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Wealth management and financial planning have a reputation for being the kind of services that are reserved only for the elite. Lazetta Rainey Braxton has aimed to single-handedly change that.
Fusing her many passions for the higher purpose of empowerment, Braxton founded Financial Fountains, which provides financial well-being and effective stewardship practices to a diverse client base. Since 2008, she has offered financial planning and investment management services to clients across the country, while conducting educational seminars through her speaking series, Gateway to Wealth.
A leading voice for diversity and inclusion in her profession, Braxton is an active participant on many fronts. She is chair of the Association of African American Financial Advisors (AAAA) and the current and first president of the AAAA Foundation, which advances financial planning in African-American communities. She also serves on the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning Advisory Panel, Women’s Initiative Council, and the Diversity Advisor Group.
And as if that impressive list didn’t already read as if she operates with a completely full schedule, we feel inclined to add that Braxton often collaborates with the media as a member of the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council, and has made TV appearances on “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt,” “Nightly Business Report,” and CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”
Centered by the love of her family and commitment to spirituality, this wife of a fellow UVA grad is also a mom of a teenage daughter.
Braxton recently earned two awards for her tireless efforts: the Financial Planning Association’s Heart of Financial Planning Award and the Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Awards’ See It Be It Role Model Award. We were compelled to sit down with the 1995 McIntire alumna to ask about her many successes, her philosophies on financial planning, and how she has helped to create positive change through her chosen line of work.
Congratulations on your awards! What do you feel have been your greatest contributions to the field of financial planning?
I believe my greatest contributions reflect my deep belief in the value of financial planning and how it enhances lives by strengthening household economics. It is my lifelong mission to make sure that there’s access to financial planning for different households on the wealth spectrum.
Financial planning has been traditionally thought of as a service for people who have lots of money. I can’t disagree more! It’s not just for the 1%. I consider myself a financial planner “for the rest of us.” My firm has primarily focused on affluent Middle America. I also have high-net-worth individuals who have not felt a connection to Wall Street, the typical provider of financial planning. I’ve done a lot of work on the pro bono side, too.
To bring it all together, my contributions have been helping others understand the significance of financial planning and its value to all populations, making sure there are ways to access it through my firm, and having volunteer efforts to continue the conversation.
You’ve said that the client-financial planner relationship needs to be a mutual one. Can you expand on that idea?
In terms of partnership, it’s emphasizing that all parties are going to bring something to the table. I’m dispelling the notion that, when clients come to me, I have all the answers when, in fact, they have the answers. It’s their lives. So if they don’t give me full disclosure and transparency about their lives, their values, and their goals, then I am no help to them as a partner. I bring expertise, passion, and a skill that can hopefully help educate along the way. Clients bring their own knowledge, interests, and desires. Together as partners we can be our best selves.
This is important, because a lot of people feel what psychologists call FOG—fear, obligation, and guilt. And if people feel that they’re at a disadvantage in the relationship in terms of information, or if they’re being hindered by these negative feelings, then it’s not productive. I’m empowering clients to have confidence in their financial decisions and their future.
What’s been the most challenging aspect for you in your role as a financial planner?
Financial planning can be a lot like hiring a physical trainer! It requires discipline, deep engagement, and the belief that you want to see this through. All of us are busy living our lives, but there has to be intentionality about staying on track with guided instructions and collaboration. I tell clients on the front end, “This is the expectation. This is how frequently we’re going to meet. This is what we’re going to need. Organization. Data. Are you ready for this? Do you have enough time to allocate to this process?”
The other piece of this is that 99% of my clientele have never worked with a financial planner before. They’ve been do-it-yourselfers. They may have a CPA or an insurance agent, but not someone who has taken a holistic approach to their life and finances. I’ve worked really hard to reduce barriers for people who are new to the process, because when we enter it, this is a covenant, and we’re going to work on this together.
In addition to Financial Fountains and your speaking engagements, you’re also involved in community volunteer work, serving as a guest contributing writer and subject matter expert for media. With an active family and spiritual life, how do you find the time to accomplish everything?
