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Post: FA Center: ‘I’m surprised you’re not in an alley.’ This financial adviser beat the odds and now helps people build wealth.

Some financial advisers grow up in the business. They see a parent succeed in the financial industry and follow a well-marked path. That isn’t Matthew McKay’s story.

Raised in a family beset by financial insecurity, McKay experienced his share of obstacles. His father battled drug addiction and ran afoul of the law. McKay’s parents divorced when he was six years old. His mother worked long hours in a factory job. Putting food on the table for McKay and his brother was a constant struggle.

“She did the best she could with the resources she had,” McKay said. “She worked so hard and never complained,” despite the difficulties she faced.

Whenever McKay got a little money — a holiday gift or earnings from summer jobs — he’d give it to his mother. “I’d hide the money in her pocketbook,” he said. “She’s a proud woman. I didn’t want her to know.”

McKay’s mother enrolled him in a small, rural private school from kindergarten through high school. She sacrificed to afford the tuition but managed to cover it year after year.

For a brief period — before his older brother could drive him to school — McKay would be up at 5 a.m. His mother would drop him off at the principal’s house on her way to work. He napped in the principal’s living room for about an hour until they drove to school. His mother picked him up from school at 5:30 p.m.

McKay graduated from high school and went to college, but his childhood difficulties and their emotional toll plagued him. By age 20, McKay was seeing a mental health counselor.

“I’m surprised you’re not in an alley with a needle in your arm,” the counselor told McKay after hearing his story.

The counselor helped McKay embrace his ambition and envision a bright future. After graduating college, he attended graduate school to pursue a career in mental health counseling. He’d benefited from his counselor’s help, and committed to developing skills to assist others in need.

Within a year, McKay realized he wanted to do something else with his life. But he didn’t know what. “I had $700 in the bank, $35,000 in student loans and no job,” he said. That’s when a member of his church suggested he apply for an entry-level bank teller position.

He got the job. One day, McKay was helping a customer — a construction worker — cash a $140 check. The worker then deposited $15 in his savings account to avoid incurring bank fees.

The next customer in line withdrew a seven-figure sum to make an all-cash offer on a property.

“The juxtaposition was striking,” McKay recalled. “First, somebody living paycheck to paycheck. Then a guy with all this money to buy real estate.”

McKay developed a keen interest in money — how to make it and how to invest it. He started cold-calling every firm in his hometown of Greensboro, N.C., with “financial” in its name, asking for informational interviews.

A solo adviser agreed to meet with McKay. He couldn’t offer a job, but he urged the young go-getter to consider a career as a financial planner and study for the CFP exam.

McKay took the advice. He decided he wanted to work at fee-only advisory practices, so he contacted all the local firms. When no openings materialized in Greensboro, he broadened his search. Eventually, a firm in College Station, Tex., hired him.

Six years later, McKay is still with that firm — Briaud Financial Advisory. Now 31, he’s a certified financial planner. In January, he became a partner and part-owner of the firm, which manages around $650 million in assets and serves about 300 households.

While McKay doesn’t go out of his way to tell clients about his childhood, it comes up on occasion. For example, if a client has a family member battling substance abuse, McKay can relate. “It’s one thing to know about it,” he said. “It’s another thing to live it.”

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