Advisors join protests over George Floyd's death. Will more follow?

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After the death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of the police, financial advisor Paul “P.J.” Hill started chronicling the history unfolding in his hometown of Minneapolis, posting videos of the aftermath on his personal YouTube channel.

The Wells Fargo advisor says the feedback he received from the videos pushed him to go a step further.

On May 31, Hill found himself at the head of a crowd of protestors on their way to meet with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. “We started with 40 people just marching, and it turned into 15,000,” Hill says.

Then, as the mass of protesters crossed the city’s I-35W Mississippi River Bridge, a large truck drove right into the demonstration.

“This guy blew past all the barriers and by God’s grace … he honked twice and that gave us a warning of about 50 yards ... My life flashed before my eyes, and all I could think was, ‘we were all out here protesting peacefully and this is about to turn into a massacre,’” Hill says.

Minneapolis-based Wells Fargo advisor P.J. Hill (pictured in center) helped lead a group of thousands of protesters on May 31 in response to the death of George Floyd.
Minneapolis-based Wells Fargo advisor P.J. Hill (pictured in center) helped lead a group of thousands of protesters on May 31 in response to the death of George Floyd.

Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Hill’s harrowing experience is one example of how the wealth management community has responded to the deaths of Floyd and other Black Americans. Some advisors are taking their protests to social media, others to the streets. Some wealth managers and firms are upping their support of minority communities; efforts that have come even as the industry itself has long struggled with discrimination and a lack of diversity in its ranks. Blacks and Latinos comprise about 30% of the U.S. population, but only about 4% of CFPs, according to data from the Census Bureau and CFP Board.

Speaking out
Kathleen Boyd, a San Diego-based advisor, says she has long been involved in addressing racial inclusion — and inequalities.

“Even before the George Floyd news story came out I was talking about racial injustices heavily and will continue to do so long after this news story has dissipated,” Boyd says.

Among other initiatives, Boyd organizes Long Beach, California's Financial Planning Day to provide community members free one-on-one consulting with CFPs. She writes about how wealth management can be more inclusive for the FPA and her own firm. Boyd also takes her advocacy to her personal Twitter account. “I don’t want to feel like I have to be muted or watch what I say on these issues,” Boyd says.

For Boyd, protesting is a “very important part of electoral democracy,” and she’s participated in several demonstrations in the past couple weeks, she says.

“There’s plenty of history that shows the value of protesting from Martin Luther King Jr. to the Stonewall uprising,” she says. “History has shown that change is possible if we speak up and use our voices.”

But, Boyd adds, her voice in the largely white profession of financial services is not enough; CEOs and other leaders need to help make changes as well.

“We need more white people involved in this, using their power and their privilege,” she says. “That’s what I want to see within the financial services industry — speaking out, denouncing what's going on, but [also] figuring out what you’re doing personally to change.”

‘Move humanity forward’
Betterment CEO Jon Stein says he began to consider that very issue after seeing the video of Floyd’s death and the subsequent demonstrations. Stein says he asked his employees how they wanted to respond and received an outpouring of suggestions. He has since facilitated a charitable contributions program, promising to match individual employees’ donations of up to $500 to causes focused on diversity and inclusion.

“We want to be better allies to minorities,” Stein says. “And in this moment, particularly to Black colleagues and especially to those of us who are in positions of white privilege, like myself, we have a responsibility to make this better.”

Seventy of Betterment’s roughly 300 employees have donated more than $28,000 to various organizations, according to Stein — an amount the firm will match.

Stein says he hopes industry peers will also step up to make a positive change. “We at Betterment are saying a lot of work has to be done,” Stein says. “I don’t think that’s a political or partisan message in any way; it’s just a statement of fact.”

Hill, who joined Wells Fargo in 2017 after a near decade-long international basketball career in Europe and China, says he has the full support of his firm. He hopes to use his platform as an advisor to set an example for his community and country.

“I want to use my voice to move humanity forward,” Hill says.

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