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“Focus. Be firm on the goal but flexible on the details.” With Beau Henderson & Kristi Martin Rodriguez

The cost of living. Where you live has a lot to do with your cost of living. Retirement in New York City or Miami is quite different from a quiet place in the suburbs. Living within your means is important, especially when your retirement can last 20 to 30 years. I had the pleasure of […]

The cost of living. Where you live has a lot to do with your cost of living. Retirement in New York City or Miami is quite different from a quiet place in the suburbs. Living within your means is important, especially when your retirement can last 20 to 30 years.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristi Martin Rodriguez. Kristi currently serves as Vice President of Thought Leadership for Nationwide Financial, leading the teams responsible for advocating for and educating members, partners and industry leaders on issues impacting their ability to have a secure financial future. Kristi oversees an extensive network of knowledgeable professionals who provide hands-on consultation to develop client strategies and address the major concerns America’s workers face when planning for retirement. Through timely insights, education and client-ready tools, both financial professionals and individuals working directly with Nationwide increase their awareness and knowledge of complex financial topics such as retirement income planning, health care, long-term care and Social Security. Kristi has extensive experience in business-to-business and direct-to-consumer strategies and building high- performing teams. She joined Nationwide in 2015 as the Vice President of Marketing for Nationwide’s retirement plans business. Before joining Nationwide, Kristi held marketing and business leader roles at Aetna and UnitedHealth Group. Her experience includes functioning as the enterprise program lead of health care reform for UnitedHealthcare. Additionally, Kristi led a business development team working with the public sector, labor and trust and national accounts as liaison to their sales organization. She has a bachelor’s degree in Finance from Hampton University as well as a Series 6 and 26 securities registrations. She is an active member of the community, working with several non-profit and social organizations that aid unserved communities throughout the country. Kristi was one of the founding members of the Ohio chapter of The National Association of Securities Professionals (NASP), an organization helping people of color and women achieve inclusion in our industry. She is also the executive sponsor of AWARE and a member of the All Women Associate Resource Group at Nationwide.


Thank you so much for joining us, Kristi! Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Mycareer path was a bit unorthodox. I had no clue I would end up in financial services or insurance.

After my sophomore year of college in Virginia, I left to go to New York with dreams of becoming an actress. There I was able to obtain an unpaid internship at a record label that showed me it was better to be on the business side than the talent side. The internship fueled my ambitions and I went from being average in school to killing it.

I have always been a mission-driven person and I wanted to take on roles that were focused on a cause or purpose I could get behind. That is why all my career has been in health care, insurance and financial services. Each of those fields have to do with the wellbeing of an individual. Each opportunity enabled me to get closer to a purpose-driven focus. Financial service is one of those key industries that has allowed me to center myself around the wellbeing of others.

I realized my passion early. It was after I presented to a group of individuals on creating a legacy that was centered around their personal finances. I knew this was my calling with the outpour of gratitude individuals shared with me on things that I thought were innate. They would say things like “Thank you so much for framing this as ‘what I am leaving to my children?’” I knew then I found a place where my mission met my passion.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In many ways, I am more like a Millennial than a Gen Xer. I always treated my career like a jungle gym and not a ladder. I have never been in a job for more than 18 months. I would basically create my own job rotational program within my company and that would fuel my drive and keep me motivated

Upon leaving the health care industry after 16 years and re-entering back into financial services, I have been amazed by the interconnectivity of physical health and financial health. Both industries can be complicated to navigate, and it quickly became my personal mission to help individuals to solve these most important and complicated issues.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I, like many people, did not like my manager at one point. I remember back in the day when instant messaging first came out, I accidentally sent an IM complaining about my manager to my manager. Ooops!

It was a quick lesson in learning to be respectful and how to manage up, but also to be courageous in my conversations. What good does it do to talk about someone behind their back?

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?

My first mentors were my parents. As a child, watching my parents work hard to be the first in their family to not only go to college but get their PhDs, I saw them as people who were living through example. They were also champions of community service and they taught me the importance of giving back and being involved.

