Why Eric Rodriguez, an FP Rising Star, wants to change the conversation around money

Eric Rodriguez, a CFP in San Diego, is one of Financial Planning's 2023 Rising Stars.

Eric Rodriguez didn't have the kind of upbringing one might expect for a successful financial advisor.

"Growing up, money was always a negative topic," Rodriguez said. "My parents always fought about money. The same goes for my aunts, uncles, cousins. … Financial literacy was nonexistent, and this caused a lot of pain."

From those difficult beginnings, Rodriguez has grown up to be one of Financial Planning's 2023 Rising Stars. The 40-year-old certified financial planner is the founder of WealthBuilders, LLC, a registered investment advisor in San Diego. He's also the author of a book, "R.E.T.I.R.E. On Your Terms: 6 Steps to Build Your Wealth," and the co-host of a finance-themed podcast for millennials called "Avocado Toast."

How did he get from there to here — from a house where money was taboo to a career of sharing financial knowledge? Much of the motivation for that journey, he said, came directly from his family's struggles.

"I became a financial advisor to change my family tree," said Rodriguez, who's now the father of two young children — Camila, 7, and Cash, 5. "In the family that I'm building and growing, I don't ever want money to be a reason why Mom and Dad are fighting, and we're making decisions just because of money. … I just want it to be completely different."

But like most people's lives, this journey did not take place in a straight line. Rodriguez was born in 1982 and grew up in San Jose, California. His father was from Honduras, and his mother was Mexican American. Rodriguez, his sister and his parents were a tight-knit group, but money was always a problem.

"My family was very financially illiterate," Rodriguez said. "We went through so many cycles of having money, losing money, having money, losing money. I saw my parents lose businesses, I saw them file for bankruptcy several times."

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Rodriguez went to college at San José State University, where he got his bachelor's degree in communications and business. He also excelled at sports, becoming a Division I soccer player. After graduating, he was a Major League Soccer player for a time, playing for the New England Revolution.

But his success was dampened by some of the same financial habits that hurt his parents. Soon he was overwhelmed with credit card debt and auto loans, "spiraling out of control." 

"When I was done playing professional soccer, I was on the cycle that my parents were on," Rodriguez recalled. "I got myself in a horrible financial situation. I found myself just not knowing what I was doing, on that same path."

Rodriguez was determined to become more financially literate, and to help others avoid the mistakes he'd made. He got a marketing job at an insurance company, where he was disturbed by some of the aggressive sales tactics — "I saw some horrible things," he recalled. From there he moved on to B2B sales jobs at the payroll company ADP, then at American Express and finally at LearnVest, the personal finance software company. 

This turned out to be a key moment for Rodriguez. A subsidiary of LearnVest was LearnVest Planning, a fee-only, fiduciary RIA. Though Rodriguez didn't do any financial planning himself, it was his first experience working with this kind of business.

"I completely fell in love with the RIA model," he said.

Unlike the insurance company where Rodriguez had worked, LearnVest Planning put the client's interest first, ahead of selling a product. Rodriguez was inspired. Right away, he started studying to get his CFP certification.

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Then fate intervened: In 2015, LearnVest was acquired by Northwestern Mutual — a financial services company that sells, among other things, insurance. Rodriguez decided it was time to make his move.

"I just took a leap of faith and launched the firm," he said. "I went full-time in 2018 and never looked back."

Five years later, WealthBuilders has 79 clients and $28.3 million in assets under management. A major focus for Rodriguez is advising investors from underserved communities — about 70% of his clients, he said, are people of color or LGBTQ. 

And as Rodriguez has grown his business, he's made an impression on other wealth managers. 

"Eric is a young, bright, talented financial planner," said Taylor Schulte, a CFP and the co-founder of the group Advisors Growing as a Community. "He's just got a smile on his face. He's the happiest guy I know, out there wanting to help."

Kevin Mahoney, founder of Illumint Financial Planning in Washington, D.C., met Rodriguez through Schulte's organization. 

"His services are a model for anyone trying to help individuals previously overlooked in the financial planning industry," Mahoney said. "His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is definitely a leader and role model in our industry."

Today Rodriguez uses his success to spread financial literacy. He speaks and runs workshops at various educational nonprofits, and he volunteers at the CFP Board's mentoring program. Rodriguez is among the 2.9% of CFPs who are Latinx, and he feels a particular responsibility to coach people of color who are aspiring planners.

"I really want to increase the percentage of CFPs that are either Black or Latino," Rodriguez said. "This industry is not very inclusive. And so I try to share my story and let them know … that you can get there."

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But Rodriguez doesn't just volunteer his time. He also donates a portion of his earnings — about 1.5% of WealthBuilders' gross revenue — to social justice organizations, including the nonprofit Prosperity Now and Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp.

For Rodriguez, all these efforts are about one thing: helping others avoid the same financial pain that afflicted him and his family.

"I believe that everyone should know about money," he said. "I think that no one should have to deal with the trauma that a lot of Black and brown families have to go through when it comes to finances."

All these accomplishments — not only for his practice but for his community — are why Rodriguez is a Rising Star.

"We can make change in terms of helping the next generation not have to deal with the negativity around money and finances," he said. "Money is one of those things that is still taboo, and it's not a good conversation to have. I want to change that."

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