Skip to main content
Prof. K. Sudhir teaching in a classroom
Prof. K. Sudhir with EMBA students in the fall of 2023

Student Project Explores Retirement Savings in Underserved Populations

Student teams in the MBA for Executives program last fall explored initiatives to encourage retirement planning in African American and Latino communities.

Executive MBA students got a crash course in the power of thinking creatively and openly about diversity and inclusion in marketing efforts in a team project last fall.

In the first-year core Customer course, taught by K. Sudhir, the James L. Frank ’32 Professor of Private Enterprise and Management and professor of marketing, student teams undertook a capstone project that explored ways to encourage retirement planning in African American and Latino populations.

The Customer course aims to help students recognize that consumer behavior is not uniform across people, and invites them to think more inclusively about the factors that drive consumers in an increasingly diverse economy. For the capstone project, teams were assigned to create marketing plans to reach “under-marketed-to segments” in retirement planning, Sudhir said.

In their research, the students found that the African American and Latino populations are underserved by the banking industry and have low participation in retirement savings plans, often because they don’t trust financial service companies.

“When you examine the demographics of the widening U.S. wealth gap, you quickly see that the racial wealth gap paints an even more dire, complex picture,” said Daniel Jury ’25, whose team explored the Latino community.

“When you’re working with families that lack even emergency savings, retirement planning can seem abstract and unreachable. So for starters, we developed a marketing strategy that used relatable concepts instead of industry jargon. The financial services industry doesn’t do a great job of communicating with this community.”

The capstone project is adapted from one of the Customer course’s raw case studies, which explores how to market TIAA retirement plans to populations that have traditionally not had high savings rates. The case originally looked at two populations: millennials and women. In 2020 Sudhir added African American and Latino populations to the mix.

The project shows students that incorporating diversity and inclusion into their thinking isn’t “charity,” but a business strategy that can unlock untapped profitability, Sudhir said.

The students’ analysis benefited from the diversity of the teams, Sudhir noted. “They came up with more nuanced marketing strategies and richer messaging that respects the wide diversity among these audiences,” he said. “When a firm has diverse employees who understand diverse customer needs and experiences across populations, nuanced marketing can help unlock new profits.”

Jury said that his team’s research also showed that there are too few African American and Latino financial planners in the industry. Nearly one-third of the U.S. population is Black or Latino, he explained, but less than 5% of certified financial planners come from those groups.

“By introducing diversity- and equity-focused recruiting and training initiatives, financial planning firms can help improve both representation and financial outcomes—especially within groups that tend to rely on their community for financial advice,” Jury said.

Vanessa Aldrige ’25, whose project also focused on the Latino population, called the disparity in retirement savings “eye-opening.” Aldridge advocates early financial literacy education in schools as one way to close the gap.

“Our team came up with an additional solution to help bridge the disparity gap by challenging individuals to participate in a ‘Millionaire Challenge’ that would show them how to amass a savings of $1,000,000 over their working years,” she said.

Margaret Alabi ’25 said her group’s research revealed that too often companies make assumptions about why African Americans and Latinos struggle to build wealth that do not account for nuanced cultural and community issues.

To address this failure, Alabi’s group created a program focused on first-generation Americans that encompasses individuals from both demographic groups, as well as individuals from other communities.

“Because these individuals are often the retirement plan for their parents and aging family members, we chose to engage our target audience in a way that acknowledged their familial commitments while also giving them permission to save for themselves,” Alabi said. “One common thread through every team’s presentation was the need to build and cultivate trust with the target audience in a very personal way.”