Queer financial planner reaches out to LGBTQs

  • by JL Odom
  • Wednesday June 26, 2024
Share this Post:
Kerrie Carden is the founder of Equip Advisory, a financial planning company. Photo: The Booth for Business
Kerrie Carden is the founder of Equip Advisory, a financial planning company. Photo: The Booth for Business

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people took to doing or learning something new to fill their shelter-in-place days, keep boredom at bay, and move forward, in some way, during an otherwise standstill time.

Entrepreneur Kerrie Carden decided to take the bull by the horns and change things up a bit.

"During the pandemic, people were learning how to make bread and I was like, 'I think I'm going to get a CFP," she said in a Zoom call with the Bay Area Reporter, referring to a certificate in financial planning.

Carden, 39, did just that, and then founded Equip Advisory, a financial planning, career coaching, and business advising firm based in Baltimore that uniquely supports Black, Indigenous, and people of color and LGBTQ individuals. It provides services throughout the country.

For Carden, who is Black, queer, and uses she/they pronouns and prefers they be interchanged, Equip Advisory's centering on these underserved communities is purposeful — and personal.

"I wanted to specifically serve BIPOC, queer, and trans professionals because I felt like they were deeply underserved by the financial services, business- and career-advising professions. And I want those communities to feel chosen, because they're my communities and I love them," she said.

Carden admits they hadn't planned on being a financial adviser. After graduating from Stanford with a bachelor's degree in human biology, they embarked on a business-oriented career trajectory, working in client management and operations at companies like Yahoo, headquartered in Sunnyvale, California; ClearCompany, a software company based in Boston; and MD Energy Advisors, an energy management company in Baltimore. She also held stints at Johns Hopkins University as a student entrepreneurship director and at INVANTI, a small city-focused startup based in South Bend, Indiana, as a chief revenue officer.

"I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I spent a good chunk of my previous career working with entrepreneurs and supporting them. But financial planning I sort of fell into. I had an interest in personal finance," she explained.

That interest led to their enrollment in Howard University's financial planning program in 2020, earning their CFP through the Washington, D.C.-based school in 2021. During that same year, they established Equip Advisory, which serves anywhere from 75 to 100 clients annually.

For Carden, the career shift was not only fitting but also made sense based on her interest in sharing her finance-related knowledge with others.

"I was always that person who started talking to my friends, like, 'Hey, did you know you can do this with your credit card?' and then just started helping people because it was knowledge I felt I had, and I feel like I have a little bit of that sort of educator mentality. If I know something, I want everybody else around me to know it too so they can use it," she said.


For the now-certified financial planner, career coach, business adviser, and intergenerational wealth architect, the switch to financial advising was also eye-opening. "I was in the [CFP] program learning about financial services and just seeing the ways in which the system operated and specifically disadvantaged [the] communities that I knew and loved and cared about," she said.

Carden's awareness of the way that system operates, coupled with their education and personal identities, informed their decision to direct Equip Advisory's services toward the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. It was also a personal call-to-action in response to certain ongoing social injustices and inequities, such as police brutality toward the BIPOC community — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others — in recent years. (Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020; Taylor was killed earlier that year by officers in Louisville, Kentucky during a botched raid.)

"I was really, really frustrated by the ways in which the things that were happening had happened for so long, were still happening, and just the way that it takes such a toll on our entire society. I think as a country we have yet to fully reckon with the things we've chosen to do, the ways that we've built the system," Carden commented.

"I get into conversations a lot with folks about the ways things work, and they're like, 'The system is broken.' And I'm like, 'The system is actually operating exactly the way it was designed.' And that's to me what's most disheartening," they added.

People who are underserved typically have limited or no access to resources and are often disenfranchised, disproportionately encountering discrimination, poverty, and other challenges.

According to the "2024 LGBTQ+ Financial Wellness Report," published by the Human Rights Campaign in March 2024, "LGBTQ+ adults are twice as likely to say that they are doing financially unwell compared to the general United States population," with transgender and nonbinary adults three times as likely to view their financial circumstance as "unwell." It also notes that "[d]ue to the realities of systemic oppression, BIPOC LGBTQ+ people, particularly Black, Latine, and Native American LGBTQ+ people, face uniquely higher rates of poverty and earning disparities compared to their white and non-LGBTQ+ peers." Encountering discrimination (e.g., financial services-related) and being "left out of the financial health conversation" have factored into LGBTQ+ adults' financial challenges, the report indicates.

As Equip Advisory's CEO, Carden seeks to rectify that.

"Not everybody is in a position to be able to shell out thousands of dollars for someone to help make their finances better. But that doesn't mean that you don't deserve that same level of care and attention and access to that knowledge. So I really try to make sure that there's a spectrum," she shared.

