Entrepreneur Creates a Bilingual Platform to Make Retirement Saving Easy

Within minutes of meeting financial entrepreneur Carlos García, you feel like you’ve known him for years, and suddenly, you’re discussing how to solve Americans’ lack of retirement savings.

“It is possible,” said the 37-year-old about one of America’s biggest challenges, “if you have the passion for it.”

This past February, García launched a startup aiming to do just that. Finhabits is a bilingual digital platform that gives investment advice and teaches and encourages individuals how to invest and save for retirement.

This, he explained, came from his realization that he grew up knowing very little about building wealth and saving, something he learned while working at his first job at Merrill Lynch in NYC.

“I never opened my 401K packet from H.R., and after three years, my colleague said, ‘I already have $30,000 saved for my retirement and the company matched it,’ and I said, ‘What?’ All these terms I didn’t know, and then I thought about all the people I know, and maybe their parents didn’t teach them either.”

García said that while his parents instilled in him an ethic of hard work, they were not familiar with long-term financial planning.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, this is indeed a common occurrence among Latinos. Only 26 percent of Hispanic families had retirement savings in 2013, compared to 41 percent of black families and 65 percent of white families.

“I got frustrated when I looked at my Merrill Lynch plan, but then I thought about the people who don’t work for a corporation and don’t have a pension,” said García. As fewer Americans work for big companies with 401Ks and pension plans, it’s even more imperative, say experts, that individuals know how to chart out their own savings.

Research by the National Institute on Retirement Security confirms that only 38 percent of Latinos, versus 62 percent of whites, have access to a retirement plan through their employer.

“Most people don’t contribute money to their retirement —what is going to happen when we reach 80? I thought to myself, “This is a Latino problem.”

García designed Finhabits as a platform that helps people who have never invested, develop the habit to do it. “If I can make saving for retirement more accessible and cheaper, it’s a winner — it’s just like going to the gym,” he said. “We text you to give you a nudge to contribute on a weekly basis.”

So far, Finhabits has been highly active in Texas, Florida and California. Most clients are new investors in their 30’s and saving for retirement using Roth IRA’s, contributing an average of $40 a week.

“We want to be in as many Hispanic-driven places as possible,” said García. “Any citizen or permanent resident can open an account. Eighty-five percent of our clients have never invested or had a retirement account before. Ninety-five percent of our users are mobile audience.”

What differentiates Finhabits from other digital financial apps, said García, is that it’s focused on long-term financial habits. The digital platform charges $1 per month for accounts under $2,500 and 0.5 percent per year for accounts that pass that amount.

“Many Latinos don’t retire and keep working, because they have to, but what happens if you get a health issue?” said García. “And there’s a difference between having a savings account and investing…Ideally, I want everyone to put 5 percent of their income away annually.”

García said that no matter how much one puts away, it’s best to just do it and not to put off saving.

García is no stranger to solving problems. He spent his formative years alternating between living in El Paso, Texas where he was born, and Juárez, Mexico, the birthplace of his parents —studying in both countries and speaking both languages. He left the U.S.-Mexico border when he got accepted into MIT, one of the world’s most prestigious universities —to study electrical engineering and computer science.

“I was an electrical engineer first, and electrical engineering teaches you how to solve problems,” said García. He later switched to a finance career in risk and asset management.

Though he has navigated in the high-stakes and lucrative world of finance, García sees his mission as helping support underserved communities, beginning with Latinos.

In 2010, after nearly a decade in Wall Street, García and a few friends from Mexico saw a need to help children affected by drug-related violence in Juarez. They formed Project Paz, a non-profit that partners with artists and socially-conscious brands to host fundraising events. The proceeds fund after-school art programs in Juarez. In the past seven years, more the 6,000 children have benefited from the program.

Apart from his philanthropic work, García is focused on helping propel what he thinks is a bright future for Hispanics.

“Latinos are the only group who has had income growth since 2008– so there is a huge potential that we are going to be the next wealthy class.”

However, García says saving money for retirement and building a nest egg has to be every individual’s own priority.

“It’s important that you take care of yourself, because the government is not and your employer is probably not,” said García. “If you spend an hour per year thinking about what you do with your money, you can double your wealth in retirement.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

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The Latinas behind the Americas Latino Eco-Festival

Festival founder, Irene Vilar (Photo/Gary Isaacs)

Festival founder, Irene Vilar (Photo/Gary Isaacs)

Irene Vilar is no stranger to activism. She says her own grandmother spent 27 years in prison for fighting to make their native Puerto Rico an independent state.

