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Is economic prosperity possible for a young, black male in a city like Baltimore, MD? Finance guru, and native Baltimorean, Jamaal Vetose believes so. He sat down with &Inclusion to discuss his journey from inner city poverty to financial literacy and economic growth during a recent Q&A.

What’s your job title and description?

I work for a minority owned financial depository in Baltimore as an Electronic Banking Administrator–Relationship Banker. My department manages the successful migration of longstanding clients to digital platforms, while staying up to pace with new tools that will attract younger clientele. My department oversees products that deliver innovative tools like Merchant Capture – and works with clients to maximize the use of platforms like online banking and apps. I also help with electronic fraud cases.

Did you always want to work in banking and finance?

Funny story. I used to watch the soap opera The Young and The Restless with my grandmother—it was her favorite. I’ll never forget, when I was 5 years old I saw the character Victor Newman on screen for the first time. I saw how everyone respected him as a business man when he walked into the room. It was then that I said to myself, “I want people to react to me like that.”

I always knew that wanted to go into business of some sort, but the specialization came much later. I started off as a General Business major at The University of Baltimore. There, my advisor told me that I needed to zone in on a specialization.  I took her advice and majored in Real Estate and Economic Development. But eventually, I realized that I wanted specialize in finance because I enjoy being involved in every aspect of business operations. The financial structure of a business touches everything: marketing, strategy, management, rolling out R&D—so I decided to zero in on finance.

Unfortunately, finance is still very much a ‘good ole boys’,  Caucasian dominated field – there aren’t a lot of African Americans in this sector. Pursuing this career path excited me because this was my chance to help change that. Not to mention, it  would make me very marketable job-wise.

I wanted to master finance and teach it to African Americans from a personable, culturally specific perspective—especially since I grew up poor, and responsible money management wasn’t something I was taught. Now that I understand money management, I want others to as well. A lot of us (people of color) don’t even know how much spending power we have.

 

What was your support system like when pursuing your career?

My grandmother always told me I had potential and would do great things. She gave me confidence and I really didn’t need anyone else’s support because I knew she believed in me. My two aunts were always supportive as well. They all helped me get through the crappy jobs I had to take when I was younger, in order to be successful now.

Get this—I used to wake up at 3:30 a.m. to catch the bus to the airport by 5:30 a.m., get off  work at 9:30 a.m., catch the bus to school by 11 a.m., my last class ended at 5 p.m., I’d do homework until 8 p.m,  then and catch the bus home—get to bed by 11 p.m. and do it all over again until I graduated. I’m one of maybe 5 people in my family that have college degrees. My mother didn’t finish high school and my grandmother had limited education, but they always knew I could do more.

 

Talk to us about your journey with school, struggles, landing jobs— things like that.

First off,  I want people to know that  because I’m a finance professional doesn’t mean that I’m a math wiz! Folks assume that I’m a math genius, but the reality is, complex math and finance are completely different. Finance is about the analysis of securities, stock, income statements and operating margins—things of that sort. There’s always a story to be told within the numbers.

Anyway, like most recent graduates, I was unemployed for about a year after graduating from UB. Shout out to all those who were unemployed right after graduation! It’s hard. It’s a very competitive job market out here.

I eventually landed a job in Under Armour’s call center. Even though this didn’t align with my career goals, I did learn about S&P systems and tracking logistics— which are valuable skills in banking and finance. Then, I scored another job  with Johns Hopkins as a research analyst for The Center of Government Excellence. It was funded by Bloomberg, and it was dope. Very well run, high tech equipment—the works. There, I helped cities build and improve their delivery of open data. There’s a lot of data that should be easily accessible to the public—that citizens should know, but many cities don’t have an effective way to share that data. I helped change that.

About a year later, I interviewed for a job that I was really interested in, thanks to LinkedIn! I shared a post about wanting to work in finance and a guy who worked in the budget office at City Hall messaged me. He asked if I was interested in an opening with his department. We didn’t know each other, so we met in person and I interviewed over coffee. He needed to bring a new analyst on board, and loved my skill set. The meeting went extremely well,  but I was looking for a fast hire, and he made it clear that the city is very slow with their hiring process.

Thankfully, he enjoyed our meeting so much that he passed my resume to a guy who consulted for MTA. Fast forward 2 weeks: I met with the Department of Capital Programming at MTA. The interview went so well that five minutes after the interview, I got a call for a job offer. I was so excited.