Carden takes clients' limited financial resources into consideration, providing free consultations and services at price points accessible to those living paycheck to paycheck, with significant debt, making under $200,000 per year, or are "unique in their families for their earning and wealth potential."

"It was really important for me to have sliding scale pricing to try to meet people where they're at. I think the tendency is to feel as though financial planning isn't for you unless you're already wealthy, and I think that has been true in practice. But everyone deserves this level of both knowledge and literacy but also care. It is, in a way, a caring profession," they said.

Equip Advisory's lower-cost services include group workshops and on-demand courses that offer practical guidance, best practices and tools for clients seeking to learn more about financial planning and barriers and to make positive changes. Fees are agreed to between Carden and their clients, they said. Carden also declined to disclose their salary and the company's revenue.

"I do that specifically with the hope that I can help folks build up to where they're financially in a place to make decisions both for themselves and for their communities ... that helps to make sure that more access is guaranteed across the board," Carden said.

"I think anyone, regardless of their financial circumstances, should have access to dedicated financial support. Money impacts all of us. It is incredibly powerful in terms of deciding where we get to live, what we have access to, how we get to influence the systems that impact us directly," she added.

Through their firm, Carden also seeks to connect with organizations that have a comparable vested interest in equity and social justice and that serve the specific populations that Carden's passionate about. They've partnered with Robinhood, a financial services company headquartered in Menlo Park, leading retirement workshops throughout the country for members of U.S. Black Chambers Inc., an organization that supports Black businesses.

"It's been a great opportunity to work with an organization that's putting an investment into supporting communities that overlap very heavily with populations that I want to serve," they said.

Robinhood and USBC did not respond to requests for comments.

According to Carden, for underserved communities to build wealth and affect change, it starts at the individual level — a person making the conscious decision to reach out for financial assistance.

"For folks who are thinking about, 'Is a financial planner for me?' I would encourage them to please reach out to someone like myself or someone else to see what kinds of resources you can get access to. ... And when choosing someone to work with, work with someone who explains things to you in a way you understand and who makes you feel seen and heard," they said.

"If you end up with someone who doesn't do those things, please feel free to move on because there are lots of people out there who are ready and willing to serve you in a way that you deserve to be served," she added.

Femily (aka Emily Meghan Morrow Howe), a gender/equity adviser in Silicon Valley, was more than impressed with Carden's services.

She had hired Carden to conduct a beginner-level tax and business workshop as part of her "Future Thought Leader" program for LGBTQIA+ and feminist entrepreneurs.

"Her expertise and joy shone through and my clients were thrilled to finally get tax/money insights in super-accessible language. Kerrie is a wiz at tailoring her expertise for marginalized entrepreneurs who have been frequently excluded from critical money and business conversations," wrote Femily, a queer femme, in an email to B.A.R.

Other clients of Carden, such as Faylís Chan, the senior project manager of brand design at Salesforce, hold her in high regard.

"Kerrie leads each session with empathy and actively listens to each client, asking detailed questions to fully grasp what our unique needs are. Some career coaches are cold, rushed and demanding, but Kerrie provides the space and encouragement necessary to get to the root of what her clients need. Together, goals, growth areas, and next steps are outlined and shared along with resources Kerrie provides to help us reach our targets," wrote Chan, an LGBTQ ally, in a LinkedIn message to B.A.R.

Elizabeth Gulino, a freelance writer based in New York who had a few sessions with Carden, also conveyed positive sentiments about Carden's client-considerate approach.

"She's incredibly kind and thoughtful, and I could also tell that she knows what she's talking about. She's able to convey a lot of valuable information in a short session, and it was easy to understand — I never felt judged or nervous asking questions because I felt safe sharing information with her," Gulino, and LGBTQ ally, wrote in an email. "I'd definitely reach out to her again if I needed her services or just wanted to interview an expert for a future finance story."

Carden's investment in community extends beyond her firm: she's a member of the Clipper City CrossFit gym in Baltimore, completing WODs, i.e. workouts of the day, with fellow Clipper City CrossFitters. (Carden's also a certified CrossFit coach, to boot.) This month, they participated in Baltimore's Pride parade, using a harness and sheer physical strength to steer a vehicle along the parade route. It's a feat they pull (off) every year.

"That is one of my hands-down favorite traditions," she said, adding that people who attended the June 15 Baltimore Pride parade saw Carden and members of her gym "pulling that car."

For more information about Equip Advisory, go to equipadvisory.com.

This story is part of the Digital Equity Local Voices Fellowship lab through News is Out. The lab initiative is made possible with support from Comcast NBCUniversal.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!