Steve Auerbach, who was executive vice president of operations at UnitedHealth Group, was my first true professional mentor. As chair of my personal board of directors, he was a dynamic leader who took me under his wing.

A lot of people think having mentors and sponsors is something you do early in your career. However, John Carter, president and COO of Nationwide Financial, is a mentor turned sponsor who started mentoring me in early 2015. John is a person who truly challenged me in my professional career to think more broadly and expand my thinking of what I could accomplish. John helped me understand that if I wanted to land on the moon I needed to shoot for the stars. Essentially, I couldn’t limit myself with my very focused thinking. I had to pick my head up and look beyond what I was most comfortable with and understand our business end-to-end.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Five pearls of wisdom:

Earn the ask. Don’t assume you are going to get the job. Do well now.

Be firm on the goal but flexible on how you get there. Think of your career path less like a ladder and more like a jungle gym.

Prioritize self-care. The benefits of taking advantage of available preventative services can have a positive financial impact for the short- and long-term.

Prioritize financial care. Learn the value of starting to invest in your personal finances early. In 1850, the average life span was 43 years. Now they say some people born today will live to 150. Prioritize how you save and even think about retirement. One-hundred and 50 years is a lot of living!

Create your own diverse personal board of directors. This will help you focus on every area of your life with integrity and honesty. And they will encourage you and redirect you when needed.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

At Nationwide, we have a strong foundation with a culture of caring and world-class associate engagement. There’s a strong connection between associate engagement, innovation and customer focus.

In fact, associates are five times more engaged when they have a leader who encourages new ideas and innovation. We encourage team conversations around these topics and this helps us determine how we work within our teams and together to deliver exceptional experiences to associates, partners and members.

We also provide tools and resources to help teams better understand their team engagement and their connection to customers. This enables them to listen and empathize with customers and place them at the center of all they do.

Our culture is so unique. Harvard Business School is doing a new case study called Engaging the Nationwide Workforce intended for second-year MBA students interested in learning how to create places where talented people with gather, produce, develop and thrive.

In your experience, what are the 5 most common things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

Maximize Social Security. Wait until your full retirement age to claim benefits. As of 2019, you can begin taking Social Security at age 62, but waiting until the full retirement age of 66.5 helps ensure you will receive the full amount of your benefits. What’s more, waiting to claim your benefits until age 70 increases your retirement income even more.

Prioritize retirement savings while managing day-to-day expenses and paying off debt. We often see many people prioritize paying off student loans first before they start saving for retirement. However, starting to save earlier may help you reach long-term financial goals faster. Consider a 10-year, $35,000 student loan that charges 6 percent annualized interest and requires a minimum payment of $390 per month. By repaying an additional $110 above the minimum, for a total of $500 per month, you could save $10,594 in interest payments and cut the payoff period by 1.80 years.

Prioritize preventative care. Taking advantage of preventative care is a way for adults to help ensure they are in good health. In fact, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) features a provision that requires private insurance plans to cover recommended preventive services without any patient cost-sharing, in an effort to improve health and remove cost barriers. However, a recent Nationwide Retirement Institute survey reveals only half of younger adults have had a physical or well-check (50%) and less than that (45%) have had preventive screening such as blood pressure, cholesterol or body mass index in the past year. In addition, nearly two in three have not had a flu shot or other immunization in the past year.

Leverage Health Savings Accounts (HSA). Although many are saving for healthcare costs in retirement, few are using all the resources available to them. While half of employed adults (50 percent) have access to an HSA through their employer, only 30 percent participate in or contribute to one. Of those that do use HSAs, just 35 percent maximize the triple tax benefits by using their HSA as a long-term savings vehicle for future healthcare expenses in retirement.

Work with a financial advisor. Financial advisors can help use tools like health care costs estimators to better prepare you for challenges you may face in retirement and a Social Security calculator to maximize your benefits. Lastly, financial advisors can help you create a balanced portfolio and tax-efficient income plan for retirement.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important financial issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

Live within your means and understand how debt can impact you. Do I have spending habits that are putting me in a difficult position financially?

