The partners at Redeployment Wealth Strategies were on a group planning call with fellow members of the XY Planning Network when they realized they were at a point where they needed to bring an additional member into their team.
But they didn’t want to bring in just anyone. The Virginia Beach firm was founded by two Navy retirees who serve a clientele made up entirely of military and veteran families. They needed someone who had lived the military life and knew the unique financial challenges faced by military families.
The XY network is an organization of fee-only financial advisors who are focused on working with Generation X and Generation Y clients. Someone in the network said they had an intern at their firm who would be the perfect fit for Redeployment Wealth — Izumi “Izzy” Carnes, a U.S. Marine Corps wife who had experience working with service members and their families.
“She fell into our lap, and she was the perfect match for our firm,” said Sean Gillespie, Redeployment Wealth Strategies co-founder. Carnes started working at the firm in May.
At age 42, Carnes is starting her career in what she calls her dream job. She is studying for her Certified Financial Planner designation at the same time she is working toward her degree in personal finance from Kansas State University. The Financial Planning Association awarded her a 2020 Diversity Scholarship to attend the organization’s digital annual conference.
Carnes is working 20 hours a week at Redeployment Wealth, doing paraplanning and administrative work — “back-office, operational stuff while I study toward my CFP and my degree from Kansas State.” She is working and studying remotely from her home in New Bern, N.C.
“She is an exceptionally quick study,” Gillespie said. “She has the right skills in place to serve our clients, because we built the firm to serve members of the military. She has high emotional intelligence, and she has the right character.”
Gillespie said he wants Carnes to prioritize her education while she learns the back-office part of the business and eventually begins working with clients. “At some point, we’ll see whether we are able to give her more hours. But even now, we can see that she is exceeding our wildest expectations.”
Homesickness Leads To Purpose
Carnes was born on the Japanese island of Okinawa and was studying to be a language teacher when she met and married her husband, Samuel, a U.S. Marine stationed there. In 2005, he transferred to the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina and brought Carnes and her son, Nathan, with him.
Her first months in the United States were lonely. She experienced some racial hostility when she and her husband were seen together outside the military base. Her husband was at work all day, and her son was in school. And it took two months for their furniture to arrive from Okinawa.
“I started to go crazy. I was so homesick. I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t have any friends,” she said.
But things started to turn around for her when she saw an ad in a local newspaper.
“It said that the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society was looking for volunteers. I went there, and they welcomed me with open arms. I finally felt like I belonged.”
The society provides financial, educational and other assistance to members of the Navy, their family members and their survivors who are in need. After volunteering for more than 2,300 hours with the society, Carnes was encouraged to take advantage of a military spouse scholarship to obtain an accredited financial counselor’s certificate. She completed the required training and became a paid financial counselor for the society.
Differences In Financial Systems
She said that experiencing the difference between the Japanese and the American financial systems sparked her interest in finance.
Carnes said that when she lived in Japan, using credit cards and taking out loans for anything other than a mortgage were not common practices. “You pay for something in cash and if you don’t have the cash to buy it, you save for it,” she said. She was proud of the fact that she never had used credit — until she and her husband went to a bank in North Carolina to take out a car loan. The loan officer told her she had no credit history, so she could not obtain a loan.
“I learned you have to build your credit in order to be a trustworthy client in the consumer world here,” she said.
But although she loved her work with the society, she believed there was more she could do to help people with their finances.
“In the society, we help service members and their families with basic financial education and assistance in the form of interest-free loans and grants,” she said. “But I wanted to learn more beyond that, especially after hearing my mentors at the society talk about studying for the CFP exam.”
Carnes had an opportunity to do a virtual internship with Ballast Point Financial Services in California. The firm’s owner knew she was working on her bachelor’s degree while working full time for the society, “but he still gave me a chance to intern virtually,” she said. “After I did that, it validated my decision to change my career. It was amazing what the firm does with comprehensive planning to help people achieve their goals.”
“Everybody around me thought I was crazy leaving my full-time job, especially now in the pandemic. But I finally found what I want to do.”
Carnes said that even though she initially was scared about making her career switch, “I am so passionate about what I am doing. My husband has my back, I have a great support system and my employer believes my education comes first.”
She described her employers at Redeployment Wealth as “great mentors and teachers.”
“They are taking the time to teach me,” she said. “They also teach military veterans who are thinking about transitioning into the financial world, talking to them about what they need to do to pass their exams.”
Serving Those Who Serve
Carnes said she is inspired to help military members and veterans because she understands the unique financial needs of military families.
“Some people think the military gets paid a lot of money, but that’s not the case,” she said. “And it’s especially hard for military spouses, because every time we move to a new assignment, unless we have a virtual job, we end up unemployed, and when we try to find a job, we have to compete with the locals.”
Many service members join the military right out of high school, Carnes said, and haven’t yet learned financial skills.
“So you have someone who — maybe finances were not talked about in their home or in their culture — and now they are away from home and getting a paycheck and they don’t know how to handle that money. They need to know how to budget, how to save.”
Carnes has observed several trends among the military families she has worked with.
“A lot of people want advice on retiring early,” she said. “And that’s not just the military — civilians also want to know about the FIRE [financial independence, retire early] movement. Some of our younger clients want to make sure they are saving and investing for retirement the right way. They want another set of eyes to check and make sure they are doing it right. We have service members who have started a family and don’t know what they should save for or how they should go about saving. We have a lot of clients who are retired military or they are getting close to retirement, and they want to know whether they are on track for a comfortable retirement.”
In addition, clients need help navigating the military and federal retirement systems, which she said can be complicated.
Carnes said that after she obtains her CFP designation and her bachelor’s degree, she wants to specialize even more.
“I want to learn more about taxes. I think there’s a need in this industry for a planner who is fluent in tax language.”
Although Carnes didn’t become a language teacher, she still loves languages. She is studying Spanish and taking classes in American Sign Language. She also loves to knit and crochet and has made numerous baby blankets for service members who completed the society’s Budgeting For Baby course.
She also wants to use her experience as a military spouse to advocate for others who are trying to maintain careers and families while being married to a service member.
“I have to say to employers out there, don’t pass over a military spouse’s application. Even though they might be with you for only a few years, military spouses are some of the strongest people out there. They are adaptable and resilient, and they can solve any problem you throw at them.”