Carmen Wong Ulrich (Courtesy ALTA Wealth Management)

Latina Leaders: A first generation finance expert says her most important duty is to help others

New York-based finance expert, Carmen Wong Ulrich, says she was born incredibly curious.

“For me it was a discovery,” says Ulrich about her career path. “I did know I wanted an advice column and I wanted to do TV — I pretty much have done it all by now at 41. Now, I’m thinking what’s the next chapter?”

Not only is Ulrich the president and co-founder of ALTA Wealth Management, she’s a finance and risk engineering professor at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, and has contributed to various media networks. Currently, she can be seen regularly on the “Melissa Harris Perry Show” on Saturdays on MSNBC, CNN, and ABC’s “The View.”

“Everyday is different, and that’s part of what I love about my life,” says the mother of a 6-year-old. “My daughter is a huge priority. The key is having boundaries. It means saying “no” a lot. It means not being able to do everything and help every single person. It’s about being very efficient and communicating efficiently.”

Ulrich is usually traveling for speaking engagements, doing a show, or at her new office at NYU.

“I am where I need to be,” she says. “I am one of those people that enjoys pressure to a point…This week I had a business lunch, a panel at night, and a cocktail hour. I like the different parts of my life together in one day. I like feeling like, ‘Wow, that was a full day – it was great.’”

Her interest in finance began when she was 8, and she used to read The Wall Street Journal with her dad.

“My dad was very into investing,” says Ulrich. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but he was a tremendous saver and investor. I didn’t like sports, but to bond with my dad, I followed stocks and investing.”

She never saw it as a subject that would be so pivotal in her life, so she ended up getting a master’s degree in psychology from Columbia University. Then she took advantage of an opening at Money magazine where she started as an assistant and ended up a special projects editor.

“A light bulb went off in my head that money is not just numbers, it’s your life,” says Ulrich. “The decisions you make actually determine the life you are going to have…In my Dominican culture, it’s not something I was taught, but I was possessed with the idea that everyone needs to know about this.”

With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and art history, Ulrich ultimately decided to combine her knowledge of psychology, culture and economics.

“It’s not so much what you study, you don’t have to stick to that,” she says. “You can make twists and turns and end up where you just fit. I love art so much, but that doesn’t mean I love the business.”

What she enjoys is using her finance expertise to help others achieve wealth. She says the number one problem she sees is people not paying attention to their finances.

“People do not pay enough attention, and I don’t mean just worrying,” says Ulrich. “You’ve got to get systematic about it. Whatever it is, you need to figure out what’s most important and what can you change to make things better.”

She emphasizes that nobody gets to where they are alone — it takes a team of people.

“I have always depended on a team of people — people that I could learn from,” she says. “I was never shy of taking an executive to coffee…You’ve got to be very resourceful, and say, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking of, and what I’d like to learn more about.’”

There are two pieces of advice she learned from her team of mostly Latinas and Anglo males which, she says, have never failed her: always back your word and always treat everyone with respect.

“You need to honor relationships that you have,” says Ulrich. “You need to really do the best job you possibly can. If you just show up, you’re already halfway there. So many people drop the ball, they talk the game, and nothing happens. You want to make sure everything you say has truth and substance behind it.”

She says it all goes back to my mother, one of the biggest influences in her life, saying, “You never know who around you will be your boss.”

Ulrich is now busy, as usual, working on her third book, and trying to recruit more Latinas into STEM classes at NYU. She also serves on the boards of the NY Urban League, VIVABroadway, Dress for Success, among others.

“Financial literacy plays a role in all of them,” she says. “I do not believe I can exist without doing this…I haven’t gotten here without anybody helping me, so it’s my duty to help everybody up. I’m first generation. My mother’s education ended at 15. I had a whole world opened up to me. It’s up to me to tell [people of color] we can have everything everyone else has, and I don’t think that has fostered enough in our community.”

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