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US-Africa Business Forum Offers 3 Examples Of How To Profit While Moving Continent Forward

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Africa (Image: file)

Driven to make lasting social–and commercial–change on a global scale? It turns out the recent U.S.-Africa Business Forum served as an ideal venue to advance that aspiration.

Scores of global CEOs, political leaders, dignitaries, and entrepreneurs gathered at New York’s venerable Plaza Hotel to engage in discussions and deals to boost investment and trade between the United States and African nations. Co-hosted by the US Commerce Dept. and Bloomberg Philanthropies, this much-anticipated sequel offered President Obama the opportunity to share progress made since 2014. He cited, among other initiatives, the successful Trade Africa and Doing Business in Africa programs as evidence that “if you are an African entrepreneur and an American entrepreneur looking for more support, more capital, more technical assistance, there has never been a better time to partner with the United States.” In fact, he told attendees deals worth nearly $15 billion had been completed by American and African companies over the past two years, and announced another $9 billion in new transactions in the pipeline.

While acknowledging the need and desire for investors to gain considerable returns, Obama shared this quote from a young Rwandan innovator: “No matter what you’re trying to do, you need the motive in your mind that you want your society to move forward.”


Investors and entrepreneurs can follow that philosophy by transforming local economies. For example, the National Association of Securities Professionals–an organization that includes principals from BE 100s financial services firms–forged a $1.8 million alliance with the US Agency for International Development to promote “financial stability and sustainable economic growth” in sub-Saharan Africa. USAID Administrator Gayle Smith and Donna Sims-Wilson, NASP Chair-Elect and president of Smith, Graham & Co Investment Advisors L.P. (No. 5 on the BE ASSET MANAGERS list with $5.6 billion in assets under management) announced it will send financial professionals to “structure investment transactions and provide advice on development finance for infrastructure.”  Moreover, they will also jointly launch next year a US-Africa Institutional Investor confab within the region.


Another avenue of social impact: Connecting with the US African Development Foundation, which provides grants and technical support to African communities, cooperatives, associations, and grassroots organizations. USADF seeks to create “development models for communities in fragile and post-conflict countries, ethnic and religious minorities, youth, the disabled and nomadic populations.”

Aysha House, director of external affairs, says of its community-driven efforts: “We take out the middleman as it relates to giving direct development assistance. Our average award is about $130,000 but we can do amazing things with very small amounts of money. We will work with, say, a community of farmers to organize their co-op and then help them organize it into a bankable business.”

So how can African Americans get involved?

By working with organizations like Africare, an African American nonprofit that has provided African developmental aid for more than 45 years. The organization, House maintains, has been one of USADF’s strongest supporters.

The agency has helped a number of African firms identify and gain sources of expansion capital, which can come from institutions such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) or African American impact investors and NGOs (non-government organizations). Moreover, business-sustaining linkages can be formed between African companies and African American firms that supply raw materials or other goods and services.


From the beginning, Rahama Wright was deliberate in the development of a company that would uplift African communities. She launched Shea Yeleen International Inc. as a “social enterprise” that would create a line of high-quality natural and organic skincare products and, at the same time, create micro enterprises operated by Ghanaian women.

Wright’s story is one of determination and moxie. Spending two years in a small village to build relationships, the former Peace Corps worker used $6,000 of her personal savings to start the business in 2005 and then worked a series of jobs to sustain it. By 2014, perseverance and contacts finally gained a six-figure investment from PanAfrican Investment Co. L.L.C., co-founded by former Citigroup Chairman Dick Parsons and international philanthropist and former diplomat Ronald Lauder. Within a year of the first US-Africa Summit, she applied “at the last minute” and was selected as a member of President Obama’s Doing Business in Africa Council, which expanded her business acumen and exposure.

Today, Shea Yellen can be found in select Whole Foods and Fresh Vitamins outlets. What drives Wright, 37, has been training 800 women in Northern Ghana–cooperatives of 20-30 women in 14 communities–to place them on the path to enterprise development and financial self-sufficiency. In fact, she has provided them with production facilities and access to capital to develop products as well as taught them to save and invest their money.

“What keeps me going is Masana,” she beams, recalling the life-changing experience of one of her trainees. “When her husband died, she was forced to move out of her home. Based on what she was taught, however, Masana had the money [to gain a new property] as well as provide for her daughter. Her example continues to motivate me.”

Wright’s advice for those who want to operate a business or invest in Africa: “I don’t believe in corporate social responsibility. Every business should be developed so that social impact is part of the business model.”


An Easy, Affordable Way To Buy Stocks

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stocks (Image:

One of the easiest and most affordable ways to build an investment portfolio is through a program called the dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP). This low-cost way of buying stocks allows you to purchase just one share of a company’s stock.

AT&T, Carnival, Costco, Disney, Dunkin’ Donuts, Home Depot, Pepsi, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s all have DRIP programs. In fact, over 1,000 companies and closed-end mutual funds allow investors to buy single company shares through DRIPs.

Becoming A DRIP Investor

Once you have identified a company with a DRIP, you generally have to become a shareholder of record to enroll. You must have the stock registered in your name, not a brokerage or “street” name. After your initial stock purchase through a broker, additional shares can be bought directly through that company.

Once you are a shareholder of record, contact the investors’ relations or shareholder services department for a prospectus. The prospectus provides all the details about the program, including any fees; optional cash payment minimums and maximums; investment dates; and eligibility requirements. Chances are the company will probably contact you once it has your name as a registered shareholder.

Keep in mind that investing in DRIPs limits your flexibility a bit. For example, shares are sometimes purchased weekly but in some plans only once a month. Let’s say you like a stock at today’s price. By the time the stock is purchased with your optional cash payment, the stock may have risen in price.

Buying Fractional Shares

Most DRIPs permit investors to send in an optional cash payment, which could be as low as $10. This enables you to purchase additional shares. For example, if a company’s stock was trading around $50 and you sent in only $25, you’d receive a fraction of a share–in this case, 1/2 of a share. But these fractional shares continue to build over time.

Rather than pay out dividends, DRIPs automatically reinvest your stock dividends to purchase more company shares. Even better, many companies offer discounted shares through DRIPs, taking 3% to 10% off a stock’s trading price. This enables you to accumulate a growing number of shares of a company’s stock, without paying high commissions.

There are several resources for anyone interested in DRIPs. The best source to keep up with the latest DRIP information is the publication DRIP Investor. What’s nice about the DRIP Investor beyond general guidance is that it provides regular updates on DRIPs worth looking into as investments.


Are You Tired of Undersaving?

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iStock_000082694597_MediumWe can always save more money, right? It’s nice to think so, but it’s often easier said than done. In reality, saving money takes planning, budgeting, and discipline. If the balance of your savings account isn’t exactly where you want it to be don’t worry, it can just be a temporary situation.

[Related: 4 Ways to Protect Your Nest Egg in Retirement]

If you’re tired of undersaving and want to boost your savings account, you can do so very easily. The hardest part is getting started; here are four ways you can do it.

Skip the coffee break

This is a simple way of saying if you want to save more you need to spend less; there’s no plainer way to put it. Skip the coffee breaks with colleagues, which can save up to $10 a day. Just say no to dinner with friends and save up to $50 each time. If you do that twice a week, you’ll have saved an extra $100. Wasn’t that easy?

Set a lunch budget

Eating out is tempting because it’s easy, convenient, and there’s no clean up; but eating out several times a week can take a serious toll on your budget. If you aren’t crafty in the kitchen, then go simple with sandwiches, soups, salads, and fruits.

Understand Needs vs Wants

Do you spend because you want to or need to? It’s probably because you want something new, but don’t necessarily need it to live. Eliminate spending urges and impulse purchases by taking out $20 cash at the beginning of the week to use for personal spending. When the cash is done, so are your wants. Leaving your debit and credit cards at home will also help you commit to save because they’re not in your wallet.

Set it and forget it

You can’t miss what’s not there. If you want to force yourself to save then set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account. It’s that simple. Then all you do is sit back and watch your savings grow. Once you start to see your savings add up you’ll want to save even more.


