Lazetta Rainey Braxton on Diversity, Leadership, and the Future of the Profession
Journal of Financial Planning: September 2016
WHO: Lazetta Rainey Braxton, CFP®
WHAT: Financial planner, trusted media source, and diversity advocate
WHAT'S ON HER MIND: “Initiative is huge. Take initiative, follow up, and continue to persevere.”
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that minorities will be the majority by 2050.
“This is reality,” said Lazetta Rainey Braxton, CFP®. “For some institutions and people, because they don’t see it now, they’re not dealing with it.”
Rainey Braxton wants to see a financial planning profession that deals with that reality and one that reflects the diversity of the country and of the world. This starts with people in key decision-making positions, said the founder of Financial Fountains, member of FPA’s Diversity Committee, and president of the Association of African American Financial Advisors (Quad-A).
Planning firms and organizations need to make a conscious effort to embrace diversity initiatives by doing things like reaching out to colleges and universities that are historically black or have affinity groups; offering scholarships and internships to students of color; and getting a deeper understanding of diverse communities.
Rainey Braxton discussed with the Journal her thoughts on diversity, leadership, and the future of the profession.
1. You founded the planning practice Financial Fountains and are known as the “financial planner for the rest of us.” What was the inspiration behind building your practice on this mantra?
I founded my practice to serve the middle income, mass affluent. I felt as though with my experience working with high net worth individuals and institutions, that there really wasn’t a strong consideration for the mass affluent. As a fee-only financial planner really entrenched in financial planning and looking at financial situations holistically, I just felt like this segment was overlooked.
My approach to financial planning for the rest of us allows people to define what the “rest of us” means to them. Often they haven’t been catered to and appreciated for what value they bring to the table. My role is to create space for them to know that they are in fact valued, their best interests are at the forefront, and that they have a partner on their financial journey. This gives them confidence that they are receiving guidance that can help them live the life they want to live.
2. You regularly provide content on your blog for clients and prospects. What advice do you have for planners who may realize the value of blogging, but feel they don’t have the time or writing skills?
Writing has become a developed skill that, to be honest, has been painful because I’m not a natural writer. I have always enjoyed the math aspect of business but not necessarily the writing. I have been fortunate to have an in-house scholar writer, my husband, who has published quite a few books. My advice is find people who are good at it and who can give you tips and strategies for becoming a better writer. Also, follow people who are great writers so you can figure out what your tone is and what message you want to send. Then, if you have to, use paid resources to do the editing and help you along the way.
I was unexpectedly given opportunities, starting with InvestmentNews and the Journal, to be a guest contributor. I wrote my first published piece for the Journal after I was awarded the Diversity Scholarship. Having opportunities presented really forced me to come to the table, try it, not be afraid of it, and figure it out.
Writing has a way of refining your message. As you’re putting thoughts to paper, you’re really seeing yourself. Thoughts pour from your mind and come to life. You’re engaging yourself in a way that is very helpful; the process ensures that you’re being true to yourself as a business owner who is trying to reach a certain segment. Writing also provides a way to educate. Financial education is a huge part of the undercurrent of my practice and what I do as a financial planner.
3. As a female planner, what unique attributes do you feel you bring to your clients?
I view my female identity as one of many of my identities that is valued by my clients. I acknowledge their joys and challenges in the many roles they have in their households, which often have financial implications.
As a female financial planner, I am one of few in the industry. CFP Board statistics, as reported in the 2014 “Making More Room for Women in the Financial Planning Profession” white paper, show the percentage of females in the profession has been hovering around 23 percent. We really have to support one another and let each other know that we are out there. Helping to stabilize those currently in the industry and feeling empowered to invite others into the conversation are critical to improving female representation. This is a wonderful profession for women; we really enjoy engaging relationships, unleashing value, and figuring out what our values are and how they align with our finances.
I have female clients who are single, widowed, divorced, or married; they’re a very diverse group. The shared concern is being a bag lady. I think that’s one of the greatest fears that women have, because we live longer and we’re often caregivers. We have disruption in our income streams, which affects our retirement income, whether it’s because of missed contributions to Social Security and/or the years that we haven’t invested in our retirement due to lack of income. We end up caregivers for our parents, and as a sandwich generation, sometimes for our own spouses and adult children.
Women want to feel reassured that they’re on track. And sometimes this financial confidence, or lack thereof, shows up in investing as well.
