In Up Next, The New Orleans Tribune features young, inspiring professionals from all walks of life making their mark on the city.
Cohen began his career in the New York City office of Deloitte & Touche. Prior to founding JECohen, he served as an assistant vice president of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s wealth management division in Houston.
Most recently, Cohen was appointed to LSU’s National Diversity Advisory Board. He also serves on the LSU CFP Board-Registered Program Advisory Board through the E.J. Ourso College of Business and the advisory board of Yellowstone Academy, a non-profit private school in the Third Ward of Houston that focuses on children living in extremely low socioeconomic circumstances.
He earned a bachelor’s of science degree from Louisiana State University in 2008, with a major in finance and a minor in internal auditing.
He is a member of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute.
What are the strengths that have enabled you to become a success by founding of your company?
I have always sought advice and direction from those who have gone before me. For this reason, I am a big reader of biographies. I can unequivocally attest that I would not be where I am today if it were not for individuals taking an interest in me and taking time to share their insights and advise me on important decisions. That being said, one must also be willing to follow his own intuition. I believe great leaders have an uncanny ability to follow their gut which often times cannot be supported by analytics or previous experience. If I adhered to all my mentors’ advice, I would still be at Merrill Lynch.
What do you think is one of the biggest hurdles of generating wealth development in the African-American community?
The challenges are all related. A lack of financial literacy and a lack of exposure to wealth-generating opportunities because our ancestors were unjustly excluded have now resulted in a short supply of astute and well-informed African-American financiers within large global financial institutions that create and provide access to the very solutions that help build wealth. You know people tend to do business with people who look like them. This all leads to financial ignorance, and ignorance causes discomfort. If there is a lack of African-American financial advisors, for instance, who is going to bring such opportunities to the attention of other African Americans? Caucasian financial advisors surely are not beating down our doors, nor are Asians. To put things into perspective, I was one of three black financial advisors out of 100 stockbrokers in the downtown Houston office of Merrill Lynch.
The other major issue is a reliance in the African-American community on risk-mitigating financial products and solutions such as life insurance, bank CDs, and other perceived risk-less vehicles that are pitched by professionals as wealth creation tools. The thought is “safer the better.” If you were to pull a U.S. Census report that breaks down the wealth distribution across races, unsurprisingly, African Americans specifically, outpace all other races when it comes to insurance allocations as a percentage of net worth. Meanwhile, African-Americans have the lowest allocations of stocks and mutual fund shares, IRAs, and 401(k)s as a percentage of net worth amongst all races.
How important do you think it is for the youth to receive financial training at home? What age do you think is the ideal age to begin to learn about things like strategic financial planning, investments and wealth management?
I believe it is very important. But again, if parents are generally uninformed about the ways of financial literacy, how can they go about teaching their children? We are in a vicious cycle that I believe can only be remediated by mandating financial literacy in the K-12 educational curriculum as a matter of national public policy.
How do you see your company expanding in the future? Is there a unique service that you’d like to offer but haven’t yet and what is it?
Yes, longer term, I would like to see JECohen make its services available globally versus on just a national or local footprint – time is on my side. We would largely continue many of our current investment management services, and expand into others, but making them available in say Central America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. Shorter term, I hope to launch a mutual fund to assist aspiring investors with more nominal balances of capital.
Who or what inspired you to study and pursue finances as a profession? Do you remember that moment?
I definitely remember that moment. Sophomore year of college, I received a call from my mother inquiring about her retirement plan, specifically her 401(k) plan. She asked me to look into it because her account had been unattended since my parents separated three years prior. She did not have a clue as to what to do with it or where to go for help. After changing my major from civil engineering to economics freshman year, she thought I might know something about it. The rest is history. I began managing her account in college and thought I could make a career out of helping others in her same predicament. I immediately found investing to be both natural and intriguing. Shortly after taking over her 401(k), I changed my business focus from economics to investment management and additionally real estate.
If wealth development were a cake what are the essential ingredients?
My mother is a great baker and makes an unbelievable pound cake. Over the years, I have witnessed several times when she has not had all the necessary ingredients (for example, not enough eggs or vanilla), yet she makes do. “Making do” means to manage with the limited means available. Wealth development or wealth creation is no different, and it is quite relative. One has to “make do” with their personal circumstances, taking into consideration level of income, budgeted expenses, quality of employment, ability to save and invest and not worry about what the Jones are doing down the street. Secondly, the secret to wealth creation is time. Time is the catalyst for one to grow his or her savings by way of compounding interest, a mechanism that allows your money to make money over and over again. Even if one is only able to save a nominal amount each month or year, it will go a long way if placed in the right vehicle (i.e. a stock-based mutual fund versus a bank CD). The earlier you start, the better. The later you start, the more you have to save and invest.
Where are you from originally and what made you come to New Orleans?
I am originally from Taylors (Greenville), SC. I decided to attend LSU for undergrad which is where I encountered New Orleans by way of friends who were born and raised here. I immediately connected with the culture and spirit of New Orleanians and Louisianans as a whole.