Here’s How to Harness This Moment for Lasting Change

Here’s How to Harness This Moment for Lasting Change

The American College of Financial Services
July 23, 2020

In this time of crisis, people across America are calling for meaningful, systemic change to address issues of race and diversity. President and CEO of The College George Nichols III has been a powerful advocate for that change, and is continuing to lead the change to bring discussions of inclusion into the financial services profession.

Read President Nichols’s four steps toward progress below and in this piece from Barron’s.



Here’s How to Harness This Moment for Lasting Change

By George Nichols

Racial injustice and inequality have followed a certain playbook for decades, and no matter the statistics or the screams for help, they have always continued.

It is time that our nation actually understands those marginalized and mistreated for so long. As a Black man who has worked in financial services for decades – as an executive at one of the largest financial firms in the U.S., as a state insurance regulator, and as the president of the only non-profit, accredited college dedicated to financial services education – I can say with surety that the financial services industry has a pressing obligation given its central role in helping people accumulate, retain and distribute wealth. For far too long, those people have been predominantly white and already affluent – a cycle of entitlement that must stop in favor of a platform that promotes upward mobility and wealth-building in Black America.

A viable, actionable plan for sustainable, generational change will help narrow the wealth gap, and have a lasting effect on how the profession best serves a fast-becoming majority-minority nation. These are the financial industry’s future customers. Standing on the front lines now will afford the profession a monumental opportunity to understand these communities and support their financial needs.

Here are four steps that can move us in the right direction.

1) Develop financial literacy programs for Black women designed to address systemic wealth inequality and empower financial wellbeing.

The failure to financially empower Black women has been a glaring yet underfunded problem. As far back as 2010, sociologist Mariko Chang revealed that a single white woman had a median wealth of $42,600 compared with $5 for a single Black woman, which illustrates that the wealth gap extends beyond gender roles. By prioritizing efforts to focus on Black women, financial empowerment can increase wellbeing across income and education levels, as well as push more Black households out of poverty.

2) Create and execute community-focused initiatives with the financial and intellectual capital of national organizations, working alongside local professionals, to create lasting change in establishing Black wealth.

According to a late 2019 study by the TIAA Institute, Black financial well-being lags that of total U.S. adults, particularly white adults. We must leverage funds and expertise to create a massive knowledge transfer to the Black community, specifically when it comes to building and managing wealth. Such a system will require the best financial and investment tools at the profession’s disposal, as well as the boots on the ground that understand policies that can deliver the greatest impact. Covid-19 has demonstrated that urgency for impact can bring organizations together. Public-private partnerships and immense resources are driving an expedited effort to find a vaccine for Covid-19, and we can match that same effort here.

For some communities, that may mean advancing knowledge around specific economic and financial issues, while for others, it may mean developing tools and teaching programs from the ground up. This ambitious initiative is more than charity. It aims to bring together national organizations and local communities who want to see the impact of their investment because they are an integral part of it.

3) Identify and develop next-generation Black leaders at financial services firms through executive programs that help promote upward mobility in a white male-dominated environment.

Despite Blacks accounting for roughly 13% of the U.S. population, they only occupy 3.2% of the senior leadership roles at large U.S. companies. This “ceiling” is not from a lack of desire. A report from The Center for Talent Innovation found that Blacks were more likely than whites to indicate career ambition, but just 31% of Black professionals had access to senior leaders at work – a major face-time flaw that is historically tied to career advancement in corporate America.

Blacks need far more opportunity to move from middle management into senior management and executive roles, including corporate board service – positions of power and influence. Executives who participate in these programs must have a white senior executive colleague to mentor, sponsor, and develop them in their role and career progression at the company. This kind of corporate commitment at the highest levels is simply non-negotiable.

4) Recruit more Blacks into financial services and rally the industry to deploy top white advisors to lead professional development groups and serve as mentors.

Black financial professionals feel shut out from predominantly white professional development networks in a profession that sorely lacks diversity. A two-pronged approach will include a blueprint that equips Black advisors with the knowledge to get their own professional development groups off the ground and a massive effort to recruit top white advisors to serve as coaches and mentors. Mentorship can lead to peer-to-peer collaboration outside these groups, increase Black advisors’ chances of lasting success, and help support their career advancement in the Black community.

Everyone says that this time seems different. The financial services industry has the opportunity – and the obligation – to make sure it really is different.

As former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once said, “We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy … from the fear, the hatred, and mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that has buried its head in the sand … We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”

George Nichols III is president and CEO of The American College of Financial Services, a non-profit, accredited educational institution focused on financial services professionals.