4. What is your best career advice for those just entering the planning profession?
The most important thing is surrounding yourself with or getting to know seasoned professionals and gleaning their wisdom. When you’re first starting out, there are so many different things to consider—who to work for, what certifications to get, what will be the compensation structure, what’s the career path. There is no clear-cut journey. If you talk to different people, they are going to give you different answers. They’re going to tell you some of the best practices that are happening now because of industry trends. You’ll have to match industry trends with who you are and what works best for you. Much of the journey will be a discovery process, and for many of us who have been in the industry, we’re making it up as we go along.
For young advisers, absorb as much as you can from those who are already in the industry and then deepen those relationships so people can sponsor you and be the advocate to say, “This young professional will be a great addition.”
Initiative is huge. Take initiative, follow up, and continue to persevere. Take all the information you have and put it to work. And what you don’t know, ask. Then ask other people what you should know that you don’t know.
5. You are an advocate for diversity in the planning profession and currently serve as president of Quad-A. What is the No. 1 issue keeping the profession from being more diverse and from serving more diverse clients?
I really do think that in order for those who have experienced success and are considered part of a segment that is not categorized as being underserved and underrepresented, there needs to be fuller engagement into the stories of women, people of color, and other segments considered minorities.
When the a-ha moment happens, particularly for white males to feel they are in our shoes, there is a different sensitivity to how they approach decision-making and understanding value. Can one create these conditions? Absolutely yes. What has been helpful for some is showing up for recruiting events focused on hiring minorities, engaging in pro bono planning, and initiating conversations that ask the earnest question, “Does leadership and our culture value the contributions of people of color,” and being open to, and constructive with, the truth. High-level decision-makers, or gatekeepers, benefit from making themselves vulnerable enough to put themselves in our shoes, such that they are clearer about what we are struggling with and how we can get on the same level. This process will also help the transition of the shifting demographics, which suggest that white men will be the minority. Will they be able to adjust to the challenges endured by the current minority population? For many, this thought is too much to fathom, which is a hindrance to moving the needle on diversity and inclusion.
Who is holding gatekeepers accountable, more than just introducing policies that keep a firm in compliance for legality purposes? We’re going deeper. We’re saying, how do you expose yourself, challenge yourself, to make sure you’re not in the way and that your vision as a leader really gives room for engagement that is going to be uncomfortable in order to really advance the agenda of diversity and inclusion? It starts from the top.
If you’re asking a leader who has never experienced being an outsider, then they’re not going to have a clue about how to be the solution. And if they’re not vulnerable enough to say, “Because of my limited exposure, I don’t get it and I might be in the way of this vision,” then there has to be more than just training. Even now, we are finding ourselves with a racial climate that is very intense.
Lots of businesses want to compartmentalize, saying what’s happening in society really doesn’t flow over into the workplace. That is not true. We are whole people who come to the table with our entire gifts and experiences. So the question is: the current climate that we find ourselves in, how much of that has spilled over into the culture of your institution? Have you done a self-check, a thermometer, in terms of what keeps your D & I [diversity and inclusion] initiative stagnant? What’s been positive about attraction and retention? Where are the pitfalls?
6. Quad-A will hold a national conference in Baltimore in September, just prior to the FPA Annual Conference. What is your goal for the conference?
The inaugural conference held last year was phenomenal—truly. We were in a packed room that had an aura of culture that is best experienced and not explained. It doesn’t transcend to other conferences because we are often one of many.
When you have a room of like-minded people who share cultural experiences, we bring our full selves and are true to ourselves. We may approach trends differently and take a different angle on best practices, because our experiences are unique collectively. As an example, talking about how to engage clients by considering some of the nuances specific to our communities, and other communities, can give us a leg up. We are trained to be very skilled at dealing with the majority. We are also, by way of who we are, very sensitive, and almost innate, in dealing with other populations. Thus, we have the benefit of being multi-disciplined in our approach because we have, by way of societal structures, to be able to engage with all populations, whereas the majority may or may not have even engaged, at all, populations of color or even specifically deeper dives into gender issues.
What the conference brings is a safe space for professionals to be themselves, to not mask parts of our identity that are not always embraced by the mainstream within financial services. We feel so confidant within that setting because we see each other in leadership positions, as subject matter experts, as people who are very passionate about serving our communities and everyone else broadly. We don’t get the benefit of that in everyday life, because we’re maybe the only person of color in a firm. In everyday life we don’t see each other that often. There is something about feeling comfortable that just comes around people who get you. Simple as that.
