Harrison Hunter’s on a mission to build better lives for the people around him, and to make more inclusive paths into the world of finance.
As a former college football player who’s earned his place as a certified financial planner, Hunter, 29, knows he’s navigated a couple of narrow trails. In the world of finance, the doors aren’t flung wide for athletes; and in the world of certified financial planners, minorities are a tiny, tiny subset.
There were 86,378 CFPs in the United States in 2019; just 3,259 were Black or Latino. Despite accounting for nearly one-third of the country’s population, they make up less than 4 percent of CFPs.
But taking non-traditional paths is becoming a theme for Hunter — through college football, into his career, and in the ways he’s working to open doors for others to follow him.
As well as being a financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual, he’s the college unit director, running Northwestern’s internship program in Colorado Springs. He coaches football at Fountain Fort Carson High School and serves on the boards for Fostering Hope, Downtown Ventures, and the Colorado Springs Black Business Network.
Hunter talked with the Business Journal about how he found his niche in finance, his “three Ms,” and the coach who changed his life.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised here in Colorado Springs. I grew up in the southeast part of town and I graduated from Fountain Fort Carson. I played football my last year down at Fountain Fort Carson, then I played college football. I played at three different colleges around the state. I played at Fort Lewis College for one semester and played the majority of my career up at CU Boulder. During that time I was a walk on so I did not have a scholarship the entire time — and there’s a reason why I share this story. The entire time I was up there, I had several coaches promising me scholarships and all of them got fired.
So I kept on having to restart the wheel, and then it got to the point where I was graduating and I knew I couldn’t stay around running up student loans for another year. That’s when I kind of called it quits and transferred down to CSU Pueblo. They had recruited me out of high school but I didn’t want to go there because it was so close to where I grew up. But after CU Boulder I ended up down in Pueblo and I like to tell people, I had great timing. Because my entire idea of success leading up to that point was getting a scholarship — not how many games are we gonna win or will we get a bowl game. But when I ended up down at CSU Pueblo we ended up winning a National Championship at the Division 2 level.
So I had the best of both worlds — I got to experience that big Division 1 school lifestyle, and I got to experience winning at a high level and experience the smaller school. I share this because I run our internship program and I tell my interns: We often have a plan on where we’re supposed to be going, but that was my first lesson in, ‘Well, I had a plan but God’s plan was better — and it ended up being better than I even imagined.’ My idea of success was so small compared to what I actually found by doing that. And that was the first time in my life I felt like I quit anything but it worked out for the best.
How did you end up back here?
I started my master’s when I got to Pueblo. As soon as I got done with that season, I knew I didn’t want to live there so I moved back to the Springs to finish my MBA program at UCCS, 2015 through 2018. Spring of 2015 is when I started interviewing at a bunch of places: What am I going to do for work? The common theme I kept running into was, a lot of places loved to interview me, ‘Oh, we love your personality — but you don’t have any work experience.’ I realize it now, but I didn’t realize at the time that my athletic background taught me so much that I still use to this day in my work, that I feel like most college students don’t really experience — the biggest being teamwork. Playing on football teams, there are 100 different people on a team from all different walks of life, and I don’t like all of them, but we have to work together for a common goal. I’ve seen that over and over again in the workforce, and in life, more than anything else.
The other big thing that I preach to other athletes is, ‘Hey, you guys do have marketable skills. That’s to do with being coachable and being able to receive feedback.’ I realized when I got into the workforce not everybody is good at receiving feedback without taking it personally, and then also making the adjustments from that feedback. That is one of the biggest things sports probably taught me in life, and one of the biggest skills athletes don’t realize they have. And the work ethic too — you know how to put in work that may not actually promise any result for you.
