By Erinn Callahan

Growing up as the oldest son of a single mother in the greater Atlanta area, Tariq Collins saw higher education as his ticket to a better life.

“My intention was to go to school right out of high school, but we didn’t have the means, nor did we have the knowledge to accomplish it,” Collins said.

The Bronx, N.Y., native deferred his college dreams to enlist in the U.S. Army upon graduation from high school in Stockbridge, Ga. After the military Collins went on to study business administration at Regis University after his service ended in 2014. Now, as a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual, Collins, 26, is happy to help his clients navigate the often cumbersome process of achieving long-term financial security.

“Where I come from, finance is not a topic of discussion,” Collins said. “It meant a lot to me to become educated and give back to everyone what I learned so individuals can improve their financial skills to help them retire on their own terms.”

Collins spoke with the Business Journal this week about the importance of financial security in today’s climate, as well as challenges associated with his industry.

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What brought you to Colorado Springs?

I was in the Army stationed at Fort Carson. … My wife was in the National Guard and we met at our training in Virginia. I got out and I didn’t want to go back home. My wife is from Baton Rouge and we didn’t want to go back to where she’s from, so we decided to stay here and make this home.

Were you always interested in a career in finance?

I had no idea I was going to get into finances. I got into finances because one of my classes was a networking social class and we did a networking event. There were different recruiters from different professions and backgrounds, and one of them was with Northwestern. I got to looking into the company and then I reached out to one of the recruiters here in Colorado Springs.

I started their internship program in 2017, and I liked it. I liked the culture of the office here in the Springs. I liked the atmosphere of the business … how we were helping people, serving the community, serving our clients, being the advocate for our clients, sometimes even stronger than friends and families. I was just ecstatic about it.

What are your responsibilities as a financial representative?

I’m contracted through Northwestern. I run my own practice. My responsibility is to find clients, get clients and inform them of their finances and help them retire on their own terms. I get to choose who I want to work with. When I do, we dive deep. I learn about my clients — what are their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations, their goals, what are they trying to achieve personally, professionally and financially? Then it is my job to see that we meet these goals and they have the means to do it, to get them to financial security and ultimately to retire on their own terms.

What are some of the challenges you face in your career?

So far, some of the biggest challenges are just getting out of my own comfort zone to meet new people and find clients that I would like to talk to. That’s been the biggest challenge for me so far… . It’s crazy, I’ve been here since 2012 and since I started this career, I’ve learned more in a short period of time about the Springs than I ever knew about — just going to different networking events, meeting new people, whether they become clients or not, being able to help them and pointing them in the right direction. It’s been pretty exciting. Learning about people is always exciting.

Has the recent government shutdown affected your work in the finance industry?

I don’t have any clients personally who are affected by it. I do have some friends and family who are affected, but no clients of mine personally are affected by it. To me, this kind of plays into what we do essentially — making sure our clients have some emergency savings in their accounts. For our government workers to come across something like this, it’s pretty scary, but then we also know that we have some savings built up so that they can be able to sustain themselves. We’re going on a month or so now that the shutdown has been going on. Our philosophy is to at least have a minimum of six months of emergency savings.

What is in store for the finance industry in 2019?

I mean, 2019 has already been an exciting year. I expect to meet new people. You have got a lot of Millennials out here in the workforce, so I expect people to have that open mindset of getting their finances together. There are a lot of careers and jobs without pensions, so I’m expecting a lot of people to take hold of funding their own personal pensions.

Most of my clients are Millennials. … I’m slowly moving outside of that. For me personally, I’m focusing on specific targets. I’m looking for the physicians and residents. I’m going into talking with more military personnel, officers, enlisted and business owners.

How has your military background helped with your clients?

Coming from the military, you learn a lot there. It definitely helped shape me as an individual and I have an understanding of the military finances — what these guys go through with deployments, how to save, what to watch out for, things like that.

Who are some of the people you credit with helping you along the way professionally?

When I first decided to join the Army, I decided to go reserves so I could still go to college. I had a school resource officer, Officer Miller, who knew my personal situation and what I was going through with my family. He basically told me, ‘If you go reserves, it’s like you being home. It’s one weekend out of the month.’ That opened my eyes and I went active duty. I don’t regret it. I loved my experience when I was in the military. I definitely credit him with me joining the military and going the path I did.

My father’s side of the family are businessmen. … My uncle runs a financial group out in Atlanta where he does taxes — tax preparation, real estate ventures. My grandfather is up in New York in the real estate business and my father is in Washington in the restaurant industry. So with learning business — the techniques, the sales — I definitely want to credit my father, my grandfather, my uncle. I talk to them regularly. I have also had some mentors within the business.

How has your job evolved since you started your career?

Since I started, my awareness has evolved —  me understanding the business, getting my feet wet, knowing where I can personally improve to better help myself and my clients, attending better training that’s going to better help me assist my clients. I have some personal goals that I want to grow to where I should be for this year. We’re on track.

Are you involved with any community organizations?

Outside of work, I’m very involved with my fraternity — I’m a Freemason, I’m very involved with the Mason brothers. We do a lot of community work and get-togethers. We partner up a lot with the Southeast YMCA off Jet Wing to do a lot of different functions, like the fall festival and the back-to-school drive they put on every year, and we contribute candy for Easter. I’m a current board member of the YMCA. We also go quarterly to nursing home visitations and we support the Salvation Army kids, especially during the holidays. We’re a military lodge, so there’s a lot of support with the Crawford House [on South Weber Street].

What do you like to do when you aren’t at work?

Outside of work I like to golf — I’m not good, but I like to golf. It’s my goal to find some time to get better. I like to read a lot. Currently I’ve been reading a lot of books that revolve around motivation, like ‘The 12 Week Year,’ and financial advisory books. I like to spend time with my wife, Kiyafrie, and our four kids. My oldest is Alala, who’s 5. My son, Tariq Jr., is 2 and the twins, Sami and Dani, are 1.