CFP Board elects first-ever Black woman advisor as chair

“I thought about how many young people that I could inspire. So I raised my hand," says Kamila McDonnough of her decision to run for 2022 chair of the CFP Board.
“I thought about how many young people that I could inspire. So I raised my hand," says Kamila McDonnough of her decision to run for 2022 chair of the CFP Board.
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The CFP Board took a major step forward in its longstanding efforts to diversify the ranks of CFPs by electing Kamila McDonnough as its first Black woman chair. A veteran of Vanguard, where she served ultrahigh-net-worth clients, and Dimensional Fund Advisors, McDonnough’s term begins in 2022.

Doug King, CEO of Oakwood Capital Partners and former executive at Cetera and Merrill Lynch, will serve as chair in 2021.

“The face of our industry is typically not me,” says McDonnough, who was among only a few Black women in divisions at both large fund companies. “I thought about how many young people that I could inspire. So I raised my hand.”

Her election already has energized La Tanya Harris, an aspiring CFP and African American who does retirement planning for the City of Los Angeles.

“It’s an inspiration for me,” says Harris.

It’s been a year of rapid growth for McDonnough. She became president and an equity partner of Washington D.C. area-based RIA, GRID 202 Partners after leaving LPL Financial-affiliated broker-dealer Rutledge Financial Partners in January.

At Vanguard, McDonnough’s clients had $20 million to $450 million in assets. In addition to individuals, her clients included nonprofits, endowments, foundations, major universities, hospitals and charitable organizations. The CFP Board was a client, as well.

“Kamila has significant experience as a leader in the financial planning profession and I value tremendously her expertise and insight, which have been very apparent during her time on [the] CFP Board’s board of directors,” Jack Brod, the current chairman and a longtime former Vanguard executive who worked with McDonnough at the fund company, said in a statement.

Given that just 23% of CFPs are women and only 2% are Black, McDonnough, who is 42, recognizes she occupies a unique place in the board’s history and in the profession, she says. Often that leads to unique interactions with clients.

“I was a road warrior. I was on a plane every week. I would go out and meet our clients who were investment-only,” McDonnough says of her time at Vanguard. To those clients she’d say, “‘You have $20 million. What made you choose Vanguard?’ And then I would discuss the different services we offer.”

During those meetings, she would look “to bridge the gap between the wife and spouse,” she recalls.

“I would be in the living room and the wife would be in the kitchen,” she says. “I would be like, ‘Why is your wife not in here?’”

Eventually, McDonnough says she cultivated her own relationships with those wives.

“I was like, ‘Hey, let’s spend some time talking about your investments.’ I was a female. I wasn’t intimidating. I made sure to talk about investments in everyday terms,” she says.

In 2019, McDonnough’s first and only year on the board, The Wall Street Journal published an investigation showing the organization’s website did not inform users about customer complaints, regulatory skirmishes and other problems with CFP certified planners, an issue similar to others Financial Planning had reported on previously. A subsequent independent task force report found the board suffered from “systemic, longstanding, governance-level weaknesses.”

As part of the nonprofit’s ongoing implementation of the report’s recommendations, McDonnough says, the board of directors has a new theme for 2020.

“It’s all governance”, she says. “We are looking at our charters. We are looking at the structures. We are looking at the composition of membership of the board. How much do we include staff in these conversations, as well. We are doing a very, very deep dive.”

The investigation and task force report were hard to hear, but ultimately helpful, she says.

“We ripped the Band-Aid off,” she says of the task force’s critical assessment. “I think it’s growth.”

As she has in her large corporate roles, she is breaking ground in her new positions this year at the board and at her new RIA, which is run by Keith Beverly, a CFP and CFA, who founded GRID with a focus on racial equity and social impact investing.

In working with McDonnough at Vanguard, Brod says he watched her accelerate diversity and inclusion efforts at the company’s Charlotte, North Carolina, location. While he expects her to lead the board strongly through its governance overhaul, he recognizes she stands to have a wider impact on other women and minorities.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” he says.

Harris sees McDonnough’s ascension in the context of the massive societal awakening still unfolding in response to the deaths of Black Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

“It’s unfortunate that people have had to lose their lives, but I feel like what’s happening will really change the tide,” Harris says, adding that McDonnough makes her feel proud. “I hope in my journey that I can add as much value in what I am doing.”

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