Dawn Robinson of Barnum Financial Group: “I believe that we become who we surround ourselves with”

I believe that we become who we surround ourselves with. I think that we need to surround ourselves with people who are smarter and more experienced than us. I carefully choose all of the people that I surround myself with and constantly foster relationships with the people I admire. Investing in your network enhances yourself. […]

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I believe that we become who we surround ourselves with. I think that we need to surround ourselves with people who are smarter and more experienced than us. I carefully choose all of the people that I surround myself with and constantly foster relationships with the people I admire. Investing in your network enhances yourself.


As a part of our series about “Women Leading The Finance Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Robinson.

Dawn Robinson is a Financial Planner, Financial Services Representative, Investment Advisor Representative at Barnum Financial Group.


Thank you for doing this with us! Our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?

Finance is not my first career. I entered the financial services industry because I wanted to learn how to navigate the inevitable future financial challenges that we all encounter. I wanted to learn what behaviors define financial success. What brought me into the finance industry was the realization that I knew so little about finance as an aerospace engineer. At that time in my 20’s and 30’s, I realized that my top-secret clearance didn’t help my financial IQ. My husband is also an aerospace engineer with an engineering master’s degree.

We retired the first time when I was very young. I was 36. My husband and I are good savers and we entrusted our retirement accounts to a professional money manager at an investment firm with a big name. Our situation changed and our financial professional, who was a fantastic investment manager, was not able to help us because our financial behaviors were poor. We needed more than a strong investment manager. We needed a financial planner.

I was introduced to financial planning in my mid-40’s. That is when I understood what it was and how it assisted with personal financial goals. I also realized that if I had known about financial planning when our situation was changing, we could have been in a different place. It was then that I truly recognized that financial planning is invaluable.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that happened to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

There are so many stories! I think that humor is an incredibly important tool for providing perspective along with stories. However, I think the most important thing that I have learned in my financial services career is how valuable my life experience is to my clients’ process as they define their own financial future. It’s hard to beat life experience as a teacher for success and for failure. Life experience has been incredibly important for the benefit of my clients in both financial planning as well as managing assets. With respect to financial planning, I will often get asked how I made a transition from aerospace engineering to financial planning. My job in aerospace engineering was project management supporting various programs. Financial planning is essentially the same job. I help my clients identify their own goals and the process to achieve them. I then coach them on achieving their goals. For the second primary aspect of what I do, asset management, in my opinion good asset management is largely analytics and research. Most engineers learn those skills early in their careers. As a result, for both financial planning and asset management, my life experience has allowed me to incorporate the life experience I gained in the first 45 years of my life into my financial services practice.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have two projects that I am currently working on. The first is the continued development of a radio program that I have fostered for the last three years called “Common Cents with Dawn”. The tag line for the program is “Sharing your story benefits the world.” I truly believe that sharing stories of success as well as failure help our friends, family and the communities around us. I use “Common Cents with Dawn” to interview business owners and allow them to share their stories. I think that most business owners undervalue their life experience and how central that can be to the success of another business owner. I find that successful people will share the secrets of their success. However, often they don’t understand that they are successful and don’t understand that what they have to say is important. “Common Cents with Dawn” helps me celebrate small business ownership and allows for stories to be shared. My podcast site is https://www.commoncents.buzzsprout.com.

The second project is offering complimentary financial education courses for both young adults as well as working adults named “Roadmap to Financial Wellness”. My own experience in the financial services profession has shown me that the majority of my colleagues in financial services seek to support retirees or those close to retirement who have established financial patterns. It’s my opinion that by the time we’re at retirement, our patterns are set and our options are limited to what we can afford at that time. I think that coaching younger professionals during their working years and supporting their individual financial processes expands retirement scenarios to broader opportunities and scenarios. Offering the “Roadmap” webinar workshops allows for complimentary education that I feel is vital to younger professionals when their financial habits are being defined.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers?

As an engineer, I probably wouldn’t have passed a basic test for financial literacy. I think an enormous challenge is understanding the position of debt in our personal financial systems. In my “Roadmap” series, I point out that we are responsible for their own debt systems which include our consumer debt and installment debt, both short term and long term. It’s a lot easier to learn how to manage debt as we develop our financial habits than it is after we’ve taken a bad loan.

I also think that basic financial concepts are not well understood. Time is a central concept in financial systems. Debt solution concepts undervalue the importance of time. When I’m speaking with a prospect, rate of return is generally a focus. Through coaching I expand that to include a thorough understanding of: risk tolerance, compound interest, time horizon, inflation, cost of living adjustments and time value of money. These are very fundamental concepts in personal financial systems. Note that I didn’t understand these definitions until I took my financial credential testing in my mid-40s. I wish that I had understood them in my 20s.

If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?

I believe that (1) sharing stories, (2) getting educated through someone else’s experience, and (3) on-line research are powerful tools. For example, when we consider where to live, we’ll have conversations with complete strangers in grocery stores or at cafes. Many people will speak with complete strangers about their credit scores. We need to have that confidence and that personal freedom to speak about financial solutions, especially debt solutions.

Ok, thank you! Now to the main question of our interview: You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

Don’t be afraid to share your financial challenges with your children and involve them in solutions. I have two amazing children. They were 8 and 10 when I started my career in financial services. That means that they have been aware of the transitions in my career. I have been the primary wage earner in our household through their formative years while their dad has been their loving caretaker. My children have (1) experienced the challenges of income volatility resulting in cash flow challenges. They have (2) experienced holidays when they couldn’t have as many gifts as their cousins. They have (3) experienced years when we couldn’t take vacations. They have (4) experienced having to choose between after school activities or field trips because finances were tight. They have (5) experienced working from the age of 14 to have the niceties that other kids might have through allowances. As a result, working together as a family to navigate financial situations is normal for them. My husband and I never hid our challenges from our children. We wanted them to learn why things were occurring, our long-range plans for correcting our situation, and we wanted them to be a part of the solution.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I believe that we become who we surround ourselves with. I think that we need to surround ourselves with people who are smarter and more experienced than us. I carefully choose all of the people that I surround myself with and constantly foster relationships with the people I admire. Investing in your network enhances yourself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The people who have had the most impact in my life have been people who provide knowledge freely. When I listen carefully, it allows me to pass along their knowledge as well as my own, to improve the future for my children.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am already working towards a movement. It is very simple. People know more about financial concepts than they think they do. We have the right to speak about our finances and ask about finances and share our knowledge about our financial experiences. If we embrace the concept of “freedom of financial information”, I think that the youngest generations will find it easier to navigate the larger financial systems that affect all of us, like gross domestic product and international trade agreements. The power in national financial systems isn’t at the top, it’s with middle-income-wage earners. We need to embrace that concept, understand it, and foster good financial habits at all income levels.

Thank you for the interview. We wish you continued success!

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