3 Money Habits Millennials Should Practice Now

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Paying off student loans or saving money for the future is a common conflict many millennials face after graduating college and entering the workforce.

The graduating class of 2015 reached new heights as the most indebted class ever with a little more than $35,000 in student loan debt, and we can only hope things will shape up better for the class of 2016. But with Sallie Mae nagging your phone and making it clear that your student loan nightmare isn’t going away until your last payment, it’s easy to feel like student loans should be your No. 1 financial priority in your 20s and maybe even your 30s.

[Related: 4 Ways to Use Snapchat to Your Business Advantage]

While managing student loan debt is important, focusing solely on this area of your finances will surely block you from building your future nest of wealth. Below are tips to help you not only pay off your student loans, but also create a plan for long-term financial goals.

1. Track your spending: The best way to avoid charging too much to your credit card or overdrawing on your bank account is to create a financial tracking system of your finances. At the beginning of each month, create a spreadsheet that outlines how much you pay in rent/mortgage, utilities, student loan debt, credit card debt, grocery expenses, and transportation. Once you’ve calculated those expenses, put yourself on a budget for how much you want to spend on non-essential items. Don’t forget to also put aside at least 10% per paycheck for a rainy day.

2. Save for retirement NOW: Many millennials think they have their entire 30-year plus career span to save for retirement and that the urgency for setting up a 401(k) plan is not now. That mindset is the farthest from the truth. Saving for retirement now will prevent you from trying to play catch up later. If your company offers 401(k) matching, accept it. When you leave a company, don’t cash out of your 401(k) or thrift savings plan, instead roll that money over into another account such as an IRA savings account or mutual fund account.

3. Invest in stocks: Investing in stocks is not a rich man’s game and the sooner we realize that, the better off we will be financially. Think of the companies and products you support/use the most. Head to NASDAQ now, type in the company name, click on the symbol that matches your company and you will see how much it costs to buy a share in that company as well as whether that company’s stock numbers are trending up or down. Monitor the company you’re eyeing for about a week just to see how it’s trending in the stock market. Use the $300 you saved up for that bag or pair of shoes and invest it into your future. Yes the stock market is risky, but in the words of Meek Mill “Scared money don’t make no money.”



3 Fundraising Lessons From the Smithsonian African-American Museum

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african american museum Image: Lonnie Major

I remember the unseasonably, mild February morning when more than 600 of the most prominent, powerful business and political luminaries — including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama — gathered in Washington, DC to participate in history: The groundbreaking of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Now, nearly a half decade later, the day has arrived when the doors of the largest African American museum in the US will open to the world. Moreover, it represents one of the greatest philanthropic efforts driven by African Americans. It’s five-star advisory council included former Citigroup Chairman Richard D. Parsons, American Express CEO Kenneth I. Chenault, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, billionaire dealmaker Robert L. Johnson, and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

At the time of the groundbreaking, founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III said that the importance of the vision was recognizing and honoring African American history and culture and demonstrate “the need to make better all who visit the National Museum, by using African American culture as a lens to more clearly understand what it means to be an American.”

What I also found impressive about Bunch was the fact that as he uncovered artifacts representing the “wide arc of history, “ including slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement and other eras, the noted scholar and historian became an amazingly adept fundraiser of.$250 million in donations from corporations, organizations and individuals.

As I wrote at the time —and still believe — the campaign serves as a powerful model for strategic philanthropic fundraising – whether your organization is mammoth or miniscule.

Assemble A Credible Board of Advisors

After civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis fought more than 12 years to secure authorization, President George W. Bush signed legislation in 2003 to establish the 19th museum within the Smithsonian complex. Congress committed $250 million over 10 years, so Bunch must make regular trips to Capitol Hill to sway legislators to provide funding for the institution’s annual budget. The NMAAHC team has had to raise the other $250 million through private donations.

Bunch told me that he was not guided by “a lot of management theory, but by all our ancestors” and that led to his clarity of intent and working with a board designed for fundraising success.

In June 2005, Bunch had to contend with an intimidating meeting at NMAAHC, a month before he officially took the helm. “I walk into my first board meeting. I’m looking for my name, and I am between Oprah Winfrey and Dick Parsons,’” he reflects.

Bunch knew that members of this advisory council had vast strategic acumen, enviable global contacts and, most important, a burning desire to erect a monument to black achievement. Sixteen of the 24-member advisory council were African American, many among the NMAAHC’s largest donors. For example, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation has contributed $10 million or more and Bob Johnson has given $5 million or more. Chenault’s American Express has given $5 million and Allan Golston, president of U.S. Programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helped guide the organizations’ investments of $10 million.

Assembling such a group of respected corporate and civic leaders offers a vital lesson for those on the local level. Bunch said his council gave the museum instant credibility. “You had to show that the major players cared about this, and because there would have to be so much private fundraising, which is more than we’ve traditionally done at the Smithsonian, the decision was to make sure the board had a strong corporate leadership,” Bunch said at the time, citing that the group weighed in on every strategic decision involving the museum’s development and management.

Communicate Your Vision With Clarity And Passion

Bunch found that the NMAAHC’s leash was shorter than that of most nonprofits because the museum operates under government oversight as part of the Smithsonian complex. The team had a playbook, a set of principles and policies that had been developed by the founding presidential commission. It was up to Bunch to call the plays, though. “I learned you’ve got to have confidence in your vision, but be smart enough to let other people help shape it,” he said.

One of Bunch’s strengths is his ability to sell the mission, whether conferring with congressmen on the Hill, talking to CEOs in the executive suite, or chatting up a group of senior citizens at a community center. Observers said he has a talent for connecting with people on the emotional level, and that’s what makes people write checks. He was also successful in building partnerships with local museums and historical societies.

Strategically Target Prospective Donors

NMAAHC approached fundraising from a standpoint of “abundance, not scarcity,” said one staffer, and did not waste time on those who may suffer from “sticker shock.” The group also targeted five key metros: New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles, “philanthropic cities” that are among the nation’s largest, headquarters for large corporations and comprised of diverse populations that embrace multicultural causes.

The team wanted as many African Americans as possible to play a role in the museum’s development so the campaign for dollars was not just focused on members of the 1%. NMAAHC has developed a grassroots effort as well, pitching charter memberships for as little as $25. In fact, the group has received gifts of $5 from senior citizens, and about $600 in coins from the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School. And added social media outreach to the mix. The lesson; Gaining small contributions is just as important as large corporate donations in reaching your fundraising goal.

B.E. Exclusives

11 Must-Have Resources For Tech Investors

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technology Image: AndreyPopov

As a partner for Kapor Capital, the venture arm of the Oakland, California-based Kapor Center for Social Impact, Brian Dixon seeks to identify and evaluate investments in early-stage tech companies. As such, he has also played a large role in advancing firms that have the greatest challenges in gaining capital–especially those launched by founders of color.

One way that the young financier has tried to help drive that funding has been to provide education to prospective investors about putting money in tech ventures that serve to diversify the industry. Last month, he talked to a group of African American high net worth individuals and impact investors at the Philanthropy at the Vineyard Summit about how to approach the space whether they decide to do so as an angel, limited partner, or VC.

Dixon says it’s most important to “just act.” There are so many resources, I put this list together of places to go.

Tech investors–that group may include you–should take advantage of the following:

  1. – The site helps impact investors, those seeking to “understand startup companies with the ability to transform entire industries and address social needs.”
  1. AngelList – Says Dixon: “As angels, you must know about AngelList. It’s a place where all deals are happening. Kapor Capital actually syndicates their deals on AngelList as well. If you want to invest alongside us or other VCs, that’s a place you can do that.”

Dixon says that investors must keep abreast of the latest tech news, trends, and innovations as well as gain specifics on how to start and structure a fund or what should be included in an LP pitch deck. To gain that insight, tap the following sources:

  1. TechCrunch
  2. VentureBeat
  3. Medium
  4. Quora
  5. Twitter

Dixon also advises investors to read the following books to help guide them through the funding process as well as gain an understanding of how founders and financiers  negotiate:

  1. Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or investor, he says, “It pretty much explains how seed stage investments work.”
  1. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Reis. “It’s all the Silicon Valley tricks of how to start a company all in one book.”