But in all of this I learned a lesson: If as job explicitly asks for your salary requirements, that usually means they have wiggle room. This job was willing pay me what I wanted, but I didn’t know the power of negotiation at the time, so I settled for base pay. Statistics show that African Americans miss out on 300-500K in earnings because we don’t negotiate.

Moving forward—I consulted for MTA for about 8 months, but craved my next big opportunity. One day I was tweeting about how too many HBCUs and black owned institutions have archaic systems and leadership. About how many members of senior management have been in office for 40+ years and make no room for younger, more relevant talent. As you can imagine, I got some heated responses.

Get this—one of the businesses I tweeted at is now my employer. They weren’t pleased with my tweets about their lack of progression back then, so the CEO and CFO set up a lunch to speak with me and find out why I felt the way I did about their leadership. It was an interesting meeting, to say the least.

Anyway, over the course of a few months, there was a job opening at that same bank. I applied and was offered a job.

 

What key traits should someone interested in Finance absolutely have?

You have to be diligent, deliberate and analytical. You must be willing to see the story from multiple perspectives—especially in  financial analysis of stocks. There could be 10 analysis of the same stock that results in 10 different stories.

Also, it’s best to keep emotion out of your work—stick to facts and hard data. Your client might be emotional, and it’s your responsibility to present the facts and guide them. I’ve seen people who get into investing and as soon as there’s a downward trend in the market or a share goes down, they’re ready to sell—that’s an emotional response.

 

How have you evolved over the course of your career?

I started off consulting while in college. People knew I had a grip on finances, so they’d ask for advice and I’d give it for free, but with the disclaimer that I was not an expert or certified in any way. I did not want the FCC at my doorstep! I really just wanted to pay forward the knowledge I gained.

Eventually, I wanted to offer my services formally, so I started a financial consulting firm for small businesses with a college friend who specializes in marketing. The business is called The Apex Group. We are going to help take small businesses to the next level—the top of the food chain— the apex. We’re on track to start taking customers January 2019.

Aside from my day job, I work with guy called, Todd Millionaire who I met on Twitter. We  came up with the idea to start an investment club. Todd has his J.D. and  I’m in finance, so it was a good match. The investment club started with about 5 people and we’ve grown to 200. We call it root economics group sourcing. We offer stock suggestions and literacy—there’s even a real estate segment. This year as a group, we made a 47% percent return on investment.

 

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I don’t work on Sundays. I believe it’s a day to take a break from business. I enjoy football—I’m a huge Ravens fan even at their lowest points. I love wine, especially the Louis M. Martini Cabernet I get from Spirits of Mt. Vernon. I’m also a scotch lover— single malts or blends, and love going to the gun range! Looking ahead, I want to start travelling. But truthfully, I’m a homebody that watches Bloomberg and other channels that feed my love for analytics. I don’t see that as work because I really enjoy it.

 

It’s your last day earth and you were invited to give a 30 second speech. Who would you  invite? Where would it be? What would you say?

My grandmother would be there. I’d also invite Reginald F. Lewis because he’s my business idol. The last person I’d invite is Barack Obama. It would definitely be a podcast – sometimes, the picture takes away from people listening. It’ll be more dynamic. We would record in either the Reginald F. Lewis museum or Obama’s Presidential Library.

30 second speech: I’d like to thank President Obama for reminding me of the possibilities this country has. (Believe it or not, he and I are politically at odds on some topics. I didn’t even vote for him the first go-round. I voted for Hillary because I felt that the country needed her experience at the time. I’m a registered republican, because I believe in conservative fiscal policy. However, ideologically I would call myself a moderate because I am very socially liberal.) Still, I appreciated Barack’s inspiring nature. He made me proud to be a black man and helped me realize that no matter how much people in my industry criticize or judge me because of the color of my skin or my experience level, I must always keep pushing and let my work speak for itself. And to let history judge me as it may. I’d like to thank Reginald  F. Lewis for his book, Why should white guys have all the fun? because changed my life. Reading it helped me realize  that I’m just as smart as white men, good enough, worthy—and in some cases even smarter. The fact that he built a billion dollar business from a city like Baltimore inspired me so because it showed me that economic prosperity is possible here. 

Finally, I’d tell my grandmother that I hope she’s proud of me.


If you’d like to keep up with Jamaal, follow along @theapex_group

 

Instructions Included is question and answer column where professionals of color candidly discuss their career journeys, from the beginning to present, with intent to guide and inspire.