Vilar wrote a memoir and became an author at the tender age 22. Years later, she founded the non-profit Americas for Conservation + the Arts, the mother organization of the Americas Latino Book Awards, as well as the first non-profit literary agency in the U.S. dedicated to proliferating minority literature in the Americas. Continue reading

Latina Leaders: Former intelligence officer in the Air Force pays it forward

Sandra Tibbs (Photo/Kelsey Borlan Lee)

Sandra Tibbs (Photo/Kelsey Borlan Lee)

At 34, Sandra Tibbs already served in the U.S. Air Force for 10 years, and now she is using her experience leading a crew of 1,200 as an officer in military intelligence to empower others.

Three years ago, Tibbs founded Neverest Solutions, a consultancy firm that trains corporate, government, and small business executives to be better leaders. Based in San Antonio, Tibbs travels the country giving workshops and leadership development training sessions which teach conflict resolution, strategic thinking, male-female dynamics, and how women can become influential leaders.

Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from Peru. I was born in Lima. I came to the states when I was 17 to live the American Dream. My dream was to join the U.S Air Force, because the opportunities in Peru in the military aren’t the same as here. I just had a little money my mom gave me, and I stayed with one of my mom’s friends for six months in Austin until I found my own place. My first job was Taco Bell. I worked there while I studied English in order to take the test to enter the Air Force. I joined the Air Force when I was 18.

What was your best experience being in the military?
I didn’t really believe in myself or my capabilities. For me, the Air Force was such a blessing, because it helped me find what I was capable of and people that believed in me. When I was enlisted, I was approached by one of my supervisors, and they thought I should apply for ROTC and become an officer. The military does a great job in investing in the development of their leaders in every level. I was taken out of my comfort zone. I was always afraid of speaking in front of people because of my accent, but part of my job as an officer was to speak a lot to other leaders. It pushed me so I could achieve and grow and have an impact. I realized leaders are not born, they’re made. And I began to think, “How can I help others?”

What were the skills you learned that helped you in your business today?
I was in charge of collecting important information needed for decision makers to make the right decision. You have to think a lot at the strategic level. A lot of pieces come into play to give the right recommendations. We never have all the facts so we have to gather what we have and make an objective, informed decision.

What did you study?
When I was in the Air Force for about a year, I started going to college. I got a bachelor’s in biology, because I was thinking I was going to be a doctor, but intelligence sounded like a lot of fun, so I followed that and got a master’s in organizational leadership. Now., I’m in my third year of PhD studies in organizational leadership.

What is the most important piece of advice you give to your clients?
One of the biggest things is we have to be aware of who we are and what we stand for, what our values are, and what we want for ourselves. Be aware of what we are willing to compromise and what we are not. As we move up in an organization, we’re going to have to make decisions that are difficult. Everyone should have an idea of their ideal leader. When you have that idea of who your ideal leader is, you have to ask yourself what would my ideal leader do in a difficult situation?

What is the most important piece of advice ever given to you?
We are the only ones who can limit ourselves. It doesn’t matter what others say. People are going to doubt you, because they don’t know what you are capable of, but you have to believe in yourself and your purpose. You are going to attract the things that go with you. When you try to be something for everyone and please everyone, you are going to be attracting people that will not be of service to you. If everybody likes you, you’re doing something wrong.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Seeing people grow as leaders and have them have a positive impact on their organization. I just finished a group training program, and it was priceless to see how engaged those people were. For me to see that, and how they’re implementing the tools they learned, that’s amazing. The things you see in successful leader – they are always learning and growing. They are always thinking, “What can I do to be a more effective leader?”

Thoughts this Veteran’s Day?
I was blessed with the people I got to work with. I learned so much from the airmen, senior officers, everybody I became in contact with in my Air Force career. That is the reason I’m the leader I am today. I admire the people that are still serving. They are the heroes. They make so many sacrifices for us. I just want to honor them – those there right now and those that will come after us. Without them, we wouldn’t have the freedom to pursue our dreams and live the lives we life.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

Latina Leaders: U.S. Army Colonel’s mission is to help others succeed

Colonel Irene Zoppi (Courtesy U.S. Army)

Colonel Irene Zoppi (Courtesy U.S. Army)

Many of us have high ambitions, but very few aspire to be a U.S. Army general.