Lastly, Dixon included two blogs focused on, “Who are the other folks who look like me?” engaged in financing within the sector.  He offers his must-read VC blog picks:


Dixon is confident that tapping these resources can help novices or seasoned pros become more proficient at investing in tech. Access them to power your portfolio.




How To Join Or Create A Giving Circle

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giving circle (Image: Jung)

Looking for a way to express your identity as a member of the community and to leverage your capacity to make a difference? Then consider joining or creating a giving circle, whereby individual donors pool their money–and other resources–and decide together where to give it away. In essence, giving circles provide an opportunity for individuals to join others through collective charitable giving.

Collective Philanthropic Giving

Giving circles are a resurgence of an old tradition of generosity and caring that is making an impact all across the country. Giving circles have become an attractive channel of philanthropy for women, minorities, and donors under 40, according to a report prepared by Jumpstart Labs, a philanthropic research group.

Giving circles provide an entry point for donors with lower income levels and a desire to become involved in charity work, according to Jumpstart Labs. “It doesn’t surprise me that minority groups participate in giving circles at higher rates because of the effect that giving circles have in focusing and amplifying the effect of their giving,” Jumpstart Labs’ chief executive Shawn Landres told the Chronicle of Philanthropy. There is something exciting about people pooling their resources and making joint decisions on how to give grants to improve life in their community, he added.

Giving circles also provide opportunities for democratic participation through agenda setting, decision-making, and face-to-face debates and deliberation, and they build the capacities of their members through education about issues, organizations, and the skills of grantmaking, reports Nonprofit Quarterly.

Start A Giving Circle of Your Own

Step 1. Find like-minded people with whom you can pool funds and then distribute the income in the form of grants.

Step 2. Determine how much and how often each person is to donate. Members may chip in anywhere from $100 to $2,500 or more every month.

Step 3. Find a worthy cause or choose an agency (e.g., a pediatric cancer ward in a local hospital or a shelter for battered women) to whom the group will donate the funds.

Step 4. Decide where your giving circle will put its money before making a donation (e.g., savings, checking, or money market account), or if you want members to write individual checks to the cause you all agree to fund. Alternatively, decide whether you prefer a sponsor, such as a local foundation.

Some giving circles are supported by community foundations, which offer a variety of services to donors who wish to set up charitable funds without incurring the administrative and legal costs of starting independent foundations. The Council on Foundations’ Community Foundation Locator can help you look for a community foundation in your area. Other giving circles utilize a fiscal sponsorship arrangement, in which a 501(c)(3) public charity enables you to collect tax-deductible donations.

If you are interested in starting (or joining) a Giving Circle, check out the Giving Circle Network.


3 Super Compelling Reasons for Why Kids Need Financial Literacy

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Discussing finances can be uncomfortable, especially in households that are in debt or struggling to make ends meet. What could prove even more detrimental, however, is avoiding critical conversations focusing on the essential elements of personal finance, especially those designed to equip children and young adults with the skills needed to manage money and ensure financial stability.

At a critically important time in our history, when countries are claiming insolvency and recessions are impacting global economies, one of the most important steps that can be taken is educating children at an early age on financial literacy. By instilling principles that will help children and youth avoid the type of fiscal foundering or bad money making decisions that can cumulatively weaken communities and cripple society, we can reap the benefits of a generation of pecuniary powerhouses.

Here are three compelling reasons to teach kids financial literacy early:

1. Financially Literate Students Make Better Choices 

Similar to the subprime mortgage crisis that began in 2007 and served as the primary contributor to the Great Recession, many students are borrowing more for their education than they are able to pay back.  This is due, in large part, to a lack of financial literacy training of high school and college students, who are unaware of the billions of dollars in grants and scholarships that are available for their educational costs.

President Obama has taken drastic action to alleviate the student loan burden, including capping monthly loan repayment to 10% of a student’s discretionary income and forgiving undergraduate loans after 20 years of payments have been made. Even with these measures in place, the best financial aid is that which students don’t have to pay back.  Access to personal finance workshops teaches students how to research free money for college, rather than defaulting to student loans to pay for school.

2. Two Words–Compound Interest

Albert Einstein once said, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. […] He who understands it, earns it. He who doesn’t, pays it.”  Your money can work for you or against you.  The sooner children are taught this lesson, the better off (and richer) they’ll be. Kids who start early will have a whole lot more and will have had to save a whole lot less than their peers who wait until later to start putting money away.

Here’s an example. Let’s say we have two young investors: Malik and Latasha. Both save $2,000 per year and earn a 6 percent return compounded monthly until age 65. Malik starts saving at age 19, while Latasha begins at age 27. At age 65, Malik will have $537,163 in his account and Latasha will have $319,687. Malik ends up with over $200,000 more than Latasha’s total, even though he only invested $16,000 more! That is compound interest at work.

3. Money Talk is not an “Equal Opportunity” Lesson

A Jump$tart Coalition survey showed that the vast majority of youth who were considered “financially literate” were white males from well-educated families. However, every child will eventually grow up and make many of the same major money decisions that their parents made, including buying a home, purchasing cars, and saving for retirement. Educating students from all socioeconomic backgrounds about money will play a pivotal role in ensuring that no youth are left behind.

These are only three of the many reasons why we must be intentional in teaching financial literacy to children and youth. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans believes strongly in ensuring that all children are literate in every sense of the word (including finances and health) and encourages the use of proven and effective strategies to support the work.

Norman West is the Co-founder and CEO of West Advisory Group, a financial literacy, education, and training firm based in Rochester, N.Y. David J. Johns is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.


Protect Your Assets: Advice For Entrepreneurs

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protect your assets Image: BrianAJackson

Most of us, when we think about wealth, are focused on two things: How to acquire it, and how to grow it.

However, long-term financial stability and success relies on your ability to protect your wealth. Unfortunately, most people fail to think of wealth protection until it’s too late–when assets are in peril or after it’s lost. And in nearly all cases, the money saved by not taking steps to protect your assets is easily dwarfed by the financial damage incurred when what can go wrong, does.

This is often the case with new entrepreneurs, whether they are operating a business as a full-time startup or a side-hustle (or side-hustles) in order to create multiple income streams. When operating any kind of business, it is critical to consider steps to shield your personal assets from liability associated with your entrepreneurial activities. In short, building long-term wealth requires you to protect your assets, not just increase your income.

Black Enterprise spoke with Nic Cober, Esq. (, principal managing partner of Cober Johnson & Romney. Cober, a Black Enterprise contributor and the author of CEO of My Soul: The Self-Love Journey of A Small Business Owner, specializes in legal issues facing entrepreneurs. She stresses the importance of establishing even a fledgling startup as a legal business entity in order to protect your assets.

“I mentored a SCORE client recently who was very reluctant about registering as an L.L.C. because of the expensive fees,” says Cober, who teaches a class called Legal Entrepreneurship Advanced Principles (LEAP) in collaboration with the D.C. Small Business Development Corp. “I asked her did she and her husband have assets. They did. I quickly told her that if they were ever sued for a defective product he created, those assets could be at risk. Simply put, if you are creating a product or providing a service that in any way causes injury or harm, you may be financially liable.”

“A Limited Liability Company serves as the first line of defense for owners because it limits your personal liability for business debts,” says Cober. “As an aside, like sole proprietors, the owner still receives the tax benefits of reporting profits and losses on his or her personal tax returns. In sum, even in the early stages of your business, registering as an L.L.C. is the first of many important decisions you will make as an owner.”

You register your L.L.C. in the state in which you do business, and the fees vary. In the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, for instance, the initial fees to register range from $100 to more than $300, according to Cober. Most states do not have ongoing annual registering L.L.C. fees. However, some states have annual reports they require you to file.

For example, says Cober, “In the District, you have to file a report called the BRA-25 every two years to update the District on where your office is located and who are the primary officers.”

Check with your state’s business registration office to see the specific requirements.

