It’s past time to advance Black advisors
The killing of a 25-year-old Black man jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, could seem distant from the financial services. But, for most Black people including those of us working in the industry, Ahmaud Arbery’s murder just reinforces past and present attacks on Black lives. It may not always be violent, but it’s ever-present and always disturbing.
As with others in our community, Black advisors fear for our livelihoods, and sometimes our lives. We often shrink in fear or rise in anger from ridicule, harassment, and termination for reasons not always clear. We find ourselves with limited help from managers who block our advancement, watch our descent, and stand back as we struggle to find our way. In the case of Arbery, the attack was overt, vicious, and deadly. In the case of Black people finding their way in this business, the attacks may not be as overt or as vicious, but they are real, and painful, harmful, and soul-killing.
Why do we still have to see such hostile behavior in the 21st century?
As a personal example while working in another firm, I prepared the proposal for a high-net-worth prospect, which the firm’s principals presented in his home. During the conversation, the prospect referred to Black people as “N-----s”, obviously not knowing or caring or believing that a Black person was a member of the team. When this news got back to the office, it blared loudly when it reached my ears.
The principals and I both learned the same thing from our respective attorneys — there was no legal discrimination case since the client uttered that profane reference in his own home. Their silence regarding the situation was all I needed to prove that client money was more important to the leaders of this firm than respect for one of their employees.
As consolation — and as a peace-making gesture, I presume — I was invited to launch a new division to serve mass-affluent clients (my passion project since the firm only served HNW individuals). I declined, resigned and started my own RIA.
Their approach was heartbreaking but enlightening. Instead of dragging me down, it showed me a new path. I was disappointed, though, because this moment was really their opportunity to do the right thing. They failed in courage and values. They failed to use such negativity as a teaching moment for partners and employees.They failed by tolerating overt discrimination and hostility by a potential client who declared himself superior.
What if they told the prospect that his values did not align with theirs and, as a result, he would not be a good fit for our firm? Instead, they onboarded the client.
It may have appeared to them as something for me to get over; in my mind, it was truly upsetting and warranted decisive action.
You may challenge the notion that the experience of one Black CFP reflects the complete picture. But there is a reason blacks are underrepresented in the profession. Like all human beings, we seek dignity, intellectual challenge, opportunity for advancement, fair compensation for our work and an environment in which we can flourish. As a profession, we clearly have missed that message.
Out of more than 85,000 CFPs in the U.S., only 1.5% are Black; of the more than 550,000 people classified as personal financial advisors by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 6.9% are Black. I recommend you read the CFP Board whitepaper, Racial Diversity in Financial Planning: Where We Are and Where We Must Go, or listen to the diversity and inclusion episodes of 2050 Trailblazers, or even attend an Association of African American Financial Advisors (AAAA or Quad-A) Vision conference to listen to the voices of our peers.
Perhaps there has not been enough public attention to the atrocities experienced by Black financial advisors. We have muted ourselves to assimilate, to prove ourselves at work and to not cause a fuss. But when we see overt acts of racism — whether conscious or unconscious, whether in the course of our work or the course of our lives — we begin to wonder what it will take to compel leaders in wealth management to take action, to change this dynamic and make financial advice a compelling career path for people of color.
Let me just say, co-owning an independent RIA, 2050 Wealth Partners, with Rianka Dorsainvil allows us to amplify the voices of the unheard and unserved financial professionals of color. Last August, Rianka wrote an open letter to planners of color to affirm our belonging in the profession. I’m addressing these words to the wider professional community of advisors.
More help is needed to lift the practices of Black advisors who wish to transform the economic fortunes of all Americans, not just those served by primarily white advisory firms. Our lack of representation in the profession makes our community wary of what they are getting into and whether hiring an advisor is a legitimate means of obtaining relevant advice.
As current chair of Quad-A and president of AAAA Foundation, I am hopeful but growing impatient. We are happy to do our part, but our first mission is to demonstrate that people coming into this profession have a point of reference to consider wealth management a career in which they could make a living and an impact.
As with others in our community, Black advisors fear for our livelihoods, and sometimes our lives.
We know about the shortage of financial planners. There is an oversupply of people who need financial guidance and an undersupply of qualified professionals to serve them, especially within communities of color.
And we also know that firms remain extremely challenged in retaining Black advisors due to low representation or even to a lack of cultural competency. We will happily help you to find talent when you clearly demonstrate you are prepared for success in attracting and advancing Black advisors.
We know that conversations about racism and the label of racist infuriates or frightens most of our white colleagues. We know the fear of losing a seat at the table because we know the feeling of loss, deep loss, and we don’t wish that upon anyone.
If what I’ve written speaks to you, let today and each day forward be a time that you declare your commitment to eradicating discrimination, a time to be more engaged in the challenges faced by Black advisors, being an ally, mentor, and sponsor in the workplace, and calling out colleagues who say or do something offensive. Challenge yourself to look the right way, not the other way. Let the world know that you are #DoingTheWork for the greater good of all citizens, all communities, and all businesses who declare that their people are their greatest asset.