I see life as an opportunity to learn and grow and enjoy the ride along the way. Passion pushes you—my husband is also a UVA grad (A&S ’91), and he also has a strong affinity for social justice. That’s our work together. Our daughter, who is 13 years old, is a very wise person. She helps us shape priorities and stay hopeful for the future. That’s why we’re very engaged in our family and our work. We want her and generations to come to have the confidence and money to make the world a more hospitable place.
Sometimes I go overboard—but somebody or something has a way to reign me back in. But I’ve got no regrets, and I’m grateful for every opportunity, because I love it all: my family, being able to engage in my spirituality, meeting people, and building community. And I have significant support to do that, which is such a gift.
Turning to your education background, what drove you to choose to attend UVA and McIntire?
I’m a Virginian and have always known about UVA! I also have a cousin two years older than I am who attended UVA, so there’s a connection there. I was very happy that the University had a weekend specifically designed for African-American students interested in UVA; that was a wonderful experience.
I always had a passion for business, but financial planning was not an option then. My interest was in personal finance. Based on my experience coming from a rural area in Virginia and seeing my parents struggle with finances, I thought, “Okay, what do I need to know? What do I need to have access to?” I was certain that with the Comm School being so highly ranked, that was where I needed to be.
It was really an investment for me. As a high school student, I was very serious. I wanted to be surrounded by people who had wealth since I did not. I wanted to be challenged in a way of understanding how a different socio-economic population lived, knowing that I would get top-notch training. And I did get that, especially in terms of learning to work with others, so much so that when I got my M.B.A. [from Wake Forest in 2004], I thought, “I’ve seen this before as an undergrad!”
Of course, because of the UVA connection, I met my husband. He had already graduated, but we’re definitely a Wahoo family. My husband and I moved to several states, and the UVA alumni network has always been so supportive with job opportunities along the way.
What impact did your UVA and McIntire experience have in helping you along your employment journey?
I knew I was going into finance. I really wanted to understand the markets. And I love numbers. My other passion is accounting, which I did not minor in, as I minored in Spanish. I also focused on international business.
The summer after my third year, I was hired by Marriott International as an Auditor. Even though it wasn’t finance per se, I was doing financial and operational audits. It was an incredible experience. I got to travel across the country, and Marriott extended an offer to me at the end of the summer. I accepted before the end of my fourth year and had a job waiting for me upon graduation.
I had studied abroad in Spain the summer after my second year, too. My summer abroad was my first time in a train and a plane; I did it all at once. So I felt very prepared going from zero to 100% abroad, and sharing that with my love for different cultures, different people, accounting, and finance—it just all came together so well with my first job. Being trained as an Auditor, regarding details, and how businesses operate? Invaluable.
What from your time at the Commerce School stays with you most?
Professor Mike Atchison! He was just phenomenal, very passionate about finance, and a good mentor. Having a finance professor—white male—not to say that I would have highlighted that back then, but I’m highlighting it now because of my industry—it’s significant that I didn’t feel different as an African-American woman. He just embraced my passion for finance and, even after I graduated, has been a great resource to me.
Academically, it was certainly a stretch coming from my home town of South Hill, VA. I did extraordinarily well within my academic environment in high school, but it was different from the exposure that some of my counterparts had. So I appreciate the community and study groups that really stretched me. I remember staying in the stacks for all-nighters with case studies, but it was perfect because when I got into the real world, I saw the work and said, “This is nothing!”
What do you think current McIntire students should know?
This profession is very intimate. You can’t just be in it for the money. You’re delving into people’s lives, and that’s got to be something that’s important to you.
We’ve also been trained to stay on top of our craft, so that means completing the continuing education credits that go along with the CFP® credential, but in addition to that, going into a specialty—areas that you enjoy. Some people are very niche oriented; they may work with attorneys, doctors, or corporate women, for example. I decided to do something different with a broad clientele because of my love of diversity and access. It has worked for me.
There’s a need for talent in financial planning. We’re seeing a transition—somewhere between every three to six advisers retiring, we’re having about one coming into the industry—so there are lots of opportunities to make your mark and make a difference.