The bottom line: It makes no sense to put your personal assets at risk in order to avoid spending a few hundred dollars to establishing your small business, even if it’s a side hustle, as a separate business entity by registering it as an L.L.C. Any wealth you gain with the success of your enterprise can quickly and easily be wiped out if you fail to protect your assets.

Black Enterprise Executive Editor-At-Large Alfred Edmond Jr. is an award-winning business and financial journalist, media executive, entrepreneurship expert,  personal growth/relationships coach, and co-founder of Grown Zone, a multimedia initiative focused on personal growth and healthy decision-making. This blog is dedicated to his thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership and mentorship. Follow him on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr.

BE Money

Spiritual Guru Iyanla Vanzant Shares 3 Important Money Lessons

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Iyanla Vanzant (Image:

An all new season of OWN’s award-winning series Iyanla: Fix My Life premiered this past Saturday, with the launch of a four-part episode focusing on the myth of the “Angry Black Woman.” This season, Vanzant also works with Powerball winner Marie Holmes, who, after winning $188 million, is overwhelmed by pressures of her fortune. Life for the mother of four has been in complete shambles, and part of the problem is that she spent $20 million to bail her fiancé out of jail. In the show, Vanzant visits Holmes’ palatial estate to help her cope with her fortune, before she loses it all.

During a one-on-one interview, Vanzant shared insights with for our series, The Three Most Important Lessons You’ve Learned About Money:

BE: What would you consider to be the three most important things you’ve learned about money?


  1. Money never solves a money problem.
  2. If you don’t respect yourself, you won’t respect your money.
  3. If you‘ve got a void inside, money won’t fill it up.

I thought money would fix everything, if I just had enough. I didn’t respect my money and I didn’t respect myself, so money–for me–was a means to an end.

BE: Were you able to use these lessons to help the Powerball winner?

Vanzant: Marie Holmes wasn’t open to it; she didn’t think that she had a problem with money. She thought that her problem was with her mother and her communication with her boyfriend, but that is what created the void inside of her. So, I dealt with those issues. Hopefully, those voids will be addressed, and she will be able to see her money differently. But, I was very clear that if she didn’t clean this up, she would be broke in five years.

BE: How do you see our emotions playing out, in terms of how we handle money?

Vanzant: I grew up in a paycheck mentality: in this hand, and out that hand. I grew up on welfare, so you had to be broke before you could get more money. My mother was broke on Thursday–she got paid on Friday. My father was broke until he hit the number again. All of those experiences and constructs determined how I handled money. When I [first] made a million dollars, I was still broke. I had to be totally out of money, still waiting for a check–a royalty check. I had to teach myself about my own value and worth as an individual, and that money was a tool to be used to support me in experiencing and expressing my concept of value, worth, and who I am.

BE: How do you see that playing out in the workforce?

Vanzant: Most people hate their jobs. They get up in the morning and get dressed with clothes they bought with a credit card that they can’t afford, to go someplace that they don’t want to be, to do something that they hate, with people that they hate.  It’s crazy as hell.

I wish that, in school, we would teach our children more about vision. What is the vision you have for yourself? What matters to you? I’ve never had a job that I didn’t like. [When] I was a supermarket clerk at 14, I loved my job. When I realized that I didn’t like a job, I left. I stopped practicing law overnight; walked out of my office and never looked back. The stress [and] the emotion comes from people not understanding that they can do what they love and be paid well for it.

BE Money

Developing Global Investment Strategies Post-Brexit

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Global Investment Strategies (Image: Ltd)

How should you engage in global investing, in today’s post-Brexit environment? That has been the question legions of investors have asked since June 24, when 52% of voters in the United Kingdom referendum voted to leave the European Union.

As BLACK ENTERPRISE reported after the vote, large numbers of global institutions raised concerns that Britain’s departure would create economic chaos, boost the country’s unemployment rate, and result in a steep decline of the pound–which it did a day after the vote, sliding to $1.35, the lowest since 1985. In immediate response to the news, world markets plummeted, losing $2 trillion in value, as investors fled from equities to so-called safe havens like gold and government bonds.

In the past two months, however, global stock markets have rebounded and recovered post-Brexit losses. Recent news reports indicate Britain shows no signs of economic calamity with unemployment down, a government budget surplus in July, and rising consumer confidence.

With Britain’s current reversal–its exit from EU not yet being complete–investors should continue to brace itself for continued volatility. Why? Uncertainty continues to be a dominant factor driving market activity. For example, will Brexit create contagion into wider continental Europe, as one expert posits, causing other countries to secede from the EU? Despite the Eurozone’s myriad of economic challenges over the past several years and rapidly changing dynamics in international markets overall, investors should still be willing to go global.

To make sense of recent developments as well as offer global investment strategies, I spoke with Brian Nick, TIAA Investments’ Chief Investment Strategist. The following excerpts are the first part of that interview:

BLACK ENTERPRISE: How should investors view the aftermath of the Brexit vote as they look at investment choices?

NICK: I think it’s too early to say what the long-term consequences to the U.K. economy are going to be, but it certainly doesn’t appear [that the] country is in any kind of meltdown. They’ve replaced their political leaders relatively quickly, so that was actually a welcome development for markets. The currency fell a lot, which is actually a good thing for a lot of their companies. Ironically, the U.K. has been one of the best performing markets since Brexit. The rest of Europe has not performed as well, [and] part of that is because they lost a little bit of competitiveness vis-a-vis the U.K. [The other] part of it is that there’s [been] a wait-and-see approach, in terms of how this is going to be handled politically, and what it could mean for other countries down the line. But, it certainly hasn’t deterred markets from climbing higher. Almost every large equity market in the world is higher today than it was since Brexit.

BE: What would you share with investors, in terms of how to look at the overall global environment, as you look at investment options?

NICK: I would say that a U.S.-based investor has to be looking overseas for at least some of their invested wealth, at this point. It’s not an option any longer to be completely invested within the United States, either with the equity market or the bond market. I say knowing full well that there’s a longer list of risk outside the U.S.; [there are] more different types of risk outside the U.S. than we see inside the U.S. It’s a more fragile economic state in Europe and in certain economies in Asia, as well. Corporate earnings have not come back as strongly as they have in the United States. You still have a lot of uncertainty, with regards to what central banks are going to be doing. Overall, the consumer outside the U.S. is not as strong as we are here. These are all risks associated with overseas equity markets, but they’re all risks that I think, at this point, we’re being compensated to take.

BE: How would investors be compensated for that risk?

NICK: You’re buying a stock essentially more cheaply, in the hopes that the valuation is going to be a meaningful predictor for how your returns are going to do over time. If you’re just looking at the fundamentals, the U.S. [has] the strongest consumers. We have the strongest corporate profitability, but that is already largely reflected in the prices. And you’re actually paying, I would say, a relatively expensive amount relative to history; relative to the rest of the world. Your number one friend [while] investing outside of the U.S., right now, is valuation.

BE: Are there other factors that investors should take a look at? Should they focus on individual companies or countries?

NICK: I think, for most investors, it makes sense to be diversified across different continents–we’re talking about Europe; we’re talking about Asia. If you’re going into emerging markets, we’re going to be talking about Latin America and parts that are emerging in Asia and Europe. Diversification is going to be great. I think there’s some evidence to back this up, but the wider you cast your net, the more opportunity there is to add, through investor skill, on a company by company basis. Then, you can consider using an actively managed approach to investing outside the U.S., because there are so many different options to choose from.

BE: How should investors engage in an actively managed approach?

NICK: I would stress diversification, first. At this point, it’s hard to identify, “Well, we really like this one country in Europe, or this one country in Asia.” You [have to] look at how things are valued, [and] look at where the risks are. You want to spread out the risk, especially if it’s your first foray in international investing. You want to make sure that you have exposure across the world, not just in one particular region.

