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MC Origin Stories – Thao Truong

1) What was the turning point for you in deciding to change careers?


After I left England, I moved to the United States. I just wanted to accelerate my college education and finish it quickly so that I could start making money and be my family’s savior. I moved to the States for more affordable options. I attended a community college in Seattle and graduated from the University of New Hampshire. I decided to study finance, hoping that the degree would give me the knowledge on how to become rich sooner.  While in school, I tried to make money from several different channels, started a few different businesses with friends, and invested in options and penny stocks. But like what your advisors would normally tell you: “Don’t try to beat the market.” I lost money from those risky moves.  Looking back, what helped get me through my hardships were: (1) the support from friends; (2) my personal emergency fund (which I had before my family hit rock bottom); (3) discipline for a long-term financial plan; and (4) my stable college jobs like tutoring in economics, financial accounting and statistics, and being a teaching assistant for microeconomics. During my last two years of college, I worked as an economic forecasting analyst for a professor at my university, and then as one of the 35 financial analyst students specially selected to manage the university’s endowment. Then, through working with affluent clients in the wealth management business, I slowly discovered that I had put the wrong attention on MONEY matters. Prosperity and happiness are far beyond money. There is also knowledge, health, and mental wellness. Financial planning is not about getting rich, it is about long-term planning for your money so it works for your values.

 

2) What lessons have you learned from your past work life that you’ve brought to MC?

 

3) Empowering a customer or client is something many of us hope to achieve in our work. What opportunities have you had to accomplish this in the past?

I believe in the power of financial literacy. I want to be able to extend my knowledge to others who do not have the means. I strive to promote financial literacy to the public by providing free financial workshops for my local community. I also volunteered with San Diego Junior Achievement to promote financial literacy to middle school and high school students. I was an active member of the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). I co-founded a small women-advisor-only study group that is comprised of younger minority advisors. We have learned the power of having a community of friends and peers to turn to for advice and support. I was humbled and honored to be a recipient of the 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Scholarships for both FPA and NAPFA. These awards were granted to professionals willing to demonstrate and act upon an intense desire to affect the diversity of the financial planning profession.

Introducing Brian Mann, Wealth Advisor

What moments in your career have given you the most satisfaction and fulfillment?

In 2009, at the Otay Mesa Detention Center thirty minutes east of San Diego, and just a mile and a half from the U.S.–Mexico border, I met my 20-year-old client for the first time. I had recently finished law school and was working for a nonprofit representing asylum seekers, most of whom were from Eastern Africa. He arrived in the U.S. seeking asylum from Somalia, his entire family victims of ethnic cleansing outside Mogadishu. He was shot in the stomach, slashed across the face, and left for dead the day he decided to flee. He was one of the lucky ones. The virtually nonexistent medical care at the detention center left him dying from infection, our translator, Omar, and I his only advocates. After somehow surviving his trip halfway around the world with a bullet in his abdomen, he miraculously survived. Those two enormous hurdles cleared, it was now my responsibility to prove in a U.S. immigration court that he would be killed if he were forcibly returned to Somalia.

Eight years later, I was in another hospital room, this time at Methodist Hospital in Arcadia, CA, and under very different circumstances. My client, 61, had recently suffered a massive stroke, leaving him capable of little more than eye movements and the slightest facial expressions. In this state, he was soon to inevitably leave behind an adorably loving and utterly terrified wife and two young adult sons. I began working intently with the couple about two years prior as their financial advisor. Their goal was to simplify their chaotic estate and finances so they could return their full attention to their local Los Angeles medical practice and Doctors Without Borders work in South America. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the three of us spent 15 hours together those first two years. We’d become close, and I was the only non-family member allowed in the hospital during this time.

I have walked two very different paths in my career, but both have intimately shown me elation and despair. At the time, I questioned if I should have even been in the hospital rooms alongside my clients. These moments were filled with pain and worry, and I felt helpless in them. But sometimes it’s in the hardest moments where we find purpose and fulfillment.

My client from Somalia was granted asylum. Eleven years later, he regularly writes and sends me pictures of his wife and children, braving still unfamiliar Minnesota winters and taking every opportunity to remind me of our connection and his gratitude. Even after my client passed away at Methodist, his wife continued her frequent trips to the office. After months and months of work, their financial matters were finally buttoned up shortly before he fell ill, so her visits were not to conduct any business. She calls and visits just to share about her charity work and family and to hear stories of my own young kids. “My husband knew I was going to be okay, and that’s because of you,” she still says to me.

When I reflect on what’s fulfilling and what’s satisfying about the work I’ve done, I think about each of them.