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Empowering women to take control of their financial future

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As the CEO and founder of the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance, Kenya McKnight-Ahad has made financial education and opportunities her mission. Her Minneapolis-based organization aims to empower Black families and businesspeople—those who have historically been locked out of banking, lending, and money management services—to build generational wealth. Since 2014, she’s leveraged her network to help thousands of women use money as a tool to envision and achieve their financial goals.

“There are multiple ways to build wealth, a lot of tools,” Kenya says, “and these tools are essential. And we should not assume that we all have access to the right information.”

Kenya says her journey in finance started with just trying to figure out what wealth was and who was leading the conversations about it.

Along the way, she met Eva Stukenberg, a Minnesota-based Thrivent financial consultant with Bloom Financial Associates, at a networking event. They quickly found something in common: Eva’s longtime professional focus has also been personal finances for women.
"I've been in financial services since I was 17 and started the best part of my career—as a financial consultant—in 2015," Eva says. "I have had so many amazing and resilient women lifting me up on my own journey. I want our team to be in a position to empower other women and their families to grow with confidence and clarity so that they can flourish in every aspect of their finances."

Soon after they met, Kenya began working with Eva as her financial advisor. Their relationship goes beyond the transactional; it’s based on honesty, shared values and mutual respect. “This woman is amazing,” Eva says of Kenya. “It would take 10 advisors to keep up with her vision. Every time we talk, she wows and inspires me to give back in an even bigger way.”

Kenya and Eva’s financial perspectives and experiences provide valuable insight into how empowering women financially could work. It begins with recognizing women’s unique money management challenges, then overcoming them by engaging a support system, setting a vision, and working together to take each next step toward achieving that vision. Here are four things any woman could learn from Eva and Kenya’s relationship and insights.

I want our team to be in a position to empower other women and their families to grow with confidence and clarity so that they can flourish in every aspect of their finances.
Eva Stukenberg, financial consultant at Thrivent

Women & wealth: Overcoming obstacles & mindsets

Women today control more of the financial realm than ever before—nearly $11 trillion in assets with a pace to reach $30 trillion by 2030. Yet they are dealing with circumstances carried forward throughout history that make achieving financial independence a greater challenge than it often is for men. Three of the top reasons are:

1. Women tend to earn less money over a lifetime.

Not only is there a gender pay gap where women earn, on average, about 84% of what men earn, but they tend to spend less time in the workforce due to caring for their children, spouses or aging family members.

2. Women may need more money in retirement.

Women outlive men by about five years, so their retirement income often needs to last longer. But since they typically have fewer resources, women may have less saved.

3. Women may have less investing confidence.

Of the 56% of Americans who invest, less than half are women, which means they’re holding onto their cash rather than risking the opportunity for it to grow. This hesitant approach leaves potential earnings on the table.

These obstacles, and how they’re disproportionately burdensome for some people more than others, are precisely what the Black Women’s Wealth Alliance (BWWA) aims to overcome.

To strengthen the momentum of economic advancement among Black women, the BWWA doesn’t just teach financial literacy, give grants and facilitate lending. It aims to address the roots of what Kenya calls financial trauma—the behaviors and life outcomes based on a history of being left out of the system—by creating wealth mindsets. It’s an approach Kenya uses even when talking with her nieces and nephews about taking care of themselves, their family and their community.

“It’s more than just the monetary pieces of wealth,” Kenya explains. “It’s the behaviors and thinking mindsets that they need to foster wealth for themselves.” Moreover, she and Eva agree that it’s about managing the resources you have—meeting women where they are in their journey and giving them confidence, clarity and an accountability partner.

Engaging a support system: Why working with a financial advisor is important for women

Kenya may seem like someone who doesn’t need a financial advisor. She leads a wealth alliance, after all. But she explains that when she first had the idea to start the BWWA, she hadn’t yet tapped into her confidence to lead it.

"I didn't own anything. I barely managed my money properly," Kenya says. "I didn't get a better sense of money until my mid-30s.”

She gathered the knowledge and ran with it to start a full-on movement for empowering others. And then she met Eva and began consulting with her for even more personal financial advice. Even with her own expertise, Kenya points out, “I need an advisor because I’m going to need people to help me manage my resources to make sure I can always give back and do good things with my money to help people.”