Part 2: Building Your Global Portfolio

B.E. Exclusives

BE 100s Titan John Rogers: Why Black Board Members Matter to Your Wealth

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BLACK ENTERPRISE recently unveiled its latest listing of top black board members among the 300 largest publicly traded corporations—our BE Registry of Corporate Directors—at the Black Corporate Directors Conference. Held annually at the Montage in Laguna Beach, California, this event brings together scores of the most powerful African Americans directing corporate America. As such, they discuss, among other matters, how their board service can increase shareholder value while expanding diversity and inclusion.

One of the founders of this 16-year-old summit is John W. Rogers, Jr., one of the nation’s leading proponents of value investing and CEO of BE 100s firm, Ariel Investments; number one on the BE ASSET MANAGERS list, with $10 billion in assets under management. Rogers, who serves on the boards of McDonald’s and Exelon Corp., can also be found on our BE Registry. Since we created our annual report on black corporate directors in 2013, he has pointed to our data as a measure of inclusive corporate governance.

Over the past few years, we have reported on companies with African American corporate directors and those in which African Americans’ presence in the boardroom is nonexistent. Our 2016 roster features 216 board members from a universe of S&P 300 companies based on market capitalization. This year, we identified a number of milestone appointments—most notably at iconic tech companies. They have included the election of James Bell, former CFO and Corporate President of The Boeing Co., to the board of Apple Inc. and the recent naming of Roger Ferguson, former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve and CEO of financial services giant TIAA, to the board of Alphabet, the parent of Google.

So, why does the BE Registry have relevance to your financial well-being? These business leaders are charged with the fiduciary responsibility to increase shareholder value by making decisions—everything from acquisitions and divestitures to executive compensation and corporate layoffs, among others—that will ultimately maximize earnings, dividends, and the stock price. As a group, the BE Registry has made shareholders, pension funds, and prospective retirees—maybe even you—trillions of dollars.

Moreover, it has been demonstrated that the critical factors for twenty-first century competitiveness, which include continuous innovation, shifting demographics, and gaining a significant share of black consumer and business markets, mean corporations can ill afford to operate without African Americans in this oversight process.

Over the years, I have discusses this issue with Rogers, who carries a copy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” in his wallet as a compass for guiding his mission: “I’m going to help with the diversity initiatives of corporate boards, because it is not only the moral thing to do, but it is also going to enhance the success of the business.”

Over the years, Rogers has shared with me why African American participation is so vital. The following represents a few:

Diverse boards create stronger companies for shareholders and stakeholders.

Rogers has often said a deeper pool of talent and diverse points of view lead to better decision making. Moreover, a broad talent search for a director will result in greater assets to any board.

“There are a lot of gifted diverse directors who have been shut out over the years.  If you have better decision making, it will ultimately increase the value of the common stock.  There’s no doubt about it, when you are on a corporate board, there are so many important decisions that need to be made. Those decisions have a direct impact on the price of the stock.”

Corporate directors can have a direct impact on building the wealth of employees.

One the most powerful examples Rogers has shared with me was how he sparked the enrichment of the lives of thousands of employees with a question. Several years ago, he pressed for greater African American participation in 401(k) plans while discussing benefits as a member of McDonald’s compensation committee.

“As they looked at the data and realized this was an issue, they thought out solutions. The participation of African American managers within the 401(k) plan went from the 15th percentile to 90%.” 

Such advocacy served to benefit all employees.

Corporate directors play a role in CEO succession planning of public companies. 

Corporate directorships serve as a recruiting ground for future CEOs and board chairmen. One of the most recent examples has been the appointment of Arnold Donald to Chief Executive of Carnival Corp. after serving on its board; a position he still continues to hold. And Silicon Valley Power player and Microsoft board member, John Thompson was named chairman of the company’s board two years ago.  

“Once [African Americans] are there and people see us, alongside white directors, more often than not, I see African American directors move into these leadership roles. People say, ‘Hey, these guys are pretty good here. Actually, they are really the best. We are going to make them chairman of the whole company or CEO.’ It shows how talented our folks are. We just need an opportunity to get in the room.” 

B.E. Exclusives

What It Takes to Build Your Global Investment Portfolio

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investment (Image:

We all know the old adage: “There’s no place like home.” That phrase, however, may not hold true, when it comes to your investment portfolio.

Experts like Brian Nick, TIAA Investment’s Chief Investment Strategist, maintain that having a bias toward a single country—even in the U.S.—may reduce your ability to maximize returns. For instance, Nick cited the strong performance of emerging markets “after three years in the wilderness” in a recent TIAA Global Asset Management Insights post, “EM stocks are up more than 16% this year versus less than 6% for the MSCI World index, which tracks global developed markets.”

In the second part of our interview on global investing, Nick shared factors investors should weigh as part of their portfolio-building strategy.

BE: Should the amount of risk investors are willing to take determine their international investment allocation?

NICK: That is going to impact how large this allocation is within your entire portfolio. How do you size international equity or international fixed-income allocation, in what is otherwise a U.S.-only portfolio. They tend to add volatility. If you take half of your equity portfolio, which is entirely in the U.S., but you take 50% and put it overseas instead, that’s going to probably increase the risk of your total portfolio. You have to just make sure that’s something you’re comfortable with.

BE: When you look at the landscape, are there particular regions or countries you view as opportunities?

NICK: The biggest allocation you’re going to have if you’re investing internationally is going to be Europe. So, you have to be comfortable investing in Europe and, more specifically, in the Eurozone, which has not been a good place to be for the last couple of years. If you look at just how the market is behaving vis-a-vis the markets in the U.S., that’s probably an area where I would say, from a valuation standpoint, makes sense to look at.

BE: What about emerging markets?

NICK: That’s actually an area that we like right now. It’s performed very well this year, unlike Europe. You’re not looking for necessarily a recovery and a return to form the way we’re looking at it in Europe. You’re more invested advantageously with respect to improving demographics, higher levels of economic growth, hopefully improvements in political leadership, corporate governance, and transparency. That’s happening, to some extent, across emerging markets, whether it’s Latin America, Eastern Europe, or in Asia. But, it’s more of a long-term, secular story, whereas Europe is more of a cyclical story that I expect to play out in the next two to three years. Emerging markets seem like a good investment for the next five to 10 years, but I would want both in my portfolio, because they don’t have exactly the same drivers—that’s a useful thing to have, in terms of diversifying your exposure.

BE: In building equity portfolios, how should investors look at diversification from a global standpoint?

NICK: If you’re just looking at the global equity markets, you’re not taking into account the currency, and it probably doesn’t make sense for U.S. investors to have half of their wealth invested in non-dollar currencies. It adds a source of volatility to the portfolio without necessarily adding a source of long-term return. I think generally a good rule of thumb is between 20-30% of your equity portfolio.

BE: Are there any sectors that stand out international versus domestic?

NICK: Two big ones. Obviously, global oil prices falling more than 50% took a huge toll on energy companies [and] their earnings, stock prices, and outlooks. This year, you seem to have the reverse of it. Some of the best foreign markets in the world, like Russia and Brazil, have a lot of energy because the energy prices have come up. I don’t know that that’s a place that you necessarily want to be taking a whole lot of risk specifically. It’s going to be a source of volatility and uncertainty and a sector on which a lot of things will hinge.

Similar to energy, [financials have] been extremely beaten up in Europe. There are regulatory headwinds there. Interest rates are extremely low when you have flat yield curves, negative interest rates on the short ends, or negative interest rates even on the long ends for some of these countries. It’s not a great environment to operate in as a bank or a diversified financial firm, and you can see that sector has gotten really beaten up this year down to 15%, 20%, 25%, sometimes more, depending on the specific company. The countries that have the largest weighting in financials, like Italy, have done the worst because the financials are dragging down their country index. Again, if you’re not expecting Europe to stay in this very low interest rate, slow growth, low inflation environment forever, if you think in the next two or three years they’ll come out of this, then that should be a sector that you absolutely should include in the portfolio, or, at the very least, you shouldn’t avoid like a lot of investors are doing.

BE: What about the outlook for the tech sector?

