FinServe Network Advisors Highlight Practical Ways to Boost Diversity
A panel discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) and actionable steps to foster greater diversity and inclusivity.
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April 18, 2023
At the College’s inaugural 2023 FinServe Network Summit, financial professionals explored how the financial industry can accelerate its transformation into a more diverse and inclusive profession.
The College’s President and CEO, George Nichols III, Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® (CAP®), hosted a panel discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) that emphasized the panelists’ personal experiences and the important work the American College Center for Economic Empowerment and Equality does in this area, while highlighting practical steps the industry can take to be more welcoming and equitable.
Personal Journeys to Financial Services Careers
As President Nichols noted, a more inclusive financial services industry starts with the recruitment and retention of diverse professionals. This means creating more opportunities for non-traditional candidates to discover and embrace financial services roles.
To understand how people are attracted to the industry, Nichols invited the panelists to share their personal journeys to financial services careers. Their responses highlighted the importance of overcoming barriers and improving understanding of the industry.
For Alanah Phillips, a recruiter and NextGen advocate, overcoming negative perceptions was crucial.
“I had very negative perceptions of the industry. I thought it was like The Wolf of Wall Street. I did not study anything in school related to finance. And I remember when I came for my first interview, they were talking about annuities and I didn’t havea clue what an annuity was,” she said. “But then, as I got to meet financial professionals and understand what advisors did, I very quickly realized how important it was. I've become passionate about what we need to do to help change that perception.”
People also played a crucial role in panelists’ career journeys. Centario Grier, co-founder of J&G Legacy Financial Group, explained how both a stranger and a family advisor guided him into his career.
“I was introduced to the industry through a complete stranger,” he said. “A young lady approached me and said, ‘Hey, I think you would be great in the financial services industry.’ I started at New York Life, and I was impressed by the wealth of information I saw in my first interview. When I talked to my grandmother about it, she said that's who her financial advisor worked for. I realized that the person I viewed as financially successful was at New York Life, and that's where she was getting her financial advice from. So that's just confirmed everything and I said, I'm going to jump into this business.”
The Importance of Mentorship and Community
Once panelists had begun to explore the industry, most said mentorship played a crucial role in guiding them to specific career paths and motivating them to stay in the field.
For Marco Williams, CFP®, a wealth management specialist with JP Morgan Wealth Management, a key mentor entered early.
“This particular firm that I began my career with prided itself on the fact that it only accepted 2% of applicants,” he said. “And the person who interviewed me subsequently told me after the fact that he had actually given me the highest score he had ever given anyone in the interview process, and he was a stickler. That increased my confidence level significantly because there was a certain amount of doubt there. I knew I had some basic skill sets in terms of building relationships, connecting with people, and so on, but once I got that feedback from him, it told me immediately that I could be successful in this career.”
New York Life’s Fatima Williams, FSCP® explained that, for her, mentorship came at a crucial moment.
“I was able to attend an African-American market event in Houston and there was a managing partner from a west coast office who was speaking to people who were brand new in the industry,” she said. “He spoke about five tactics to maintain your business, and it was something I needed in that moment. They helped me answer questions and provide clarity for myself into the future in this career. And so now I can call it a career and use those same five practices, not only for myself, but to share with others.”
Grier also highlighted the opportunity he had to connect with other Black financial professionals at The College’s Conference of African American Financial Professionals (CAAFP), noting how important it is to build a community of peers who can support your long-term professional growth.
Building a Better Industry
Looking ahead, the panelists saw many ways in which the industry could do a better job of serving both diverse consumers and a more diverse workforce.
Phillips argued, for example, that increasing diversity among financial professionals is not only an important objective, but also the key to improving customers’ experience with the industry.
“If we have more folks in the industry that look like the clients, then they may want to approach an advisor,” she said. “There's a lot of negative stigma about the industry, and there have been some bad things that have happened. To see somebody who might look like you, might think like you, might have similar experiences to you, and could relate to your money story and your money problems, I think that one will fix the other.”
For Marco Williams, it was also important to think more about how firms recruit, develop, and promote talent.
“When I think about development, I think about coaching – you have to be able to value talent, to spot talent, and be willing to develop talent,” he said. “There's a lot of talent across the spectrum, across many different cultures and many different communities. I think the willingness for firms to develop and cultivate wealth management professionals is going to be critical.”
Grier agreed, and added that it’s also necessary to think more flexibly about how to build and manage financial businesses in different contexts.
“I think one of the biggest things is helping advisors know how to pick the right business model – this is very important to start off,” he said. “Then, once you get that advisor in the door, what type of language does he or she need to speak to the clientele that they're serving? For my clientele, I have to speak with my heart as well as my mind. The African-American community has an emotional relationship with money, not so much logical, so you need to approach things in a certain way and meet them where they are.”
A Bright Future
President Nichols concluded the panel by asking the panelists to identify the one thing they would do to make DE&I work better for the industry if they had a magic wand.
For Grier, it was about connections.
“It would be to connect more African-American advisors and to then connect those advisors with the clientele that actually wants the advice,” he said. “It’s about connecting the right advisors to one another so we can be stronger together, and then connecting them to the right clientele so we don't lose wealth in the process.”
Phillips wanted to eliminate bias.
“Once we get on an individual level, a lot of those things go away and we recognize whatever those feelings were that we had about somebody because of how they look or how old they are or whatever, those go away,” she said. “If we could just start there, we'd probably see a lot more progress.”
Fatima Williams said she wanted better mentorship.
“Partnering a newer advisor with someone established is necessary because a lot of times these new advisors are afraid to ask, and I think that is the biggest issue,” she said. “Either somebody's going to ask or they're not going to ask at all, and it'd be a disservice to them because they were in the right place, but they just didn't ask the right question.”
Finally, Marco Williams concluded with a simple but powerful wish.
“Automatically educate every person out there about the importance of financial literacy,” he said.