The art of wealth planning is grounded in listening closely to clients to develop a sense of not only their goals and time horizons—whether for this life or generations to come—but to understand what informs their approach to saving, investing, and leaving a legacy. This applies across the spectrum of humanity, but in applying a cultural lens, Wilmington Trust’s Chief Wealth Strategist Alvina Lo has fostered an acute sensibility that defines her approach. By looking back on her own family’s story—one that is particularly apt as we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month—it has furthered her efforts to help others look forward.
“My maternal grandparents from China grew up very wealthy, until the world changed as a result of the Communist Revolution, where my mother was forced to leave her home to seek refuge in Hong Kong,” Alvina explains. “Although my parents immigrated to the United States when my brother and I were very young, my grandparents’ and mother’s personal ordeals resonate with me to this day.”
Of course, the experience Alvina refers to extends far beyond the richly diverse AAPI population, and can be felt by anyone who has had to start over, is from a nation with political unrest, has had little beyond the essentials, and who may understandably be more focused on asset preservation than growth.
Some Asian Americans may share a cultural tendency away from taking on risk
Alvina has learned to make no assumptions when having planning conversations, and she listens carefully in an effort to appreciate others’ motivations and money concerns. While she stresses that it isn’t appropriate to paint any one group with a broad brush, she asserts that many Asians were taught to prioritize saving over spending, and have a general tendency to be conservative when it comes to investing. For example, many favor “hard assets” such as real estate, which they may see as less risky than, say, stocks. She’s also seen a hesitancy to take on debt, even though it might be a savvy means of leveraging assets. Alvina considers it her job to sometimes dial up the risk conversation to help educate those who grew up with a very different sense of the word, and tries to convey that being too conservative about risk can also present lost opportunities. She already leans into her cultural upbringing to emphasize the value of family and legacy when it comes to planning for the next generation.
“It can be a difficult discussion with some in the AAPI community and beyond who may be less open to taking on risk and debt,” she confesses. “The notion of potential loss can be very uncomfortable with immigrants in particular who have an inherent distrust of the government and banks, and are averse to those seen as trying to encroach upon their privacy and assets. These concerns cross the cultural divide and also hold true for business owner-clients with new wealth. In the majority of cases, what I need to do is show that we are planning for a rainy day—because most of us have known rainy days.”
A collective corporate dedication to AAPI employees and beyond
Alvina’s connectivity to AAPI culture extends past her clients to her colleagues at M&T Bank, Wilmington Trust’s parent company. The Asian-Pacific American Resource Group (APARG) is a large employee-based group, where diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are key values. She served on the bank-wide DEI Council for four years, and continues to be active with APARG and other bank-wide DEI efforts. In particular, she remembers the days after the 2021 Atlanta spa shooting where eight people were killed, six of whom were women of Asian descent.
“We held a virtual vigil for the victims,” Alvina recalls, “and it was a very powerful experience, with a huge turnout and many speakers. What was particularly meaningful was that there weren’t just Asians—there was an audience of diverse ethnicities and cultures. The silver lining of the trauma is that it brought us closer. I met so many people that I wouldn't normally meet in my course of a day. We all came together to support each other.”
She holds dear the connections she’s made and the lessons she’s learned from others—those who, like her, understand what it’s like to be a member of the underrepresented—a link that goes far past geography or business divisions. Alvina notes: “There is strength in shared experiences and stories because they create connectivity—it’s something I draw from every day as a member of M&T’s community of caring.”