Joseph Castaneda spends his days watching the market, executing trades and providing expert advice and counsel for his clients. That’s all part of his job as a portfolio management associate at U.S. Trust, the private wealth management arm of Bank of America, where he takes pride in his work helping families grow their savings and provide for their financial futures.
But along with his day job, Castaneda serves as a volunteer leader for Bank of America and, since 2016, for the SIFMA Foundation’s Invest It Forward initiative. In his volunteer role, he’s also focused on the future — providing guidance to students in the greater Los Angeles area about how to land a career in the financial services field.
As part of his service, Castaneda heads out several times a year to visit Los Angeles-area schools where students are using the Stock Market Game (SMG) investment simulation — primarily grades 4-12 — to talk about his work and the rewards of a financial services career. His goal: to share tips and strategies to help students interested in the field, and give them an “inside track” to make the right choices in their career paths.
That’s the type of career advice Castaneda, 32, felt was lacking in his own background. Like many of the students he addresses, Castaneda attended an inner-city school where, he notes, career path discussions gave little attention to financial services options.
“You might hear people talk about being a doctor or a lawyer,” he says. “But I never heard anyone say ‘financial advisor’ or ‘portfolio manager.’ Those were jobs that seemed almost impossible for kids that came from inner-city schools. For me, it’s important to encourage kids at a young age to consider a career in banking or investments.”
In the classroom: ‘It’s about setting off that spark’
Castaneda’s classroom visits are coordinated through Invest It Forward, a SIFMA Foundation program that connects financial professionals nationwide with schools and classrooms participating in The Stock Market Game. Invest It Forward’s skills-based in-person and online volunteer activities are designed to increase students’ personal financial readiness while tapping financial professionals’ expertise for impact and a good cause. Hearing from active professionals brings investing and the capital markets to life and presents students with a fuller menu of future academic and professional options.
A critical component of Invest It Forward is the SIFMA Foundation’s online database of schools interested in scheduling a financial professional visit (in person or via video chat). Volunteers are invited to review and sign up for opportunities in their area or other locations of interest (where they volunteer, where they are from, where they have family or have studied). Since its launch in 2014, Invest It Forward has grown rapidly to encompass 10,000 financial sector volunteers engaging with youth to advance financial capability.
“Classroom interventions have a powerful effect on helping young people, especially in schools where academic and life-skills enrichment options are limited,” Melanie Mortimer, SIFMA Foundation president, explains. “Invest It Forward helps students to connect the dots, understand how capital markets and the financial system work, and prepare for a lifetime of investing and asset-building, or to pursuing a financial career. Providing experienced professionals who generously share their time, talent and insights with students is a critical part of the Invest It Forward strategy—and it’s only possible thanks to the dedication of remarkable volunteers like Joseph.”
For Castaneda, classroom presentations are an opportunity to open children’s minds to a broader range of possibilities as they take part in The Stock Market Game™ program, which is an online simulation of the global capital markets that engages students grades 4-12 in the world of economics, investing and personal finance. More than 600,000 students across all 50 states each year take part, investing a hypothetical $100,000 portfolio of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs and cash as they compete for prizes and recognition. The Stock Market Game has reached nearly 18 million students since its inception in 1977 and is proven to raise participants’ math and economics test scores.
That typically means starting with fundamentals—explaining basic concepts like what stocks and bonds are, how the markets work and how companies are valued. But those fundamentals are just a prelude to the part of the presentation that the students value most, Castaneda says, which is the Q&A session that follows.
“They always ask questions about my career path – ‘how did you get there?’ How can I get there?” he says. “Giving them that ‘track sheet’ is really valuable.”
Invest It Forward provides presentation materials to address the basic classroom needs and commonly asked questions. Castaneda takes that a step further by sharing a personal “track sheet” for students that offers “actionable intelligence” beyond the standard career planning advice.
“It’s common stuff that they’re not told, or they don’t know to ask about,” he explains. “It’s questions like, how do you dress in an interview? What exams should you study for so you have something on your resume? You should take an Excel course – you’d be surprised how valuable that can be when you’re starting off your career.”