Start saving. Do I know how much I save or spend each year? Saving and paying off debt aren’t mutually exclusive. You can save and pay off debt at the same time. But you have to talk about it. Don’t shy away from talking about money with your loved ones. On average, people don’t start contributing to their retirement plan until the age of 31, according to research of the nearly 2.5 million defined contribution plan participants Nationwide serves. This means most are missing out on nearly a decade of savings, asset accumulation and greater compounded returns.

Make the conversation more holistic. Start asking questions: What are the most important things in my life? If money were no object, what would I be doing right now? How do I envision retirement?

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important health issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

1. The cost of health care

For years, older adults surveyed by the Nationwide Retirement Institute® have told us they are terrified of what health care costs will do to their retirement plans. Our latest survey reveals 63% of younger adults believe their health today will impact how much they need to save for retirement, and 69% of older adults note that one of their top fears in retirement is their health care costs going out of control.

2. The cost of LTC

As a Gen Xer, caregiving is a very personal topic for me. Just last year I was juggling the demands of my own family and career, while driving out of state to look after my father, who was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.

You may have seen it in your own family or heard stories from your colleagues and friends. As people live longer and longer, they will need more assistance with daily care and household tasks (lawn care, groceries, laundry, etc.) — and loved ones are not only willing but expected to pitch in. While this informal caregiving may be provided willingly, it often becomes increasingly demanding and can ultimately have negative effects for the caregiver. In this way, such unpaid labor can prove to be quite costly — but the cost is borne by the caregiver, not the one receiving the care.

3. Prioritizing preventative care

There’s a disconnect among many people when it comes to the idea of prioritizing self-care and mental health versus the actions being taken. Many understand these should be a main concern, but too few realize there are simple ways to mitigate potential health care costs both today and tomorrow that are already afforded to them through their employer.

Prioritizing preventative care, taking advantage of an HSA, participating in employer programs or working with a financial advisor are relatively low-cost, easy actions consumers can take to help lessen the burden of health care costs in and out of retirement.

If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important things to consider before choosing a place to live after they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?

  1. The proximity you have to loved ones and friends.

Where do you want LTC?

Most older adults would like to have the option of relying on a family member if they needed long-term care. Older adults fear nursing homes but are concerned with becoming a burden to their families. One of the greatest gifts you can give your family is creating a plan to address health care and long-term care costs in your retirement. Today, many older adults don’t discuss their long-term care needs, and as a result of not planning, many have fewer options when they do need care.

2. The cost of living.

Where you live has a lot to do with your cost of living. Retirement in New York City or Miami is quite different from a quiet place in the suburbs. Living within your means is important, especially when your retirement can last 20 to 30 years.

3. The impact of taxes in retirement.

It is encouraging that older adults are focused on saving for retirement, which is the critical first step of one’s retirement plan. However, it’s important to recognize that saving for retirement is not the only factor. While being in retirement can reduce or eliminate several expenses in older adults’ budgets, their tax bill may not be one of them. What state you reside in can often have a big impact on your taxes and your retirement income.

As such, building tax flexibility into a retirement income plan is crucial. Doing so allows older adults to use a variety of investments and retirement accounts (taxable, tax-deferred, and tax free) to potentially avoid higher tax brackets and effectively manage their income.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would like to start a movement called: Living your whole self. That whole self is spiritual, physical and financial. And if any of those are out of alignment, you’re at risk. These are topics that we frequently don’t put all together this conversation is so overdue. That would be my passion and I would do a retreat for your mind, body, soul and money.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

My favorite: The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. The book is about the dark history of experimentation on African Americans in the 1950s and the birth of bioethics. It helped me understand the importance of access and care. It singlehandedly changed how I view my life work. My work became my mission.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I can do anything, I can’t do everything.

Always take on something new. Growth and comfort don’t coexist

Focus. Be firm on the goal but flexible on the details.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

You can find me on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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