Spotlight: Meet Ben Hockema of Illuminate

The Out & About Blog Spotlight Series elevates insight from the financial service industry’s best and brightest. We cover challenging topics around diversity, inclusion, purpose, and inspiring the next generation. 

Through sharing insights and best practices, together we can shape the future of the financial services industry and support improved access to qualified, ethical financial advice and resources for all.


In this week’s spotlight, we interviewed Ben Hockema, founder and advisor at Illuminate Wealth Management LLC based in Chicago. In this interview he discusses the positives of diversity in the workplace as well as key advice for financial services professionals who are just starting out. 

What made you decide to pursue a career in finance?

Growing up, I planned on pursuing something in the medical field, like my father who is a surgeon. But, while a freshman in college, my dad recommended that I meet with his financial advisor to find out about the industry. After spending just an hour with the advisor, I was hooked on the idea of working with clients to marry the "science" of financial planning with the "art" of communicating with clients. I spent three summers interning at that firm, along with the first 10 years of my career before starting Illuminate Wealth Management. I am blessed to partner with two people who I've known for a long time, a good friend I met when we were 6 months old at daycare and a mentor I worked with for five years before he retired and transitioned his clients to me.

What part of your work gives you the most satisfaction?

I like working with my clients over many years and seeing them go from stressed about money to having peace in their situation. I enjoy helping clients identify the things important to them and then have a small part in them pursuing those things. It’s excellent! It is the combination of being a coach, therapist and technical analyst for my clients that makes me feel lucky every day.

What needs to be done to diversify the financial services industry?

I believe it starts with early financial education, both of basic prudent financial principles and what the industry entails. Many people believe that "financial services" is either working on Wall Street, which requires an ivy league education and connections, or a sleazy salesperson tricking people out of their money. Of course, those exist, but I am constantly encouraged by some of the amazing people in this industry who care about clients deeply and want to help people succeed. Those stories need to be shared more to open the doors to new advisors and planners from all backgrounds.

We also need to be willing to look in the mirror and admit that the majority of firms are led by older, white males. In and of itself is not a bad thing, but if the majority of the leadership is of similar backgrounds and have had similar experiences, they build their firms with that in mind. It is not intentional, but it can lead to attracting and hiring more people that think the same way, which limits diverse thinking and backgrounds.

What advice would you give financial professionals just beginning their career?

Find a mentor that is willing to invest in you to let you make mistakes and learn from them. Do the right thing, always, even if it seems to be worse for you in the moment. Be patient. Since I started as an intern, I have always had an internal pull towards working with the next generation of advisors. Over the last five years, I have worked with six interns / new professionals. Most of the time, one of the biggest struggles I've seen is the understandable high urgency on their part. Each wanted to move quickly into client-facing roles, move up the ladder and become partners and "1st chair" advisors. All are great goals, but there is a lot to be said about gaining experience, rather than just book knowledge. It can take years of experience to get out of your head and be able to pick up on the non-technical side of this business. If you're in the right firm and have the right leaders in your corner, you will get there, it just might be slower than you'd like.

Find a group of like-minded peers that you can learn and grow with. Several years ago, I helped form a peer group of younger financial planners in the Midwest, which we meet semi-annually in person (pre-COVID) and talk regularly between meetings. It is amazing to see the growth in each individuals' careers and skills as we have been together sharing everything for almost a decade. We can have the tough conversations necessary as caring third parties, which has helped each of us hone in on the most important things for our careers and lives.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

As in many other places and industries, we are at a very interesting time in the financial services industry. There still are very few consumers that know about independent, fee-only advisors, while at the same time technology is changing the capabilities and expectations for successful financial services companies. Many financial advisors will be retiring in the next decade and new services we cannot imagine doing today will be expected in the future. Now, more than ever, successful advisors and firms will need to adapt and embrace the inevitable changes to come. I'm excited to see what is ahead!

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Ben and his wife Kristin celebrating their10th anniversary recreating one of their wedding shots this year.

Ben with his puppy Luna who spends most afternoons sleeping under Ben's desk.

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