NICK: I see it as more of a domestic play. For example, the tech sector in Europe is not particularly large. In the U.S., it’s massive, not to say [U.S. tech companies] don’t do business overseas [and] that certainly contributes to their earnings stream. Where I think it does come into play is in Asia. If you look at a market like Korea, which is somewhere between emerging and developed, it has a very large technology sector and a very close economic relationship to the U.S. It is very much geared into the global cyclical outline. If it looks like global growth is on the rise, which I don’t think it is yet, we could be seeing that as a 2017 story. I would expect technology to be a leading sector.


Great Money Books to Read Now, If You’re Serious About Building Wealth

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(Image: File) (Image: File)

One of the most rewarding perks of my media career, and of my work at Black Enterprise in particular, is all the great money books I get to read. Like many writers and journalists, I love to read. In fact, it’s hard to excel at the former, if you don’t do a lot of the latter. But even if you don’t love reading as a general activity, you can’t really excel at anything if you don’t do some form of reading about it.

That’s why, as a business/financial journalist and educator, I constantly stress that your earning potential cannot exceed your learning potential. If you are serious about your finances and building wealth, you should be reading at least one book about money every month.

The good (and in some ways, not so good) news is that more money books are being published than ever. Thanks to the boom in self-publishing, hundreds of new books about business and finance are produced each year. It can be difficult to separate the mediocre (and sometimes, truly horrible) books from those worth your time and attention. Moreover, some of the best publicized, most polished, professionally published books are not very good. On the other hand, many self and independently published books, though not well designed or edited, actually do a better job of helping readers.

As a result, I’ve learned to not automatically dismiss a self-published book, nor to be impressed by one distributed by a major publisher. (Note to any aspiring self-published authors: Pay professional editors to edit, copy edit, and proofread your books. No, really–please.)

My bottom line: Will this book inform and inspire readers to make smarter, better decisions with their money? If the answer is yes, it’s worth reading, and recommending to others. In that spirit, I recommend the following money books:

1.) How to Raise Your Black Child To Be A Millionaire: Child-Rearing Secrets of the Black Elite

By: Thiah Veona Muhammad (self-published)

I firmly believe that people cannot achieve multigenerational wealth if they are uncommitted to the financial education of their children. (Also, you can’t learn about money, if you only talk to people who don’t have it.) Similarly, author and entrepreneur Thiah Veona Muhammad’s mission is to inspire parents and other adults to raise black children to become wealth-builders. She uses her website,, and weekly podcasts to showcase the wealth-building wisdom of black entrepreneurs and professionals.

In How To Raise Your Black Child To Be A Millionaire, Muhammad picks the brains of such accomplished wealth-creators, such as master networker George C. Fraser, BE 100s CEO Michael V. Roberts Sr., and top corporate CEO Keith R. Wyche.

Her primary questions include: How does one learn about money and wealth building? How do you pass on those lessons to your children? The answers to these questions make her book a good read for parents and anyone else who is invested in the financial success of future generations.

2.) 10 Things Every Woman Should Keep in Her Purse!: A Financial Guide for the Modern Woman

By: Shani Curry-St. Vil (self-published)

Some of my favorite money books are short reads that have more value per page, than much longer books. Curry-St. Vil’s self-published 10 Things Every Woman Should Keep in Her Purse! falls into this category. It’s a great choice for people who don’t have a lot of time, or who are just beginning their financial self-education. Curry-St. Vil is the creator of, a consultancy company focused on increasing the financial literacy of women.

Using both humorous, “Girl, you know!” anecdotes, as well as authoritative advice, Curry-St. Vil shares everything a woman should keep in her purse, in order to achieve personal financial empowerment. She includes on this list a key to a home you own and a strand of gray hair as a retirement-savings reminder. As a result, Curry-St. Vil delivers a wise, entertaining, and actionable read of just 84 pages.

3.) Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age; It’s a Financial Number

By: Chris Hogan (Ramsey Press)

Speaking of retirement, you need to be seriously committed to it now, whether you are age 25 or 55. Retirement expert and financial coach Chris Hogan’s Retire Inspired is designed to get you fired up to do just that. A protégé of debt-elimination guru Dave Ramsey, who both published and contributed the forward to the book, Hogan makes the point that, while financial plans are necessary to fund your retirement, you won’t be motivated to do the planning without tying them to your dreams and goals.

Like other great money books, Retire Inspired provides a great education and lots of information. Hogan also offers a website and podcast series to get you started and keep you going at But, its primary value is Hogan’s promise to motivate you to not just worry and stress about your retirement, but to actually do something about it. Today. Now.

Black Enterprise Executive Editor-At-Large Alfred Edmond Jr. is an award-winning business and financial journalist, media executive, entrepreneurship expert, personal growth/relationships coach, and co-founder of Grown Zone, a multimedia initiative focused on personal growth and healthy decision-making. This blog is dedicated to his thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership and mentorship. Follow him on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr.


3 Wealth Lessons From A BE 100s Legend: James Reynolds Jr. of Loop Capital

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James Reynolds Jr. (Image: Loop Capital CEO James Reynolds)

In selecting BLACK ENTERPRISE’s 2016 Financial Services Company of the Year, we identified a firm with a rep best summed up in a word: Solid. And there’s no characteristic that better defines Chicago-based Loop Capital or its CEO, James Reynolds Jr.

I spent a few days interviewing the visionary Reynolds and members of his team to discover the secret sauce of this sprawling firm that extends to the commercial centers of both coasts: Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

Roughly two decades ago, Reynolds co-founded the firm with another industry vet Albert R. Grace Jr., launching a six-person shop united by a simple guiding principle: “To provide client service beyond expectations.”  Due to that focus, Loop has grown into a full-service investment bank, brokerage, and advisory firm that helps municipal and state governments borrow money to finance everything from schools to public transportation systems; positions companies like Apple to engage the debt market for stock repurchases, dividend payouts and the like; and enable corporations like Facebook to gain equity financing by selling shares to the public.

Loop Capital is now one of the largest privately-held investment banks in the U.S. and has participated in transactions with more than 2,500 state and local governments, college and universities, transportation, and housing agencies and public utilities across 49 states.

In my conversations with Reynolds, I found his entrepreneurial journey offered lessons that can be applied to your personal wealth-building efforts. Here are three that may prove most valuable in refining your money management and investment approaches:

1. Learn how money really works. One of the tenets that BLACK ENTERPRISE continually shares with our audience: Understand and apply the power of compounding to make your dollars grow exponentially. When Reynolds took his first banking gig after graduating from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse and enrolling at Northwestern University for his M.B.A., he set out to fully embrace “the velocity of money.”

I became very fascinated with how money grew, how one would invest let’s say $10 million overnight and then the next day that $10 million might be $10,002,000. While I was out doing all sorts of things, money worked from the time I invested it to the time it matured the next day. It really started being almost an obsession with me to find out how to make it work better, how to be more efficient with it, how to be more thoughtful around it and what sorts of investments to do.
Although you may not become a bond trader like Reynolds, his focus and philosophy can help expand your understanding of personal money management.
2.     Reinvest in yourself.  As Reynolds was building Loop Capital, he kept his eyes on the dollars and plowed profits back into the business. He credits that approach, in part, with his firm’s expansion. Moreover, while some of the industry’s most iconic institutions were stomped, beat up, and whooped during the financial crisis several years ago, Loop was well-positioned to pounce on opportunities.

 The ability to generate revenue quickly so that we can reinvest and get additional talented people was very important. I didn’t pay myself for the first two years because every dollar we made I reinvested that in the firm, which is why we were able to grow so quickly. We were profitable after our first month in the business and we stayed profitable.

In similar fashion, reinvest dividends among your investments to build assets and increase liquidity.  Simply put: Avoid instant gratification.

3.     Diversification and discipline equals growth. Reynolds wasn’t content with his firm being a one-trick pony.  That’s why he earned the designation of chartered financial analyst (CFA)–the highest for such a professional–to deepen his knowledge of investment processes and products as well as further hone his discipline. In fact, Reynolds says the CFA enabled him to successfully structure the firm to handle different areas in the financial arena.  

When you look out at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley you see firms that are highly diversified. They are in everything because they understand the cyclical nature of those businesses. When you are seeing poor performance on the sales and trading of all those businesses then you see the wealth management side doing well or you see the M&A side doing well. Diversification is major.