That is a goal Colonel Irene Zoppi is striving for next. Currently, she’s one of only 15 Latinas in the U.S. Army Reserve who holds the rank of colonel. She also happens to be a full-time professor at Strayer University in Maryland, a wife and mother of three, and a Gulf War veteran who holds a doctorate in education policy, planning and administration and a masters in business.

“I think that I’ve taken every opportunity given to me,” says the 47-year-old who moved to the U.S. mainland from Canóvanas, Puerto Rico 26 years ago, barely speaking any English. “Often, as immigrants, we don’t get every opportunity so we start looking for them. Once we find them, we continue working at them so we can get ahead.”

As a girl in Puerto Rico, she says she used to wander around the naval station where both of her parents were stationed, admiring the uniforms and the discipline around her. She ended up joining the Army at 19, while continuing her studies at the University of Puerto Rico, because it “had more opportunities for women” than the Navy.

By 21, she got commissioned as an officer and had a bachelors degree in foreign languages – which she calls her gift. She eventually learned five languages and earned the nickname, “the Visa card,” among her fellow servicemen, because she often served as the translator for them.

Zoppi says moving up the military ladder and learning to acculturate to American culture — especially as a Latina — was not easy.

“A lot of time I was put down,” says the tough but light-spirited coronel who admits to having had trouble deciphering English for a long time when it was spoken too fast. That, however, was the impetus for her to work harder.

“The diversity wasn’t there at that time — so it was difficult and a lot of work. I was battling everybody — I didn’t go partying like everybody else so I could do better.”

Zoppi has seen her share of tough situations as she has advanced in the Army, but she clearly believes in her mission.

 ”One of the most impacting moments in my life was being in combat,” says Zoppi who has earned countless metals for her service, including the Bronze Star. “Although I believe in peace and diplomacy, sometimes the ultimate price we pay for democracy and freedom and national defense is war.”

The military first began accepting women into its ranks in the early 20th century. Yet according to the U.S. Department of Defense, as of 2011, approximately 13 percent of active duty military are women.

Today, as a professor and colonel, Zoppi is very motherly and even hugs her soldiers. She says she really cares for them and often gives them advice.

“In order to become successful, you have to know yourself by going to school, taking advantage of career centers, taking personality tests, and then develop a plan — long term and short term,” she advises. Zoppi already planned her life to age 100. “I have created a map of things I want to do, but also remember to be flexible and adaptable and don’t forget to be spiritual and give back.”

The Puerto Rican colonel advises to continue seeking opportunities throughout one’s life.

“Don‘t just do what feels good, but contribute to the good of our Earth,” says Zoppi. “We have to consider each other.”

In order to do her part in giving back, Zoppi often offers her time as a keynote speaker, motivating women around the world. She says she enjoys helping other women, especially Latinas, to get ahead.

“I want to help other women see they can do it.”

Dr. Irene Zoppi being promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1987. (Courtesy Irene Zoppi)

Dr. Irene Zoppi being promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1987. (Courtesy Irene Zoppi)

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Latina Leaders: From undocumented MIT student to satellite engineer

Diana V. Albarrán Chicas (Photo/Susie Condon)

Diana V. Albarrán Chicas (Photo/Susie Condon)

Diana Albarrán Chicas still remembers waking up at four in the morning to accompany her parents to their job picking strawberries in the fields. It wasn’t easy, she says, growing up undocumented throughout her school career. But she eventually made it to the prestigiousMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — a school she never heard of before her school counselor urged her to apply.

At 31, Albarrán Chicas is the first Latina, and only the second woman, to be a test section manager at the 50-year-old company, Space Systems/Loral (SSL) in Palo Alto, Calif. She oversees a team of 10 who design and build satellites and space systems for a wide variety of government and commercial customers, including DirectTV and DishNetwork.

“During one of the summer programs I attended as a Junior in high school, I learned about engineering and what engineers did,” says Albarrán Chicas, who originally dreamed of being an architect so she could build her own house when she immigrated with her parents from Mexicoat age 5. “I started to learn more and realized what I really wanted to do was engineering.”

If it wasn’t for that summer program, she says she wouldn’t have known careers in engineering existed.

