My sister-in-law, a freshly minted doctor of psychology from a prestigious university, was coming over for a visit before moving on to the next stage of her life.
As we sat on the porch at sundown, the light caught Jill’s face, throwing shadows into deep lines of dread. The future stretched out before her but Jill’s thoughts were locked on one thing — money.
She was buried in more than $100,000 in student loans. This was the early 1990s, when that size of student loan debt was still unusual. At least, it was to me. I was just grateful that I did not have the smarts or ambition to go for anything more than a bachelor’s.
Debt became an abstraction for her; a constant presence like grief. She did not watch the money she spent. What did it matter? What is another ripple of red in a sea of red?
That is the tunnel vision of scarcity. I heard quite a bit about this when I started with InsuranceNewsNet. I don’t remember who uttered it, but someone said that people who don’t have money are fixated on it the way people who are suffocating focus on air.
I remembered how terror guided all of Jill’s decisions. How do you lift your gaze to look ahead when you are fixated on the potholes below you?
Generations In Chains
Today we have a couple of generations bearing this weight. Our young professional class is starting life deep in a hole that they may never get out of. These are the people who will teach our kids, represent us in court and stitch up our wounds. These are our best and brightest, shackled to ball and chain.
An episode of the excellent podcast Hidden Brain focused on tunnel vision and reminded me of the phenomenon in which anxiety over scarcity derails the brain from making sound, long-term decisions.
On insurancenewsnet.com, we run article after article detailing just how little people have saved for retirement. Most of us wince with a little recognition when we see those headlines. Few of us feel prepared for retirement or maybe even a major life emergency.
It is obvious that people need help with their finances. The structures that used to support Americans are crumbling. Pensions are gone, government services are starved and even if Social Security remains intact, it is unlikely to keep pace with real inflation. The insurance and finance industries are among the only institutions that can help.
In the magazine’s feature this month, we focus on how technology goes hand in hand with holistic planning, which is the direction the insurance industry is headed.
In the feature, you will meet Arielle Minicozzi, a millennial leveraging tech to help other millennials. She is a fee-only advisor in Arizona who was able to automate at least 85 percent of her practice so she can focus on helping clients.
The article explains all the tech Minicozzi uses to guide clients through her process. She is not doing it just because she likes tech, although she does love the challenge of figuring things out. She is ultimately adopting tech to be efficient so that she does not have to focus on wealthy clients. Minicozzi can pay attention to the people who need her most, the ones starting out in life, still shell-shocked from growing up in a world reeling from 9/11 and the Crash of 2008.
“I focus on millennials. I really try to work with people who are interested in purchasing a home — whether that be their first home or they’re upgrading from their starter home to a new, larger residence once they have kids or they get married,” Minicozzi said.
Money As Mission
I remember when insurance agents used to radiate enthusiasm for helping families. I still see that on occasion from agents, but I do not hear the passion of the righteous that I used to hear. I see some of the passion in new advisors who go into the business to help rather than score big wins. People like Minicozzi, whose wholesome energy enlightens a dark, cynical time.
“I did want to focus on the millennial generation because we really can use that extra boost, especially coming of age after the recession — and a lot of us have student loan debt,” Minicozzi said, adding that this upbringing left people less than confident. “A lot of us know more than we think we know but we don’t feel comfortable because we’re scared of money.”
Scared of money. I couldn’t help but think of Jill all those years ago. I lost touch with her over the decades but I saw through extended Facebook relations that she went on to marry and have three children. She also faced three kinds of cancer.
Jill could have used help back in the 1990s to have made sense of her financial difficulties. She did not need anyone’s judgment on the wisdom of taking on that much student debt. She needed help.
You are the person who can help the Jills of today.
I wish I could go back to that porch, sit down next to her, and let her know that this debt, this terror, is not life. It is just numbers. The future will bring fantastic highs and deep lows. That is real life.