been covering something for a long time—in my case, it was personal finance—it gets a bit stale; you’re not learning in quite the same way.”

How Journalism Prepared Her for Financial Planning

“As a journalist, you have to gather information, process it, organize it, and present it in a way that makes sense and tells a story,” Elson noted.

“That’s a lot of what we do in planning,” Elson said. “We find out people’s stories—what’s important to them, what their priorities are, what their resources are—and do the analysis. Then [we] figure out, how do we package this in a way that will give them a really clear path?”

Her former career also taught her how to talk to anyone.

“You learn how to ask questions and how to listen for both the answers and the gaps,” Elson said. “Sometimes, we’ll be talking to a new client and afterward, I can say, ‘You know, they didn’t really answer this question; maybe there’s something there that we should keep our eye on.’ That can be helpful.”

Advice for Other Career Changers

The first order of business: find your network.

“I was told right away, ‘Join the San Francisco FPA chapter. There’s a great community there.’ So, I started going to events,” Elson said.

Second: start talking to people.

“Because of my background, I find the easiest way to learn is just by calling people up and asking questions,” Elson said. “The planner community is pretty amazing. They’re used to helping other people. I learned a lot by talking to other advisers—they have tons of expertise and I found they were very happy to share it.”

Lastly, be practical and know a career change is “very much a human-capital investment.” She planned for a year of making less money and focusing 100 percent on her education. Overall, it was a two-year period of adaptation before she was working at full capacity.

“Everyone needs to figure out what that’s going to look like for themselves,” Elson said. “Even if you were very experienced in another field—I had almost two decades as a journalist—you might have to be in a more junior role for a while.”

Rest assured, however, that your skills from your previous careers will transfer.

“It’s not going to be like when you were 22 years old and starting from scratch,” Elson said.

Forging Mentor Relationships

She first started by asking people whether she should make the transition.

“Then somebody very wise said to me, ‘You’re only going to be asking this question for a couple of months; pretty soon, you’re going to be asking, “Tell me about your firm. Tell me about how you handle X.”’ That was completely true,” Elson noted.

Don’t fear not knowing things. Rather, be open to the vertical learning curve and enjoy the growth.

“Asking about firm processes, culture, operations, etc., was really useful,” Elson said. “It really helped me find the firm that was the right place for me.”

The Love of Financial Planning

As a personal finance journalist, Elson put ideas in the ether and hoped for the best, she noted.

Money magazine has more than 1 million circulation—not including the online audience,” Elson said. “Even with all those readers, you present these good ideas and don’t know if anyone ever uses them. So, it’s nice to actually put the ideas into action and to help people make those changes.”

In working with younger clients who are still in the workforce making complicated decisions, she sees many different planning opportunities.

“We meet people when they are, say, 38 years old. Maybe they have one or two kids. They’re thinking about buying a house, or maybe they bought a house but are outgrowing it,” Elson said.

“They have questions about their equity compensation at work and tax questions tied to that. Maybe they want a second house or to finance a big project. They have so many questions they need answered. It’s incredibly satisfying to be able to help.”


The Leader

Joseph Stemmle, CFP®, 2021 President of FPA NexGen

When he was growing up, Joseph “Joey” Stemmle, CFP®, liked the idea of being a teacher.

“Growing up, I was always kind of fascinated with learning,” Stemmle said. “Now, I teach at Virginia Commonwealth University. So, I get to do some of that at a high level, which is fun.”

But after a stint with the family plumbing business and an animal boarding facility, he started hearing his true calling.

Finance Lessons from Mom

When he was young, his mom used to say, “You save early, and you save often.”

“She had us make budgets, and I was fascinated with the concept of budgeting and savings and money,” Stemmle said. “The first savings account I ever opened up was at a bank at the local grocery store. I liked to go grocery shopping with my mom because I could go to the bank and get a deposit slip and see how much money I had.”

Although he was fascinated with the concept of saving money, Stemmle didn’t know it was a job you could do. He’d never heard of financial planning. In time, he also became fascinated with investing.

“When I was a teenager, my mom let me use some of my money from savings to buy an American Funds mutual fund,” Stemmle recounted. “I could see my money going up and down, and I started to learn the concepts of saving and investing. I remember one of the biggest holdings was Coca-Cola—and I was a kid who liked soda—so being able to buy a fund that had Coca-Cola as one of the top holdings was a new cool game.”

