The Guatemalan highlands are more than a thousand miles away from Dallas, where Karin Larrave works as a wealth management advisor for Northwestern Mutual.
Despite the distance, mission trips to assist rural Mayans through HELPS International have become annual rituals for Larrave and hundreds of clients, mostly Hispanic physicians, whom she has inspired with her unwavering commitment to assist those in need.
For Larrave, the missions are reminders that the power to transform the lives of families and communities lies within all of us—whether it’s as simple as installing a house stove to eliminate dangerous open-fire cooking pits or as complex as performing cataract surgery to restore a villager’s eyesight.
“I believe we have an obligation as a society to help those who are less fortunate. I strive to live this out in my everyday life,” said Larrave, a Guatemalan native who grew up in Mexico City and is now a United States citizen.
Larrave believes her role as a wealth management advisor dovetails perfectly with her desire to create a better world and empower others to do the same. Everyone on Larrave’s team at Northwestern Mutual wants to have an impact. Through the process of financial planning Larrave works to identify ways clients can support charities and causes dear to their hearts.
“We strive to help people achieve their financial goals and promote the value of cultivating a philanthropic mindset in all areas of life,” said Larrave, “Charitable giving is fulfilling and relatively easy, but ensuring your gifts are as fruitful as possible requires intentional planning and preparation.”
When Larrave works with a client, she asks: “What moves you? What gets you excited about getting up in the morning? What is your passion?” It often starts a larger conversation. “I help my clients think about what they really want in life. Then we put together a financial plan to get them there.” Larrave emphasizes the ways charitable gifts allow individuals to leave an impactful legacy while offering supplementary tax benefits to their family’s estate planning strategy.
Helping people to improve their lives is one of the most fulfilling aspects of Larrave’s work as a wealth management advisor. She views her profession more as a “calling rather than a career,” a way to assist individuals to “achieve financial security so they have the freedom to pursue what really moves them. I find joy in helping people to align their financial goals with their heart.”
“Money is one of the hardest topics for people to talk about,” she said. “But working with an advisor to help you take greater control over your financial life can lead to a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life. When you have financial security, you can really think about helping others.”
Larrave entered the financial services industry after a successful career as marketing director and senior sales manager for Rosewood Hotel in Panama City and Dallas. She began thinking of changing careers after the company asked her to relocate once again to Miami. “You have to move a lot in the hotel business, and I wanted to keep my young family in Dallas,” she said.
A friend suggested Larrave consider becoming a wealth management advisor. Today Larrave has a successful career and is known among her clients as much for her financial acumen as for her heart. “Northwestern Mutual was the only place I interviewed that talked about the needs of their clients,” she said. “I knew then it was the right place for me.”
Larrave found her own passion at HELPS International, a non-profit organization that provides a variety of economic and health programs to countries in the developing world.
“The more I learned, the more I wanted to get involved,” she said. An alarming number of children were being treated for burns and acute respiratory problems caused by the centuries-old tradition of cooking meals in the home using an open fire pit on the dirt floor. The inefficient cooking method meant women and children had to gather huge amounts of wood daily, contributing to Guatemala’s deforestation. Families who purchased their firewood spent up to 40 percent of their entire income just to cook their food.
In 2005, she traveled to Guatemala with a HELPS team to help with the installation of specially designed stoves in the town of Santa Avellina.
She witnessed the multiple benefits of her work. The insulated stoves sit off the floor, thus minimizing the risk of burns to small children, while the galvanized steel chimney eliminates smoke and deadly carbon monoxide in the home. In addition, the stove reduces wood consumption by 70 percent, which saves the environment. “Most importantly, women gained the equivalent of two days a week in time saved from gathering wood—time they could devote to their families or to earning money,” she said.
Since then, Larrave has returned to Guatemala year after year, often traveling with a team of clients (mostly physicians) and other volunteers on stove and medical missions.
“These physicians work twice as hard in Guatemala as they do in the United States,” she said. “But they love it and keep coming back to the highlands because they’re helping people in profound ways. It’s their calling as doctors.” Together they have touched the lives of hundreds of Guatemalans.
She remembers an occasion when a blind man, who had been contemplating suicide because he could no longer provide for his family, chose life instead after cataract surgery restored his eyesight. A lively little girl—who had lain listless the year before with asthma caused by a smoke-filled home—greeted a volunteer returning for a second time.
Larrave says the ability to use the success she has had in her field to give back has been incredibly rewarding.
“I never imagined I would integrate philanthropy so seamlessly into my practice,” she said. “But now I can’t imagine doing business any other way.”