Addressing the Realities Facing Diverse Employees in the Financial Planning Profession

Ana Trujillo Limón is the editor-in-chief of FPA’s publications. She holds her bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from the University of Miami and holds a certificate in diversity and inclusion from Cornell University. She is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Colorado, Denver.

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Financial planning is a tough profession for anybody to navigate, says John Eing, CPA, CFP®. But it’s a bit tougher for diverse professionals to navigate.

The Journal of Financial Planning surveyed diverse members in the profession across diverse sectors—women, Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), disabled, and LGBTQ+—to learn about their experiences and identify common problems they’ve faced in navigating the profession. We then interviewed diversity and inclusion experts on ways to address those common problems.

Diversity efforts won’t be successful until firm and company cultures make talented, diverse employees feel included and welcome. If we don’t address these problems, chances are, we won’t retain diverse talent.

“Until you create a welcoming and inclusive environment, I don’t think you should be out there recruiting just yet,” said Rachel J. Robasciotti, CEO and founder of Adasina Social Capital, in the Q&A in this issue. “You may get [diverse] people, but they won’t stay, and you may actually create harm.”

Overcoming Challenges and Lack of Mentors

Gary O. Clement, CFP®, CRPS®, CRPC®, AFC®, MPAS®, who teaches financial planning courses in addition to running his own firm, said that the main challenge he’s faced as a Black man in this profession has been skepticism.

“In this world, as a person of color, it’s always a challenge getting clients,” he said. “Because of the way the industry has been, financial advisers are supposed to look a certain way …. People of color don’t always jump to the fore when you think about financial adviser.”

Another challenge is the way others might see people of color.

 “People don’t always look to us as being as experienced, knowledgeable or as good an adviser as other folks,” Clement said. “That’s always going to be a challenge.”

Along with Keith Beverly, CFA, CFP®, Clement vowed to help at least 20 African American professionals obtain their CFP® certification by the end of 2020. The program, moXY 20 by 2020, provides the professionals with a study group and a sponsor, among other things.

This type of support is rare in the profession. Though diversity scholarships are offered for things from membership to FPA, free attendance at conferences, and some for CFP® coursework and discounts on the exam, programs like moXY 20 by 2020 are innovative and valuable. The element of ongoing support and mentorship is vital.

Survey respondents also indicated that there are not as many mentors or BIPOC with influence in the profession.

The experts weigh in: Enjoli Ramsey, U.S. Air Force Veteran and current chief of diversity outreach and inclusion for the U.S. Air Force, knew she wasn’t going to find a lot of people who looked like her coming into the financial planning profession, the career changer said.

“I was pretty aware of that, so it was not a surprise at all,” she said. “But I found the people that I did talk to to be really welcoming.”

Ramsey decided to become a financial planner two years ago. She started connecting with people through CFP Board and FPA’s All Member Open Forum to get her questions answered and this past summer completed the FPA Virtual Externship.

She brings a unique perspective as a career changer to the profession with a professional background in diversity and inclusion.

Ramsey says it’s important in one’s career to have multiple mentors. When there aren’t mentors from your similar background, she recommends finding a mentor or sponsor with whom you simply connect.

Luz Gonzalez, founder of EQ Refined and corporate diversity and inclusion trainer, said that cross-cultural mentor relationships are valuable. She suggests making cross-cultural mentorships part of a formal program tied to performance evaluations.

Insensitive Comments and Lack of Psychological Safety

In the survey responses, one person noted that at a professional conference, an older gentleman told her, “I didn’t know they let women come to these events now.”

Another noted that when her now-husband came to pick her up for lunch at her office, a colleague said he “looked like a gangbanger.”

Insensitive comments like these, which are also microaggressions, can lead to diverse employees not feeling psychological safety, which is “feeling able to show and employ ones self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career,” according to William Kahn.1

Diana Yanez, CFP®, said that early in her career, she felt like she had to blow dry her hair straight and feared that clients might disprove if somehow, they heard her music in Spanish.

She recently toyed with the idea of putting the accent marks on her last name on LinkedIn but decided against it because she didn’t feel comfortable doing that.

These incidents aren’t harmless; they’re events that lead people to consider leaving the profession. Many of the professionals who answered the survey indicated they founded their own firm so they could work with the demographics of clients that they wanted to or to work in an inclusive environment that they created.

The experts weigh in: Ramsey had a recent meeting discussing recruiting at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). A person in the meeting commented about how HBCUs are more run down than other colleges in the same geographic location. This individual also said that they could either have quality cadets or diverse cadets, but not both.

After the meeting, Ramsey scheduled a one-on-one call with the individual who made these comments and explained why the comments were problematic.

If you tend to make comments like this, take a few minutes to think about what you’re saying and explore how it might impact others. Focus on the impact versus your intent. If you’ve said something offensive, then apologize.

“Just because you didn’t intend to offend, doesn’t mean you didn’t,” Ramsey said.

Diversity, inclusion, and equity is a serious discipline. If you’re serious about diversifying and creating an inclusive culture, hire somebody who is qualified to either offer ongoing implicit bias and diversity training or for a full-time diversity officer position, but ensure you offer this person the resources they need, and understand it takes time.

