Fifteen years ago, if someone had told Erik Stephens that he would one day become a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual, he would have laughed. Raised on the west side of Cincinnati, Stephens spent his formative years playing basketball at Oak Hills High School. His skills on the court earned him a basketball scholarship to Michigan Technological University, which he attended for two years before transferring to Thomas More College. Stephens’ natural passion for helping people led him to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biology and pre-medicine.
“Since I was in sixth grade, I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon,” Stephens explains. “I really enjoyed the aspect of building relationships with patients, but shortly after graduating, I realized that I didn’t like being in hospitals, which would be a problem.”
At a crossroads and unsure where to go next, Stephens found the inspiration he needed from a former neighbor whom he had idolized as a child.
“I had been on one path for 15 years, with a plan to go into medicine — that’s time spent volunteering, shadowing, researching — and all of the sudden I graduated and didn’t know what to do,” Stephens says. “I’ve always had a passion for serving and a passion for the value of money. My idol, who is a hero in the business, introduced me to financial planning.”
Stephens quickly fell in love with the idea of becoming an advisor and helping people build better financial security. Six months later he started work at Northwestern Mutual, a leading financial security company that provides consultation on wealth management and financial planning.
In October 2020, Stephens became the managing director at Northwestern Mutual. In his new role, he hopes to provide people with a comfortable and informative experience they can feel good about. A born educator, Stephens connects with his clients by sharing some of the fiscal lessons he has learned, both positive (his parents encouraging him to save for a new pair of basketball shoes) and negative (borrowing over $60,000 in student loans, uneducated on how student loan interest worked).
“I have been able to live vicariously through my clients and use that experience to help others,” Stephens states. “I have seen how different experiences have affected my clients ... retirement, divorce, sending their kids to college. I get to experience these things, and I get to share the knowledge I learn from those experiences to make other clients’ lives easier.”
Building relationships is critical to success, Stephens says. It’s also the most rewarding part of the job.
“Wealth management is different from being a surgeon because you form much deeper connections. As a surgeon, you might have a six-month relationship with a patient. What’s great about the financial planning space is, the relationships I’m building are going to last a lifetime.”
Stephens is particularly proud of the generational impact he has on the lives of his clients and their families.
“If I help someone with their financial planning, they will share what they learn with their children. Their children will then teach those very same lessons to their children, and so on. It’s one of the coolest things about planning.”
The role is not without challenges, however. People generally avoid conversations about money because it can make them uncomfortable, Stephens notes, and they worry an advisor will either shame them for their previous spending habits, or insist they save every earned penny until they reach the age of retirement. Stephens believes that he and his clients are on the same team, and it’s his job to help them reach their financial goals while still enjoying the finer things in life.
“It just requires a little bit of planning,” Stephens points out. “It’s like traveling from Cincinnati to California without a GPS. You can get there, but it’s going to be difficult. I spend a lot of time asking my clients what they value and what they hope to accomplish. Once we figure that out, I educate them on the steps they need to take to reach their goals.”
Stephens hopes to bring a different energy to the financial planning space, making it more relaxed and less intimidating. Gone are the days of meetings taking place in a stuffy boardroom with advisors dressed in expensive corporate attire.
“When I met my dad for his financial planning appointment, I was wearing a suit and tie,” Stephens recalls with a chuckle. “He told me it made him uncomfortable. That really resonated with me. I believe if we create a more comfortable environment, people will feel more comfortable having conversations about their money.”
Financial planning was the positive change Stephens needed during a time of uncertainty. Now, he plans to pay his good fortune forward by developing the careers of his fellow advisors, teaching financial concepts that will extend generations, and helping his clients live their best lives, free of financial burden and with no regrets.
For more information about Stephens and the team, visit erikmstephens.nm.com or call 513.807.6323 to schedule an initial consultation