Voices: Many Latinos lack investment accounts. They need money mentors.

"If you are a Latino and already invest in a 401(k) plan or a brokerage account, make it a point to share your investing experience with other Latinos," writes investment advisor Louis Barajas.
Notes from a seized haul of $7.16 million in counterfeit hundred-dollar bills are pictured in Battambang
Notes from a seized haul of $7.16 million in counterfeit hundred-dollar bills are pictured in BattambangAndrew RC Marshall / Reuters file

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By Louis Barajas for CNBC

IRVINE, Calif. — I grew up in East Los Angeles, where 97% of the population is Latino. My experience with investing was watching my parents put their spare change in five-gallon water bottles.

Once filled to the top with coins, they would be so heavy that you couldn’t lift them up. We would go to the bank and get the free paper coin wrappers, and then slowly fill the wrappers with pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. We would then take the coin wrappers back to the local bank and convert the change into dollars.

My family, like the majority of our Latino neighbors, was unbanked.

Instead of depositing the money in a savings account, my mother would take the cash and put it underneath her mattress or hide it in a mayonnaise jar somewhere in a closet.

Like most Latino families, my parents didn’t trust financial institutions back then. They are both immigrants from Mexico and brought their money beliefs and experiences from their home country (corrupt government, poverty, lack of education and not being familiar with the language – specifically the language of money).

As the eldest of three kids, it was my responsibility to be the translator and “secretary” for my parents. I knew that I lacked financial knowledge and experience and I made it my mission, at age 11, to learn everything about money and business.

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I eventually became a financial advisor and in the 1990s I found myself working with super-wealthy people in Newport Beach, California, providing fee-only advice.

However, something hit me. I felt a calling to leave the firm and I decided to return to East L.A. and open a financial planning firm to help my community, people like my father and mother who never had access to consumer-friendly financial advice.

Today, my firm (now based in Irvine, California) is comprised of 97% Latino clients.

Sadly, while technology and social media have made financial information accessible to everyone, the Latino community still trails way behind in investing, specifically in well-diversified investment portfolios.

So, with much financial literacy available today, why are Latinos still lagging behind on building wealth through investing?

Overall, Latinos do understand how to handle money. Latinos are good at managing budgets and saving like our parents did. By example, we even watched as our parents helped family members financially in Latin American countries.

So what stops Latinos from moving beyond water bottles, mayonnaise jars or even low-earning savings accounts? Why can’t a large majority of Latinos cross that bridge to invest in stocks, mutual funds, exchange traded funds or bonds?

My belief is that most Latino families lack a money mentor.

Money mentors are those special people who have gone past just reading about investing and have actually opened up an investment account. They are those people who are willing to take their hard-earned money and make the leap to invest in stocks and bonds.

For those people, it may be scary at first, but they suddenly realize that it’s not such a big deal. They took the risk and now they are no longer intimated by the world of finance.

I believe money mentors are key for the Latino community. So, if you are a Latino and already invest in a 401(k) plan or a brokerage account, make it a point to share your investing experience with other Latinos who might never have the opportunity to invest without your helping hand and heart.

It’s up to money mentors to help remove the initial fear of investing.

My hope is that Latinos, one of the fastest-growing demographics in America, become not the biggest-spending demographic, but the wealthiest.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.