“My parents only finished third grade in Mexico,” says Albarrán Chicas, who was the first in her family to graduate from high school, let alone make it to college. “I didn’t know about MIT until two weeks before the deadline to apply.”

At age 17, she packed up her bags and moved from Riverside, California to Cambridge, Massachusetts to take college courses in electrical engineering and electromagnetic wave theory.

“What I do now is work at the antennae department,” says Albarrán Chicas. “Through the antennae we are able to design how the satellites are going to define coverage on earth.”

She explains that satellites are launched into space and travel with the earth, linked with ground stations on the earth.

“That’s how the satellite communicates back and forth,” says Albarrán Chicas, explaining the full cost to test and launch a satellite is $500 million. “Once we launch our satellites into space, we can’t really fix them. We have to make sure they are designed properly and tested adequately.”

What she says she really enjoys about her job is the ability to be a problem solver. She says she is still is in awe that she is able to work with such a talented team and do such important work.

“It feels great to be able to come in and break some of the stereotypes that Latinas are not good in math and science,” says Albarrán Chicas.  Together with her husband (they met while students at MIT) they saw the need to introduce more young people to science, technology, engineering, math and science (STEM).   The couple created Empower Educational Services last year. “We’re trying to pay it forward in terms of everything we’ve learned — especially in under-served communities.”

She also works with Latinas in STEM, created by a group of MIT alumnae.

“The main purpose is to help empower Latinas to pursue STEM fields and thrive,” she says.  There’s a big push in improving the numbers, but there’s also a big trend in Latinas leaving STEM. We want to address why they leave – and raise awareness of Latinos who are doing well.”

Personally, she thinks immigration reform is definitely needed because there are too many talented undocumented youth in this country with so much to offer.

“It’s such a sensitive topic, because it could have as easily been me not being a citizen, and I can’t imagine not doing what I’m doing because of not having legal status,” says Albarrán Chicas who became a citizen at 21, when her parents were able to get their residency card and petition for her. “Ten years ago, there weren’t any scholarships for people who were undocumented. It was something that you didn’t talk about.”

She says sometimes remembering that time is still so difficult.

“There were some very dark moments — living in hiding for a long time, not saying anything to anybody,” she says. “My parents have been my source of inspiration — everything they sacrificed for my brother and I, I don’t think I can ever repay that back.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

Who is the artist behind Mexican skeletons and “La Catrina”?

José Guadalupe Posada’s “La Catrina.” (Courtesy New World Prints Collection)

José Guadalupe Posada’s “La Catrina.” (Courtesy New World Prints Collection)

Ever wonder who was responsible for “La Catrina” and the skeleton figures which are a part of traditional Mexican culture, and are growing more popular worldwide?

The man behind the famous bony cadavers and skulls is Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada.

As part of the 22nd Annual San José Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival, San José’s Mexican Consulate is celebrating Posada’s legacy with “El Centenario Posada 2013.”  The free exhibition, which also features the work of artists from the U.S. and Mexico who have been influenced by Posada’s work, opens September 13 and will last through December 30.  More importantly, it marks the 100-year anniversary of his death.

José Guadalupe Posada (right) with his son (left). (Courtesy New World Prints Collection)

José Guadalupe Posada (right) with his son (left). (Courtesy New World Prints Collection)

Known as the “printmaker to the Mexican people,” Posada’s thousands of illustrations ranged from political cartoons to religious art that captured the time in which he lived. Posada’s influence can now be seen internationally, especially in the Day of the Dead imagery he popularized after his death, as well as in illustrations for liberation during World War II, Lucha Libre, and the Grateful Dead.

Sadly, Posada died without an awareness of the influence he would have in the modern art world. He died in obscurity and in poverty and left no descendants.

“‘La Catrina’ we think was created in 1912 — the year before he died,” says curator Jim Nikas, who 70 selected works of 2,300 from the New World Prints Collection for the exhibition. “He would be a graphic artist today — somebody available for hire — that’s what he was in those days.”

Nikas explains that most of Posada’s illustrations were published by the Mexico City press of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo. As a lithographer, Posada made stone and lead engravings which he sketched first.  He then used a chemical process for his final touch.

“Arroyo could use the printing blocks over and over for different stories that he wanted to write or poems of people they knew who had died,” says Nikas.

Nikas likens Posada to icons like Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin.