The Pivotal Pizza Party

Getting that experience with investing made Stemmle want to go to college. He chose Virginia Commonwealth University, where he started in the business school, at first majoring in finance.

But then there was a pivotal pizza party.

“There was a new finance club starting up, and if you showed up to it, you got free pizza,” Stemmle said. “I was all in there—that’s how they get you in college is the free pizza.”

It was a meeting of the VCU student chapter of the Financial Planning Association.

“We learned a little bit about financial planning, and I thought, ‘This sounds more like the finance I want to do,’” Stemmle said. “You’re talking about investing, but then you’re talking about budgeting and savings and things like that. I got involved with the student chapter, which had just started, and then my sophomore year, I got an internship at UBS. I started working there and I enjoyed it. It definitely was something I wanted to do.”

In his junior year at VCU, Stemmle participated in the Financial Planning Challenge at the FPA Annual Conference. His team placed third in the nation.

“That whole process made me realize this is it for me,” Stemmle said.

An internship his junior year at Ameriprise Financial, which he got through connections he made through the FPA, led to his current position. Ameriprise hired him right out of college and has promoted him several times during his tenure.

Prioritizing Community

If you’ve met Stemmle, you know he’s busy. He volunteers with FPA through several avenues, including the PridePlanners Knowledge Circle and NexGen, but he also gives back to his local community. What he loves most about volunteering is the people he meets.

“In many of the groups I’m part of, I’m surrounded by people who are strong leaders and who help out,” Stemmle said. “I have really great people who oftentimes complement my weaknesses—and I hope my strengths complement their weaknesses.”

He has enjoyed learning how to lead from great leaders and balancing and prioritizing his time.

“You make time for your priorities, and giving back to the community is a priority for me. I come from pretty humble beginnings, and I’ve tried to use my platform as much as I can to educate people and give back,” Stemmle said. “I have fun doing what I do. I find a pretty good balance in life.”

Of all his volunteer opportunities, the one with the most impact has been the Alumni Charity Challenge food drive, an event he organized eight years ago in Richmond, Va., to generate donations for a local food bank. The concept is simple: local alumni associations from various colleges compete against each other to see who could garner the most donations. It grew from just five schools to about 40 schools.

Another opportunity that he cherishes is his experience being a CFP Board mentor, helping his mentee study for and pass the CFP® exam.

“That meant a lot to me,” Stemmle said. “It was a really cool feeling to help somebody get past that huge milestone.”

Serving FPA NexGen in 2021

As the 2021 FPA NexGen President, Stemmle continues to provide community, education, career development, and advocacy.

“Especially during these times, the need for and importance of connection is even higher, and we have to adapt,” Stemmle said. “We certainly aren’t going to be slowing down or stopping. We need to continue to support our NexGen members. We hope that NexGen continues to be where people find their tribe, their home, and their community. We want it to be the place where people can learn and grow and be like our extended family.”

One area of particular focus is strengthening and providing support for the student chapters.

“The student chapters are a great starting place to get people engaged and active and then to be able to build that knowledge over the long term,” Stemmle said. “Most NexGen leaders were involved in efforts to start student chapters or were active in them.”

“We need to start providing more resources to students and getting them engaged,” Stemmle said. “I’m hoping that if we build a pipeline, we’ll have these really active, involved students who, when they graduate, move into NexGen and FPA as a whole.”

Advice for the Next Generation

The biggest piece of advice is to network, he said.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Stemmle said. “You might be in school, or you might just be getting launched in one particular area of financial planning. Reach out to people working in different areas as you—just to learn what they do, how they get compensated, and about their day-to-day life. That’s so important as you build your network. The biggest disconnect people have is keeping in touch with people in your network.”

In addition, he advises utilizing the resources available to you through FPA Connect and FPA Activate.

“There are so many great people who want the next generation to succeed and organizations like FPA that provide that community—so utilize them,” Stemmle said.

He also says that people have opened doors for him in his career, and he makes it a point to do the same for the next generation.

“Just because you’re five years into your career doesn’t mean you can’t provide value to other people,” Stemmle said. “Never let your age or experience hold you back.”

General Financial Planning Principles