So I found Northwestern during that time because they actually do value student athletes. … They offered me the full-time position in 2015, but I wanted to know I was going to be good at it before jumping in. So I started as a nontraditional intern during my master’s program back in 2015, then I started full time in January 2017. Now I run our college intern program. The big reason I do that is because I know there were other interns that could be successful in this career if they had the right tools, the mentorship and somebody that actually helped them along the way. I felt like the only reason why I did make it was because I didn’t have any other options, so I took it very seriously: ‘I have to make this work.’
You’re also coaching?
I started coaching high school football at Fountain Fort Carson, which is my old high school. I really had no desire to coach football, but there are two main reasons why I ended up doing it. No. 1, one of my coaches from Pueblo ended up getting the head coaching job at my old high school. He had a lot of trouble finding qualified coaches that he could trust to actually help them out and I didn’t think it was right for him to not be able to have good coaches in his corner, and definitely not right for those kids. So I told him I’d be happy to help.
... It’s crazy, you don’t know how much you actually know about something until you’re teaching it. I started really finding a passion for it. And the reason I started coaching is because of one of the coaches that had the biggest impact on my life [Colorado State University Pueblo Football Defensive Coordinator Donnell Leomiti], even though I only played for him that one semester down in Pueblo. He was one of the main reasons why I wanted to play down there; I wanted to play for him. I remember when I first got down there, our head coach was like, ‘We don’t know if he’s gonna be with us this year because he got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.’ They gave him six months to live. And he just passed away July 4th last year, so he made it another six years beyond that diagnosis. He is probably the biggest reason why I still coach to this day.
I went back every single year after that season, and I told him how much of an impact he had on my life because I feel like it’s very rare that you have those people where you really recognize it, and you tell them the impact that they’ve had. Knowing how limited time was, I went to go tell him every chance I got, to thank him for everything that he’s done. The two biggest lessons I learned from him were make no excuses, and be consistent. That’s what he used to talk to us about, was consistency. He used to say the truest measure of somebody’s toughness — because anybody can do something once — is consistency.
I thought he was talking about football, but I realize now he was talking about life. He said anybody can do something once, in a football game or in a play or practice. But can you do it all the time as a father, a husband, as a friend, as a co-worker? Can you be consistent in people’s lives? He led, he lived by example. He — through all he was going through in that semester — never missed a practice, never missed a game. … That was the type of person he was. I have so much more motivation around coaching because I feel like I’d be doing his legacy a disservice if I didn’t pass along the lessons I learned to other kids that I’m coaching. I owe it to him to make sure I share his story with everybody I can.
How is being a CFP different from being a financial adviser?
It is a very small number of financial advisers that have their CFP designation. And the easiest way that I could frame it for a lot of people is when they look at the accounting world there are tons of bookkeepers, tax preparers, that know the tax code and they understand how to do tax returns — but if you want more of a certain level of expertise, you look for somebody that is certified.
That’s why I took a lot of pride in my CFP designation as well. It’s probably one of the most important things for me internally ... it did give me a certain sense of pride and confidence in myself that I do know what I’m talking about. I do have a good understanding and I have the confidence to back that up. That’s the biggest thing that the CFP [designation] has done for me. And just to be bluntly honest, in an industry where I am very much a minority, it was something that was important for me to get. It made me feel like I belonged in this industry — or gave me the credibility that I felt like I needed to have those conversations with other people.
Do you have an area you focus on?
Yes. I was very much a generalist up until about a year and a half ago. But now I’ve been working a lot more in the small business owner environment, and more specifically the minority-owned businesses, even a niche in that market around the 51 percent female- or minority-owned businesses that qualify for certain certifications. I’ve been focusing more on those demographics, because they have a certain level of needs that they get from government contracts and things like that. I’ve found it’s a very unique area that I can fit in. Outside of that, I’ve had a focus more in serving the small business community and helping with anything from benefits planning to setting up retirement accounts. That’s where I found my sweet spot.
Have businesses been bringing you different needs during the pandemic?