“Businesses think if I give x amount of dollars to this department, I need to see a return ASAP,” Gonzalez said. “And D&I is like planting seeds … months after planting the seed, you have to develop it, you have to give time to it, and then later on, it generates.”

If you individually want to learn more strategies to implement, there are courses available that you can take, such as Cornell University’s diversity and inclusion certificate program.

No Clear Career Path

There are various entry points into the profession and they don’t all have the same career path. This was an issue that came up several times in the survey.

The experts weigh in: Whatever entry point your diverse employees are coming through, be sure to create expectations and explain what progress looks like.

Enjoli Ramsey advises having transparent communication about what opportunities are available within the organization, and giving your employees opportunity for training.

“Make sure they are building and developing certain skills,” Ramsey said. “They’re going to have to get something out of this experience. Even if there is no defined career path, there should at least be learning objectives.”

Lack of Resources for Asian Professionals

Recently, John Eing, CPA, CFP®, attended the virtual Quad-A (the Association of African American Financial Advisors) conference.

“I was so inspired attending that conference and couldn’t help but feel that it would be great to have that for the Asian American community as well,” said Eing, who is a partner at Abacus Wealth Partners.

The topic of a lack of membership organizations or employee resource groups for Asian professionals came up a few times in our survey.

Eing noted that the Asian population in the U.S., like other ethnic minorities, are not a monolith, but they collectively have a high purchasing power. Nielsen reported that the purchasing power of Asian Americans is projected to reach $1.6 trillion and, on average, Asian American households have a 41 percent higher income than the national average. There is an opportunity to attract more Asian planners and to serve more Asian consumers, Eing said.

The experts weigh in: Eing did exactly what Enjoli Ramsey would recommend—attend events of other affinity group or support organizations to see how they work.

“I would advise them to join other ERGs [employee resource groups]—there are ERGs for women, for African Americans and Hispanics—really to learn how ERGs work,” Ramsey said.

Addressing these issues and building more inclusive firms is critical to the profession’s future.

“There aren’t many professions where you can do well for yourself while you’re doing good things for other people,” Gary Clement said. “This is one of the noble professions where you are really helping people create the lives that they really want. And it’s really very satisfying to help somebody do that.”  

Endnote

  1. See “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work,” by William A. Kahn in the Academy of Management Journal. Available at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cbb3/887590de9e5dc702b5d2655fbe804669fea0.pdf?_ga=2.115236801.77747782.1600975157-313258129.1600374832.

Sidebar: Planner Perspectives 
Examples of Inclusive Cultures

Christopher Stroup, CFP®, was working in petroleum engineering in Bakersfield, Calif. He had prioritized his career and not his personal life.

“I was unhappy,” he noted. “I needed a change.”

When the company he worked for was going through a downturn and he had to interview for his own job again, he decided it was time for a change. He came out as gay, he decided to pursue his MBA, and he left the heat of Bakersfield for Philadelphia to go after his dreams. The people aspect of financial planning was what attracted him to the profession.

When he started interviewing for financial planning positions, he didn’t feel like he was able to be himself during the hiring process.

Then he came across Abacus Wealth Partners.

“When I came across the LGBTQ team page [on the Abacus website], I saw the individuals and saw their smiling faces and thought, ‘Oh my God, this is my tribe,’” he recently told the Journal. “They were the first firm where I felt like I could really be myself at work and be valued as myself.”

Diana Yanez, CFP®, of RTD Financial said when she was interviewing for jobs in financial planning, she noticed the visible lack of diversity. But then she came across RTD.

“There is diversity at my firm—and not just at the administrative level—it’s also in the financial planners,” Yanez said.

Every year for Thanksgiving, the employees bring a “taste of home,” Yanez said. Some people bring Korean food, she brings salsa, but no matter what it is, they all get to learn a bit about each other’s background.

After the protests and outrage over the death of George Floyd, her firm held conversations where diverse employees could discuss how they were feeling.

“Sometimes it can be difficult as a person of color to be asked to be the spokesperson for all people of color, but on the other hand, it can be nice to have a space where we are asked,” Yanez said. She noted they didn’t require them to talk about it, but were offered a space to do so.          

Miguel Gomez, CFP®, a fee-only financial adviser at Lauterbach Financial Advisors, can’t say enough good things about how his firm has been helpful in his growth as a professional.

Gomez, the former president of XY Planning Network’s diversity committee, said that his firm has great leadership. The small team all know each other, and they help provide resources to grow and develop skills. They value feedback all around.         

“We’re very open and very receptive,” Gomez said.

He advises other diverse professionals to be clear about what you need to be better at your job.

“If the firm really values you and your job, then they will do their best to provide it,” Gomez said. “Diversity comes as a result of really caring for people and taking care of them.”

Learn More:

Resource List

See a list of resources, including links to past articles in industry publications, book recommendations from diversity and inclusion experts, and a list of relevant podcasts that all address diversity and inclusion, at our website at www.financialplanningassociation.org/article/journal/inclusion-resource-list