Just as critical, he says, is discipline: Develop a clear strategy, employ the right people to execute and monitor for desired outcomes.

You should do no less in building your finances.


Love & Money

The 3 Ways Being In Love Puts Your Assets At Risk

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money and loveIt’s all love in the beginning. But too often, it ends in hate, recriminations–and financial disaster. The difference between financially successful relationships and costly breakups boils down to avoiding three dangerous relationship fails–lack of openness, dishonesty, and unfairness.

It is critical to honestly and completely disclose all current financial assets, liabilities, income sources, and obligations, as well as financial histories, prior to making joint financial commitments. By the way, marriage itself is such a commitment. But even if you don’t get married, doing things such as purchasing a home together could be dangerous if you aren’t aware of financial secrets, such as an unresolved tax issue or a compulsive spending habit.

Black Enterprise spoke with divorce and family attorney Rosalyn C. Charles, Esq., of RC Charles & Associates in West Orange, N.J., about the three relationship fails that can put your assets at risk.

Failing to be open

“People don’t realize that talking about finances, understanding how people feel about money, and finding out your individual vision for money is very important to sustaining a relationship in the long-run,” says Charles. She cites failing to have the “money talk” as the most common and avoidable of relationship fails. “This is true not only in a marriage but in any relationship in which people enter into financial agreements–even platonic friends who might choose to jointly acquire property or other assets. Your concept of riches and moving forward [toward financial goals] and the other person’s concept may be totally out of whack. But you don’t understand that because you haven’t had that tough conversation.”

Failing to be honest

“People often get into trouble because they’re not honest,” says Charles. “People are overcome by their emotions and often don’t have those hard discussions about finances, their income, and their financial histories. Both men and women have come through my door to discuss their divorce and have no idea what their spouse makes or what assets their spouse may have accumulated.

“A lot of times, they don’t know this because they filed separate tax returns,” Charles explains. “Or even though they might have filed joint tax returns, they didn’t review them; they just signed. So both men and women are in the dark. They don’t know what kind of debt their spouse has gotten into, or what kind of riches their spouse might have.”

Failing to consider a prenuptial agreement

“Everyone often only thinks about the downside, of ‘what I’m not going to get,’ when they think of prenuptial agreements,” says Charles. “But if a prenuptial agreement is really borne out of a discussion and full disclosure of your finances, it can be a very good thing. Depending on what point in your life you happen to be thinking about getting married, both partners may have accumulated a fair amount of assets. The key to a prenup is honest and full disclosure. It’s not just to protect but also to set the framework for how things might be resolved or dissolved at the end of a marital relationship. You can’t necessarily predict what might happen during the course of a 20-year relationship, but a prenup will at least lay the framework for how you will dissolve some things. It will ultimately save you a whole lot of money in divorce litigation.”

The bottom line: If you can’t avoid these relationship fails, there is no trust and no reason to put your assets at risk by making joint financial commitments such as marriage. (This also makes a prenup unnecessary.) However, if both you and your relationship partner are committed to complete openness and honesty, you will be fully informed to make decisions that are in your respective best interests. That could be to end your relationship, delay marriage while working to resolve financial challenges, or to move confidently forward while working together toward shared financial goals.

In the latter case, should you still discuss and at least consider the need for a prenup? Absolutely. If your relationship is built on a foundation of openness and honesty, including with your finances, you may never need it. But if having one, or even merely discussing it, would undermine trust and confidence in your relationship, the prenup is not really the problem. Without trust, there’s no real basis for commitment, whether financial or emotional.

Black Enterprise Executive Editor-At-Large Alfred Edmond Jr. is an award-winning business and financial journalist, media executive, entrepreneurship expert,  personal growth/relationships coach, and co-founder of Grown Zone, a multimedia initiative focused on personal growth and healthy decision-making. This blog is dedicated to his thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership and mentorship. Follow him on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr.


Sisterhood of Angel Investors: Meet Ati Okelo Williams

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angel investors (Image: Ati Okelo Williams)

The number of businesses owned by minority women has increased from one in six in 1997 to one in three in 2015, per the 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express OPEN. Firms owned by black women have grown by by 322%, and African American women are starting businesses at six times the national average.

Despite such numbers, female entrepreneurs start their ventures with 80% less funding than men, reports the Kauffman Foundation. In 2014, 15% of women-led startups that pitched to angel investors secured funding, and 16% of minority-led firms received angel investment, compared to 19% of all startups that successfully secured angel funding, according to the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire.

An angel is an affluent person who invests his or her own money in a business startup, usually in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity. Accredited investors are individuals who earn $200,000 or more each year or whose net worth (not including their home) exceeds $1 million.

The New Face of Investing

Understanding what it is like to launch and grow a successful business has inspired many entrepreneurs to become angel investors. Ati Okelo Williams is the owner of DC Home Buzz, a real estate agency in Washington, D.C. She started DC Home Buzz in 2008, which has since grown into a multimillion dollar entity. Okelo Williams is committed to educating, mentoring, and supporting other entrepreneurs. Keeping in line with that commitment, she attended boot camp training with the Pipeline Angels network to become an angel investor.

Since launching its first angel investing boot camp in 2011, Pipeline has trained over 200 women, who have invested more than $2 million in more than 30 women-led, for-profit social enterprises through its summit process. Okelo Williams was part of Pipeline’s New York cohort.

To date, the 35-year-old native of Kenya has invested close to $180,000 across four women-owned companies, including black-owned Food Trace. Founded in 2014 by 29-year-old Riana Lynn, Food Trace connects the food supply chain–farmers, wholesalers, and buyers–via software, and allows them to share traceable information with consumers.

Empowering Women at All Levels

For Okelo Williams, “The management team and those who are the company’s founders, are sometimes more important to me than the product. I am looking for people who can pivot, people who show resilience, and people who are coachable.” She adds, “I won’t disregard someone who has failed before, because I know there are successful entrepreneurs who have failed several times. I want to see what lessons they learned and how they were able to use them.”

Okelo Williams also is involved in a number of philanthropic ventures, including partnerships with the Washington Humane Society and Thrive DC, a food program for homeless women. She received the Jones New York empowerment grant, which was used to develop a financial education curriculum for homeless women.

BE 100s

3 Wealth Lessons from A BE 100s Legend: Herman J. Russell

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I have had the great fortune to interview a number of business icons who have built empires from scratch. Even though some are no longer with us, they have left rich, enduring legacies of wealth, achievement, and business lessons. This series highlights BE 100s CEOs I have interviewed and observed, sharing their money management practices and philosophies for your personal and business growth.

I start with the late Herman J. Russell, the brilliant entrepreneur who died just two years ago at the age of 84. His story is legend: He took over his deceased father’s plastering company–a basement operation that grossed $15,000 a year–and applied a methodical, strategic, and thrifty approach to breaking barriers in the construction and real estate trades to build one of the nation’s largest back-owned businesses. His prowess enabled H.J. Russell & Co. to be the only firm other than BLACK ENTERPRISE to remain on the BE 100s since its inception in 1973. Today, the company, which is run by his son, Michael, remains an undisputed leader, ranking No. 13 on our BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE COMPANIES list with $242 million in gross revenues.

The elder Russell helped construct much of the Atlanta skyline, including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Georgia Dome, and Turner Field. Along the way, he played key behind-the-scenes roles as a financial backer of the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the creation of the “New South” that emerged with the election of Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard H. Jackson Jr.

Beyond the edifices and civic contributions, he provided lasting financial lessons. In fact, I wrote about his pride-filled miserly ways in my book, Titans of the BE 100s. Here are three great takeaways:

  1. Budget constantly and live below your means–even if you’re a multimillionaire.

When I was a kid, I learned the value of a dollar. I would religiously save anywhere between 10 percent to 40 percent of my earnings…How I operated my life was how I ran my company. I budgeted for everything. I didn’t leave anything to chance.