Eva explains her role in helping Kenya accomplish that as her financial consultant. “We see money as a tool. It's not the goal, but it is something that is an important reality that makes all of this possible,” she says.

Many people think you need to have a large amount of money before getting a financial advisor, but you can work with one at any life stage to help you meet your goals. As Kenya recalls when she was starting out, “With Eva, I didn’t feel like I was less important because I had a smaller account than a multimillionaire.”

Kenya says she’s found enduring value in her relationship with Eva as her financial advisor. She feels that their conversations are a place where she can talk about the steps, processes and mechanisms she can use to get where she wants to go.

"I need someone who understands wealth in a different way than me, who knows the industry in her sleep," Kenya says. "The success we've had together is one of the ways I'm able to equip my community with timely information."

Financial advisors offer expert insight that helps people set their vision, which is foundational to helping them become financially savvy.

"We get a front-row seat into our clients' lives,” Eva explains. “They share things they might not share with some of their closest friends. It is such a privilege, and we don't take this for granted. At the end of the day, our whole team comes together to bring these plans to life. We strive to end each interaction with one or two strategies and steps that will advance people on their financial journeys."

Kenya attests that this is a process that works. "The most important thing that happened between us is that she listened to my vision," Kenya notes. "She didn't try to sell me a product. She didn't try to tell me what was best for me. She listened to what I wanted. And then she said, 'Here's how we can accomplish it,' and we began to knock that off piece by piece."

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Beyond financial literacy: Setting a vision for wealth

Women self-report being less knowledgeable about personal finance than men. This isn’t without reason, considering the unique obstacles women face in managing money. But working together, women of different backgrounds can reduce the inequities in their shared circumstances. Accomplishing this goal means expanding the definition of what’s possible.

Financial literacy is the first step. Women have a diverse range of financial needs and require all kinds of entry points to make the next move toward improving their finances. Gaining those entry points starts with getting not just familiar but comfortable with financial terms and concepts.

“Let’s normalize these conversations in our community,” Kenya says. “Stop talking about wealth as just homeownership and starting a business. Let’s normalize talking about stocks and bonds, IRAs and different types of insurance at the dinner table. Let’s redefine wealth and who it is for.”

But education alone won’t fully empower women to own their finances. Kenya points out that financial literacy isn’t really vision-based. In fact, it’s sometimes framed as scaling back, not scaling up. “I believe in setting your vision and growing into it,” she says.
Eva thinks making financial wealth building, not just literacy, a priority for women is something that everyone could be doing better. “What I think this industry has needed and still needs today is a representation that women are at the table as financial decision-makers,” Eva says.

Getting from literacy to wealth building takes some support, goal-setting and working together to take the next step—and then the next.

Eva explains, “It is important that we’re building a practice—whether it’s in my lens or in the great work that Kenya is doing—to meet women where they are in their journey and to really educate them so they can feel confident that they have clarity around their situation and have an accountability partner who’s going to walk alongside them and not judge.”

Stop talking about wealth as just homeownership and starting a business. Let’s normalize talking about stocks and bonds, IRAs and different types of insurance at the dinner table. Let’s redefine wealth and who it is for.
Kenya McKnight-Ahad, CEO & founder of Black Women’s Wealth Alliance and Thrivent client

Taking the next steps: Building the vision together

Kenya and Eva’s dynamic financial-advisory relationship is a pinnacle to strive for. They share a passion for empowering other women and put it in practice by building momentum with each other. Together, they’re spreading the idea that money itself isn’t the end goal but instead is an important tool that makes big-picture ideals like generational wealth and giving back to your community possible.

“I’m not just talking about what I currently have,” Kenya explains. “I’m talking about where I want to go and the tools and processes and steps I need to take to get there and working with somebody who can support me along the way. That’s the importance of a financial advisor in our wealth education.”

By working with outstanding organizations like the BWWA or talking things through with a financial advisor, women can gain not just the know-how but a support network that will keep helping them step closer and closer to achieving their greatest goals.

The client’s experience may not be the same as other clients and does not indicate future performance or success.