“What do we do next?”
This was the unexpected question of the night with Ramona Ortega on the receiving end of it multiple times. She had just hosted an event in Los Angeles where Latinos could learn how to manage their finances and build wealth. The event was part of Ortega’s side project, called Mi Dinero Mi Futuro (My Money My Future), where her mission was to help Latino millennials become financially literate. The event was a huge success with 200 people in attendance and they clearly wanted more. And that’s where the question came in—What do we do next? -The audience was looking for a next step in the process, a way to keep learning beyond this one-time event. That’s when Ortega knew she had a legitimate opportunity on her hands. But her journey to this point began decades prior, six hours north of where she’d just held the event.
A steady flow of cabernet sauvignon, vines as far as the eye can see, dinner parties with sommeliers and winemakers, and a laid back, enviable lifestyle. These are some of the things that may come to mind when thinking about what growing up in Napa, California might be like. And while that may be some people’s realities, that picture is far from complete.
Ramona Ortega was raised in Napa, where her mom worked on a farm and her grandmother worked for a luxury estate. Even as a young girl, Ortega saw the disparity in wealth and it didn’t take long for her to recognize the common underlying theme in this disparity—race. Her fellow members of the Latino community were the ones scraping by through long days of manual labor in the midst of immense wealth and the Napa lifestyle mentioned above that she could only experience at an arm’s distance. For every well-to-do winemaker, sommelier, and estate owner, there were countless locals struggling to balance a life on or near the poverty line while supporting this ecosystem, and most of them were minorities.
But rather than discourage Ortega, this disparity sparked something in her to not be another victim of the cycle. She set a goal early in life to be the first person in her family to attend college, and that dream would become reality when she was accepted to UCLA, where she studied Journalism and Policy. Combine a past that’s entrenched in wealth inequality with the newfound spark and ambition of college journalism and policy, and you have a recipe for using your voice to solve the problems at hand. And that’s exactly what happened for Ortega as she began to develop her vision to solve the racial wealth gap during those transformative college years.
After graduating from UCLA she worked for several different nonprofits. One was the Human Rights Project in New York City, where she created a city-wide discrimination policy to address some of the inequities that she knew intimately from childhood. Though the policy made it all the way to the floor of City Hall, it ultimately didn’t pass. Thankfully, she didn’t stop her mission on that City Hall floor. From there her path eventually led her to Fordham University School of Law and a J.D. in Corporate Law. A few years into practicing bankruptcy and securities litigation, she couldn’t kick the idea that entire generations of Latinos weren’t being properly equipped with the knowledge needed to financially succeed. That lingering idea is what prompted her to start My Money My Future as a side passion project, leading her to the pivotal “What do we do next?” night.
That question she kept hearing is what she needed to take this side project and turn it into a full-time business. Fast forward to today, and My Money My Future has evolved into a comprehensive online financial platform and toolbox for the Latino millennial community. The platform is powered by planning tools and information. After creating a free MMMF account, the user inputs information about their current financial goals, accounts, income, debt and biggest financial concerns. Based on that information, the platform suggests a number of plans to help you achieve a solid financial foundation. Whether it’s setting up an emergency savings account, starting your first retirement account, writing a will, or creating a plan to pay down debt, the platform makes mapping out your financial future easy to understand and execute. This is precisely the type of knowledge and access that Ortega feels has historically been missing from the Latino community. MMMF organizes it and markets it to the Latino population, closing the gap through awareness and access. Just how significant is this gap, and in turn, the opportunity for MMMF?
According to the United States Census Bureau, there are currently over 83 million millennials, and it’s a vastly more diverse group than the generations that came before them, with 44.2% of millennials being part of a minority group. That diversity is only increasing in the current youngest generation, those younger than 5 years old, with 50.2% being a member of a minority group. In absolute terms, the average Latino household has just 8% of the wealth of the average white household, and the average black household has just 6%. The disparity doesn’t end at just wealth however. It extends into home ownership, where 73% of whites own a home compared to just 47% of Latinos and 45% of blacks. And when it comes to higher education, as of 2011, 34% of whites had completed a four-year degree compared to just 13% of Latinos and 20% of blacks.
These statistics are alarming, and they’re naturally all correlated. If you can fix the racial wealth gap, you will inherently improve the other disparities as well. This presents an enormous opportunity for those dedicated to shrinking the racial wealth gap, and Ortega is doing her part by redefining the way that the millennial Latino community plans for their financial futures. She is reshaping the money movement within that community by connecting with the values and beliefs that are unique to them. The My Money My Future platform goes beyond just financial automation by giving its community the tools and information to make smart financial decisions. Because of Ramona Ortega’s work since founding the company in 2014, the language of money can now speak to a new generation of Latinos all around the world. Business can and should be used as a tool to improve humanity, and thankfully we have entrepreneurs like Ortega who are doing just that.