Advisers Giving Back: Pensionmark

One charity program Pensionmark supports is Partners in Education, which pairs young people with mentors from the business community to help them prepare for internships and first jobs.

Art by John Cuneo

Emilio Vela joined the Pensionmark team in October 2013 and is part of the adviser support program, through which he provides strategic and operational support to Pensionmark’s sizable network of advisers.

In addition, Vela oversees the day-to-day operations of the firm’s financial wellness help center and serves as a relationship manager for key group of Pensionmark clients. The work is rewarding in itself, Vela says, but one of the real highlights of his job is knowing he is part of a company that takes giving back to the local community very seriously.

“It has always been a priority during my time at the company for us to give back, to volunteer our time and use our resources to benefit the community here in Santa Barbara, California,” Vela says. “A lot of the work that we have done in recent years has focused on schools and helping to promote financial literacy at the community level—teaching children about budgeting, finances, credit cards, banking, all of that important stuff.”

Another important theme of the firm’s giving efforts is the health of the environment. Vela says Pensionmark has supported a variety of organizations and events dedicated to cleaning up local beaches and waterways around Santa Barbara. The firm also helped set up blood donations with the Red Cross when deadly mudslides hit the region in late 2018.

“The giving efforts have provided diverse and enriching experiences,” Vela says.

Echoing the sentiments of other firms profiled for the Advisers Giving Back series, he notes that giving financial resources is important and meaningful in its own right, but the magic really happens when staff can give their time and energy directly to causes. He credits the firm’s executive leadership, including Founder/CEO Troy Hammond and President Michael Woods, for sustaining and growing the company’s genuine commitment to giving back throughout the years.

A Personal Connection

Vela says he has most enjoyed working with an organization called Partners in Education. The organization’s mission is “to connect businesses and individuals with schools and youth-serving nonprofit organizations that serve them in order to improve public education in ways that support a more vibrant economy, the health of our community and the well-being of local children and their families.”

“Their focus is on helping the youth in our community to be prepared to enter the ‘real world’ with confidence and understanding about finances and being a healthy member of the community,” Vela says. “They allow professionals like myself to become essentially a career coach for a group of young people. We help them to build resumes, to learn how to network and apply for opportunities, and more. We help them to secure internships, as well, and we’ve actually had interns come in to Pensionmark through the program.”

Vela says this work is so personally fulfilling because he went through a very similar program in his own youth—so he knows the benefits that mentorship can deliver, especially when it’s coming at the right time in a person’s life.

“In my past I actually went through a very similar program and it had such a significant and positive impact on my own life,” Vela recalls. “It is extra meaningful and rewarding to be able to now help keep this program going.”

Gamification Grows Participation

In addition to its normal giving activities, Pensionmark is currently working with an organization called Sustainable Future to help inspire its staff and advisers to do more to help the environment.

“To help build on the momentum we have, we are working with them to roll out an online hub where we are gamifying volunteerism,” Vela explains. “The digital hub is a place where our staff and advisers can go and find additional opportunities to give back. In the investment industry, we know the impact that behavioral psychology and gamification can have on outcomes, so we are hoping to leverage those lessons when it comes to giving.”

Campaigns run via Sustainable Future can help conserve water, reduce plastic usage, reduce food waste, reduce transportation emissions and more.

“It’s been really awesome to see that coming together this year and to think about what we are going to be able to accomplish in the future,” Vela says.

Where to Start

Vela notes that Pensionmark’s efforts are expansive because of the firm’s size and sophistication as a national talent aggregator. He is proud to be a part of that, but also suggests that advisers do not have to view giving back as a major commitment right off the bat.

“One area in which smaller firms could get started is with a scholarship or internship program, rather than jumping off with a big ticket event as your first giving effort,” Vela suggests. “These efforts can start fairly small and then build on themselves over time. It’s also important to allow everyone to participate and contribute new ideas about how we can grow and improve our giving efforts.”