One of the most fulfilling pieces about what I do is that I can be a resource for my clients. And probably the biggest thing I’ve done for a lot of my business owner clients is just keeping them in the loop when it comes to the different grants that are available, the different government stimulus packages that have come out over the last year to help keep their business afloat. Because one thing I’ve learned is most of these business owners don’t have any idea where to start, especially if they don’t have any traditional banking relationship up to that point. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, it’s overwhelming. Being able to shed a little bit of light for some of my clients on, ‘Hey, here’s something that you definitely qualify for.’ … To be honest, the pandemic hasn’t changed much about where my actual business revenue is coming from — but it’s just changed the way that I can be a resource for my clients.
What are your goals?
The biggest thing that my vision revolves around is creating a life of abundance where financial stress and pressures don’t exist for my family. Beyond that, personally, it’s about impacting the organizations that I’m a part of. I serve on the board for Fostering Hope, helping foster kids and foster families. I want to have a larger impact in the foster care community, and I understand how being successful here in my business can allow me to do so much more in that space. It’s also important to me to have an impact on the kids I coach — and I would love to see them carrying on the legacy of that person they’ve never even met, that legacy from Leo. Now professionally, I really would like to open my own office ... possibly on the east side of town, because that’s where Colorado Springs is moving.
My 10-year goal is to have a team of at least 15 diverse young advisers, because my passion is to find and develop diverse advisers in this industry. And when I say diverse, it doesn’t mean just Black. It means they’re not the stereotypical financial adviser you think of: an older white male. That’s just to be bluntly honest. I love my cohort, I love my office, I love my industry — but I know when I first started here, I looked around, I didn’t see anything that looked like me, and it was hard for me to feel like I belonged. So my passion is really trying to lead that path of showing, ‘Hey, I’ve been able to do it,’ and then bringing others in to build a life of abundance and freedom for their own families and communities. Then they’re bringing in other young diverse advisers. That’s the biggest goal behind my vision professionally — having a very diverse group of people that are impacting different communities rather than the same community over and over again.
... Over the past three years I’ve been struggling to figure out, ‘What is my “Why”? What is my mission?’ Because I hear a lot of the top advisers talk about, ‘Well it was my wife and daughter,’ — there was something that really drove them to reach a high level of success. For me, I didn’t have that because I’m still young, single, no kids in the picture. I have full intention of it, but I didn’t have that to connect to. So when I really looked at why am I doing what I’m doing? And I looked at all areas of my life, there’s a common theme. Because I’m not passionate about investment accounts or insurance — I’m more passionate about the impact that it has on people’s lives.
So I came up with this a few months ago. It’s the ‘three Ms’ — and they’re not even Ms — but it’s what drives me. I have a passion to impact, empower and improve the lives of other people. When I look at the coaching, my board service, running the internship program, what I do for my work specifically — it all revolves around that theme. ... I’m still working on actually making them be Ms or something, but it works.
Tell us more about your community service.
Fostering Hope is something I’m very passionate about. When I first started working here, I got invited to one of their events by one of the advisers. A light bulb went off for me because I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve gone by homeless people and just thought, ‘You didn’t have anybody in your world that loves you enough to take you in?’ And then I realized how stupid and ignorant I was for even having that thought. Even though I know — you don’t know what you don’t know. But it wasn’t until learning more about foster care systems and realizing, ‘Oh, a lot of those people that are homeless were in foster care at some point and a lot of them never had anybody consistent in their life.’ Looking at my life — when I was 18 years old, even with having a big family right here and tons of resources and people to lean on, if my parents had kicked me out and said ‘Good luck,’ I would probably have ended up homeless or in jail. That’s when I realized I had to do something to help. I got involved in donating and then our executive director told me he was looking for a younger perspective to help in their business community board.
I had no idea I had anything to offer to a board until I got in there and realized ... I was able to actually bring certain expertise to the table. That really lit a spark in me in terms of my community service side, realizing there is more I have to offer. … One thing led to another and so now I serve on the board of Fostering Hope, the Downtown Ventures board, and the board for the Black Business Network. Those organizations are a big part of who I am.