“The more we look at the work of Posada, we feel the energy of his genius and the collective total of his work gets magnified over time,” he says. “He used the power of the image to change public opinion and to be used in social movements, be it for human rights, or to expose corruption…That’s something that Posada has given to us.”

Nikas and his wife, Maryanne Brady, are also working on a documentary about the artist which is expected to be completed in time for Day of the Dead.

“Skeletons soften the pain of death — people get used to the idea we’re all going into a whole pile of bones and maybe it’s not so terrible after a while,” says Nikas about how he got interested in researching the Mexican artist. “It’s crept into the culture of the U.S. and in Europe.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Arizona’s newly appointed first poet laureate talks life on the border

Alberto Rios, Arizona’s newly appointed first poet laureate. (Photo/Tom Story/Arizona State University)

Alberto Rios, Arizona’s newly appointed first poet laureate. (Photo/Tom Story/Arizona State University)

Renowned poet and professor Alberto Rios has recently been selected by Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona’s Commission on the Arts as the state’s first poet laureate.

“It’s been a wild ride so far,” says Rios about his life, ever since he got a call from the Governor’s office last week informing him of his new appointment. “It was a special feeling…I grew up in Arizona — on the border — so to be a kid from Nogales, in a state that has so many issues regarding language, and so many things — it’s a pretty good story.”

Rios, has published a total of 10 poetry books, three story books and a memoir called “Capirotada.” His memoir about his youth along the Mexico-Arizona border won the Latino Literacy Hall of Fame Award, and he has also received many other recognitions for his work, including the Walt Whitman Award in Poetry. As English professor at his alma mater, Arizona State University, he reached the highest faculty rank when he was named Regent in 1989, and his work is often taught in college curricula.

“Being a professor, I have a lot to say about who we are, and why are we here,” says Rios, 61. “If it’s so bad, why don’t we all leave, but there’s lots of reasons why we don’t.”

Arizona became the 43rd state to establish a poet laureate, last year, in honor of its centennial year of statehood. The purpose of this position, according to Governor Brewer, is to “commemorate Arizona literary artists whose work and service best represent Arizona’s values, independence and unique Western history and culture.”

Probably few know Arizona’s history and culture better than bicultural Rios – son of a Mexican father and an English mother. Recounting his parents’ love story, he says his father ran away from his home in Chiapas, at age 14 to join the U.S. Army. Eventually, he got a GED and became a staff sergeant and ended up in England, during World War II, where he met his future bride. When he got discharged, he was given no choice but to return to the U.S., and Rios’ mom followed him. They ended up in Nogales.

“Growing up, I had cultures in my house that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” says Rios explaining how they gave him two ways of looking at things and helped him become a writer. “I grew up with an open border.”

And speaking about the “real” border, he remembers the Arizona-Mexico border being more of an imaginary line than it is today.

“You didn’t need papers — the guards were reading newspapers — it wasn’t a big deal to cross the border,” says Rios, also explaining that he had kids in his class who paid tuition and crossed the border every day to go to school in the U.S. “Every holiday, whether Mexican or American, there was a parade.”

Rios says he also remembers, as if it were yesterday, when everything changed.

“It was November 22, 1963 — when President John F. Kennedy was shot,” says Rios, who was in the 5th grade. “One of the first things the country did was close the borders.”

He says phone calls started coming in from parents in Mexico saying they couldn’t pick up their kids.

“I’ll never forget this,” says Rios. “One of the kids who got a phone call started to cry. Then other kids started crying…They had kids on one side of the border and parents on the other side of the border crying. It wasn’t until 4 or 5 in the morning they let the kids go through…For me, I think that’s when the border became something else.”

He says slowly the idyllic, bicultural world he knew became something else. The drug trade started, and people could no longer travel back and forth as easily.

“The border is an uneasy place — it’s more tense, it’s more mean,” says Rios, whose wife is a retired librarian and whose son is an immigration rights attorney.

As poet laureate, he wants to do his part to bring beauty back to the border.

“I absolutely want to talk about these issues – work I’ve been doing my entire life. I’ve always traveled all over the state visiting schools and libraries telling the stories of people’s lives and what this all means,” says Rios. “I try to bring the human side to it all.”

Arizona’s new poet laureate is also working on a public art project and is in the midst of publishing a new poetry book.

“It’s about the southwest,” says Rios. “You have to start somewhere.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.