FPA embraces the diversity struggle

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In honor of Black History Month, I believe it’s critical that we send a message that the financial planning profession celebrates diversity and inclusion and is stronger today because of the growing diversity of the professionals in our ranks.

I joined FPA soon after becoming a CFP professional almost 13 years ago. Since becoming president at the start of the year, I have had the pleasure of speaking with African-American financial planners who were members of FPA’s predecessor organizations — the Institute of Certified Financial Planners and the International Association for Financial Planning — and who have been practicing as CFP professionals for more than 30 years. For a few of these long-standing professionals, the belief was that they would not live long enough to see an African-American serve as president of our association.

Before 2017, neither FPA nor CFP Board made it a requirement that applicants disclose their ethnicity when completing applications. Instead it was voluntary. And according to the CFP Board, the total number of African-American CFP professionals in 2017 was about 1,200 of the approximately 80,000 CFP professionals in the country. Based on this, it stands to reason that the number of African-American FPA members is low relative to the already small population of African-American CFP professionals. From a historical perspective, this is not at all surprising.

Historically, the percentage of African-American financial professionals has been consistently in the low single digits. When we look at financial planning as a profession, we often point to 1969 as the year it started its journey to become a recognized and respected profession.

While we are still focused today on making financial planning recognized and respected, our broader American history has involved a fight for civil rights that has often been led by African-Americans. In many ways, the passage of the civil rights legislation during the 60’s helped to remove some of the economic barriers (i.e. access to education, jobs and housing discrimination) that prevented African-Americans from building wealth. While a result of these landmark legislative accomplishments was an increase in African-American middle-class families, recent studies suggest that we still have a long way to go.

Frederick Douglass once said, “If there is no struggle, there can be no progress.” While the financial planning profession and the greater financial services industry has seen some progress in the growth of our diversity, we need to fully embrace the struggles we have had if we are going to make meaningful advancement moving forward. For example:

  • Financial planners have struggled with how to better support those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and communities. This struggle led to the creation of pro bono financial planning programs and events and also led to the development of new business models to make financial planning more affordable and accessible.
  • The profession has struggled with making the financial planning profession more accessible to students as a vocation. This struggle has led to meaningful engagement with colleges and universities to establish educational programs designed at introducing the profession to students of greater diversity.

As the FPA's first African-American president I’m excited about the progress we have made, but I think we can do more and aim higher by working together.
As practitioners, we know firsthand the power financial planning can have in helping to transform lives irrespective of one's economic situation. We know that many families can benefit from the services, support and guidance that truly competent financial planners provide.

We also know, from a business standpoint, that studies have shown the benefits of having an inclusion and diversity strategy and how these strategies can provide a competitive advantage and improve profitability. By working together, we can increase the respect and recognition of our profession by simply taking small steps to make the profession more relatable and accessible.

For example, if we really want to inspire more students of diverse backgrounds to pursue financial planning as a career, we can proactively engage academic leaders at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to offer curriculum and degrees in financial planning. The possibilities are endless. It’s just a matter of bringing those in our profession together to move the needle.

As an FPA leader, I am excited that our association is having conversations with other industry and professional leaders as we tackle the question of how to encourage more diversity and inclusion among the professionals in our ranks and in the consumer populations we are reaching. We applaud CFP Board’s Center for Financial Planning for its efforts to bring more African-Americans into the profession while increasing the overall diversity pool of the CFP professional community.

In honor of Black History Month, FPA congratulates the African-Americans in our ranks who, despite the odds, saw the value of becoming financial professionals, but more specifically, CFP professionals. Your professional association stands with you and all others who want to embrace the struggle in an effort to see real progress in our profession and for those it touches.

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Diversity and equality RIAs Practice management Frank Pare FPA