He told me that after making his first million, he still drove his old pick-up truck to construction sites as well as cocktail parties. He admitted that his wife, Oteila, wasn’t crazy about the practice though. True to form, Russell continued to ride coach on airlines, eat lunch at Wendy’s, and scoop up pennies off the ground even after his net worth was estimated between $40 million to $100 million.

  1. The keys to long-term financial success: Focus on opportunities and patiently wait for returns.

Russell was just 16 years old when he purchased his first property for $125 in 1946–a small parcel of land on which he later built a duplex. The prescient high school sophomore realized that the returning World War II G.I. s would drive demand for housing.

In my spare time, I began building a duplex on the site. I used the money that I made from my plastering jobs to finance it. During the summers, I would return to Atlanta and continue to work on the duplex. When it was completed, I used the rent to pay for college. The project took years to complete. The experience taught me to establish a budget for a building project, negotiate the price of materials and most of all, have patience. I held on to that property until I sold it in 1987.

  1. Always be prepared for challenges with the cash to handle them.

As H. J. Russell grew, its CEO didn’t let success distract him from the financial objectives he set for his company and family. Determined to reach his dream of building skyscrapers, he would not let racism, discrimination, or any other obstacles rob him of that goal.

 I used four rules for success in business: be honest, work hard, equip yourself for the job and control the growth of your company. I never missed a payroll. We had challenges in getting business but the company was never in jeopardy because we didn’t have enough cash reserves. I used the lean times during the Depression as my guide.

Now, you can use Russell’s lessons as your guide too.

B.E. Exclusives

How Disruptive Philanthropy Can Save Black Communities

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August has been designated as Black Philanthropy Month. For the past five years, scores of successful, affluent African Americans have traveled during the month of August to bucolic Martha’s Vineyard, to discover new ways to uplift communities of color.

Attendees recently came together for the fifth annual Head and Heart Philanthropy Summit, which is considered one of the leading events for philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, and thought leaders to focus on a range of domestic and global causes. Christal Jackson, who launched and organized the event, describes its intent in her written welcome statement, as follows:

“Explore how we can maximize our dollars, increase opportunity for communities of color, leverage impact investing as a leading tool for social change, and identify promising trends transforming diverse communities.”

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the Summit and join the group of foundation heads, government officials, venture capitalists, angel investors, and many others, who participated in the track for impact investing or “disruptive philanthropy”– a term used by a number of session attendees.

Among the attendees: Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, venture capitalist Mitch Kapor, MBDA National Director Alejandra Castillo, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, 2013 BLACK ENTERPRISE Innovator of the year Jessica O. Matthews and performer-entrepreneur India.Arie.

Impact Investing Continues to Grow

The Global Impact Investor Network (GIIN) defines impact investing as, “Investments made into companies, organizations, and funds, with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.” As such, these transactions involve banks, pension funds, wealth managers, foundations, private investors, and development finance institutions. According to GIIN, there were $60 billion in impact investments under management in 2015, and roughly 70% met and 19% exceeded, respectively, expected returns for such vehicles.

Watson and her team structured discussion areas based on the most pressing social concerns and emerging business trends, ranging from the advancement of America’s urban hubs to access to tech entrepreneurship.

Mayors Unite to Serve Communities of Color

In this powerful session, Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Steve Benjamin and Minnesota Mayor Betsy Hodges maintained the critical need for greater philanthropic efforts and public-private partnerships to improve America’s cities. For example, Benjamin shared the fact that 312,000 black and brown children subsist 200% below the poverty line, while the alarming rate of infant mortality has risen throughout the state. “You have a 50% chance of making it to your first birthday, if you’re a black boy born in South Carolina, versus a white child. So, if you’re born in Cuba, Botswana, or Bolivia, you have a greater chance of making it to your first birthday,” he said.

As a result, Benjamin says the city and its partners have invested heavily in youth programs, including camps, safer parks, and summer jobs. “We cut our jails’ budget and scaled it up, so we could fund 1,000 jobs for our kids to work in the field of their choice, ” he asserted.

He also cited that the number one cause of death for young, black men between the ages of 10 and 12 continues to be homicide. While Benjamin addressed such violence among youths, he maintained that the city has taken a data-driven approach to police department oversight, as a means to ensure that “those who are in power to protect our children, are not killing our children.”

Hodges told the attendees the solution to such challenges, in part, can be found in the expansion of minority entrepreneurship. “Minority entrepreneurs hire people of color. They’re more likely to invest in their neighborhoods. They get it,” he said.

Tech: The Pathway of Building a Black and Brown Wall Street

Another session focused on investors making an impact on the diversification of the tech sector through the funding of startups founded by African American and minority innovators. Brian Dixon, a partner with Kapor Capital, the venture capital investment arm of Oakland-based Kapor Center for Social Impact, told the group to apply to change the face of tech, while developing new models of wealth creation. He offered four options to achieve this:

  1. Help to fund accelerators.
  2. Become a fund limited partner.
  3. Directly invest in firms as a VC.
  4. Become an angel investor.

Dixon used Kapor Capital—which invests in financial tech, education, healthcare, and POT (People Operations Technology)—as a model for investors identifying early-stage investment opportunities and making a difference. For one, it represents a rarity in Silicon Valley, as a venture firm in which 60% of its portfolio includes companies with founders who are either people of color or women. Additionally, only two percent of firms with such diverse ownership have gained overall VC financing.

To ensure that it is truly diversifying the industry, Dixon says the 81 portfolio companies of Kapor are focused on mitigating workplace bias, and they have signed a commitment that says they will build a diverse and inclusive workforce.  The criteria includes setting diversity goals, applying POT, and volunteering with underrepresented communities.

Said Dixon, “If you’re in a position [to] invest in entrepreneurs, it’s the most transformative thing that you could possibly do.”


5 Baby Steps Towards Taking Control of Your Finances

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A good indicator that it’s time to take control of your finances is if you are living from paycheck to paycheck, and you are feeling financially stressed. For those who think that financial stability is out of reach, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling notes that even if your current situation seems hopeless, there are steps you can take now that will put you in a better financial position.

Here are five simple steps that you can take:

1. Live Within Your Means

Simply put, don’t spend more than what you make. To accomplish this, put the credit cards away.  Many well-meaning people resort to living off of credit, when faced with a financial crisis, digging an even deeper financial hole.

Instead, try living on a cash-only basis.  People who do this typically spend 20% less, according to NFCC. They are able to do so without feeling deprived. They buy what they want but do so without spending frivolously, because of their heightened level of awareness.

2. Put Yourself First

A dollar is critical. Respecting money is really what it’s all about. A dollar is not a throw-away, because it can eventually lead to $50, and then $100.

Look to adjust your lifestyle. You might have to forego that five dollar cup of coffee. However, if you can make coffee at home, that is five to seven dollars’ worth of savings. You can also bring your lunch to work instead of spending $10 to $15 outside of the office. Figure out where to start cost cutting and saving. Whether you end up with $50 or more, invest that $50 each month.

3. Track Your Income

The best way to identify areas to cut costs is to have everyone in your household who spends money track their spending for 30 days.  At the end of the month, come together to review the findings and determine where money is falling through the cracks. Make adjustments to your spending so that your budget reflects exactly where you want your hard-earned money to go.  You will never be totally in control of your finances, until you follow a monthly budget.

Make adjustments to your spending, so that your budget reflects exactly where you want your hard earned money to go.  You will never be totally in control of your finances, until you follow a monthly budget.

4. Invest in What Your Know

Are you hesitant about investing? Then start with something fun. Go to your closet and inventory the designers you own more clothing from. If they’re publicly traded, you should get their stock.

If you are willing to drop over $300 each on several pairs of Adidas Yeezy kicks by Kanye West or Michael Kors handbags, then you should be willing to purchase Adidas or Michael Kors stock. Likewise, if you go to Starbucks every day, you should own shares of Starbucks.

5. Seek Financial Freedom

You need a written financial plan, and you need take action. If you know you want to retire early or that you want to put your children through college, quantify that. How much does that cost? What would it take for you to get to that point? How much do you need to save–each month, every year–and for how long?

Answering those questions is part of becoming financially free. Managing money and taking control of your finances equals freedom.