For example, he includes links to online shopping sites with examples of professional-looking suit and tie combinations young men might consider when interviewing, and offers similar suggestions for young women (“Keep it simple and classy,” he advises students). Not sure where to get instruction in Excel software? Check Groupon for discounts, he suggests. He’s a bit like a savvy older brother who’s showing you the ropes, sharing the wisdom he picked up along the way, so you don’t have to learn it all on your own.
“They’re the types of things that I had to learn the hard way, or the long way. I provide students with the things that will give them a leg up during the interview,” Castaneda says.
He also encourages students to check out free online tools and consider opening a retirement account at a young age, so the power of compounding can start working for them early. While the value of compounding is a fundamental lesson in the SMG curriculum, hearing this message from their financial professional volunteer, in addition to their teacher, often provides the “one-two punch” to drive the lesson home. The goal is to demystify the world of finance and trading and get students to realize that, with focus and discipline, they can reap the benefits of saving and investing, Castaneda says.
“It’s about setting off that spark in students to realize that, one, you can do it, and two, it’s not as difficult as you might think, just start looking at stocks and following them,” he explains.
The challenge of breaking into the field is another common focus of questions, Castaneda says, particularly for young people from underprivileged backgrounds.
“I’m Latino, and they ask me about my personal experience with adversity: ‘what adversity have you encountered in your career?’” he says. “My answer is simple: Everybody has adversities, no matter what you are or who you are. But at the end of the day, perseverance is the key. You have to be a good worker, put in the time, put in the education and effort, and you’re gonna gain something out of it.”
Dispelling the myths—and a focus on helping
Castaneda sometimes needs to dispel misconceptions students may have about the financial industry. He jokes that the students assume that if you work in the financial arena, you must be “swimming in dough,” thanks to how the industry is often portrayed in movies and television.
“You have to bring them back to reality,’” he says with a laugh. “It’s funny, because our level of compliance in the industry is very strong. It’s close to impossible now for people to do that kind of stuff like you see in the movies.”
Dispelling those media-fueled misconceptions is a critical step to help students to understand that financial services careers are, first and foremost, about providing service. He explains that success in the financial field comes from developing expertise, supplying clients with solid and appropriate advice, and helping them to build and execute plans for the future.
“It’s a really rewarding career because you do end up helping a lot of families, helping them to structure their financial lives,” Castaneda explains. “Sometimes people don’t know how to manage their money, and that’s what we’re here for: to help them understand what they have and the potential they have to do better and build towards something. I don’t think [the students] realize that the reason we’re here is to help people sleep at night.”
Importance of volunteering: ‘It fills you with new life’
For Castaneda, volunteering is a longtime avocation, beginning from his early teen years. But his commitment to service deepened during his college years after he lost his parents, when he began volunteering in hospitals, where he served as a companion to dying patients. That experience, which Castaneda describes as both deeply rewarding and challenging, helped forge his commitment to volunteer service.
“I’m able to volunteer with these schools because Bank of America believes in the importance of financial education and volunteering, and they believe in what I do,” Castaneda says. “The company gives employees two hours a week of paid volunteer time to give back. For volunteers like myself, having an employer who supports my community involvement is invaluable.”
“We at Bank of America are proud of Joseph for his volunteerism and passion to help students in our communities learn about stocks and careers in finance,” said Wynne Lum, environmental, social and governance program manager. “We want Joseph’s students to realize that they are capable of managing their own finances and help others, too.”
Castaneda also emphasizes that volunteer experiences of all kinds have shaped and changed him in ways he didn’t anticipate, something he’s reminded of whenever he completes a school visit.
“I always leave energized, every time,” he says. “It reminds me of who I was at their age. It reminds me of continuing that youthful energy and drive that I had – it fills me with new life.”
Perhaps that sense of energy explains why Castaneda spends so much time recruiting and urging his colleagues and peers to dedicate part of their time to service. Even if they think they don’t have time to balance the demands of their own careers and personal lives with volunteering, he encourages them to think about how they can give back.
“There aren’t that many organizations out there like the SIFMA Foundation that are actually doing this, and that to me is shocking, because there’s such a need for education on careers,” Castaneda concludes. “So I’m very happy this program exists, and I want it to grow and for more people to be touched by the work they’re doing.”