And for those who are not people of color, they get to be the minority and say, “Wow. This is what people of color deal with on an everyday basis of being the outsider.” That’s what it feels like until you really experience the embrace from our culture; there are no outsiders.
We see this as a way of giving exposure to people who are not people of color, to sharpen their skills about how to best interact in diverse settings, to understand deeply what they may not have been privy to based on their own journey, and to remove stereotypes that have been negatively placed upon people of color.
7. You were a 2011 FPA Diversity Scholarship recipient and are a current member of the FPA Diversity Committee. What would you like to tell readers who may not know about FPA’s diversity efforts?
Get involved. The FPA Diversity Scholarship opened so many doors of opportunities and really stretched me in wonderful ways—one being, as I said, writing for the Journal. Another opportunity was becoming chair of the FPA Diversity Committee. These leadership opportunities and exposures made my experience and expertise attractive to media outlets and other people within the profession. They learn who you are and what you’re passionate about so you are, in fact, meeting up with more like-minded people.
Diversity Scholarship recipients meet and engage with key FPA leaders at the FPA Annual Conference so you’re immediately in conversation with people who are influencing our industry. It’s designed as a fast track to get to know those who are making the decisions while figuring out how you can bring value to the discussion. You’re also developing important skills to continue the momentum of ensuring that diversity and inclusion is always a part of the conversation within our industry.
8. How did you become a trusted source for news media, and what advice do you have for planners looking to do the same?
Respect media outlets’ time and what their objectives are, and ensure their objectives align with your own values and what you believe is important.
It’s a partnership. If you’re clear on who you are and what you represent within your discipline as a financial planner, reporters appreciate that because they have a source who will satisfy their vision in getting the message out. In my case, it’s getting the message out to educate and to empower people, whether they’re advisers or consumers.
I appreciate the balance, for me particularly, as a person who brings access to those who have been overlooked or mistreated by Wall Street—financial planning for the rest of us—and that dovetails nicely with the underserved and underrepresented populations. When reporters come to me, they are not pigeonholing me into any bucket. They see the connection between my expertise and my passion, which shapes the end result in what they publish. There is continuity and consistency and even greater momentum for this cause, which I feel like I serve.
I challenge financial advisers to be clear and confident regarding their expertise and their passions and make sure they’re packaging themselves as a whole person to avoid being compartmentalized by the media. If they confidently say, “This is my niche,” and their niche really speaks to their passion, then it just happens naturally. As they talk to the media, and if the media wants to divert to something outside of the scope, they can say with integrity, “This is outside the scope for which I believe that we initially engaged.”
9. You were named one of InvestmentNews’ 2015 Women to Watch, and you were the recipient of Quad-A’s Leadership Legacy Award. What role does leadership play in your life?
Leadership—it is intentional and it grows based on whether or not people see if you are effective. As I think about leadership positions I’ve had throughout my career, I have certainly learned along the way. The positions have helped me refine my approach and place me in a better position each day I am called to lead. There are different situations that require different responsibilities and responses from you; thus, it’s so important as a leader to listen and then engage, and that takes a lot of discipline and apologies for not getting it right.
In essence, all of us are leaders in our own right. We have to engage the world by being the change that we seek.
A leader is also a follower. Even though you might have a particular position, you really have to serve or follow those who you’re supporting as well.
My husband, who is a scholar pastor, often says that authority comes through sacrifice. Using authority in terms of the trusted responsibility to make decisions on behalf of a group of people is really given to you once you’ve sacrificed—sacrificed your time in terms of listening, engaging, and incorporating other people’s thoughts and where they feel the direction should be. Those who are just seeking the titles often fall short in their tenures as leaders. It has to be an internal grassroots approach that allows you to evolve as a leader, knowing that in essence you are a leader because people have entrusted you to serve that role. That authority that they’ve given to you, you have to be a good steward of and create conditions for people to be their best self as you attempt to do the same.
10. Where would you like to see the financial planning profession in 10 years?
In 10 years I’d like to see financial planning as a staple in all households—just like banking, insurance, and tax preparation. We are viewed as a profession and provide a service that is clearly identifiable and places consumers’ best interests first. Consumers are clear about the value that they are getting and what they’re paying to get that value. They feel financially empowered by the financial education they are receiving throughout the financial planning engagement. What they have learned and implemented will be shared and enjoyed for generations.
I would also like to see better engagement among the different generations within our financial planning profession—the baby boomers, the Gen X, and the Gen Y—to ensure that wisdom and insight will transcend among these generations such that the momentum for financial planning continues to evolve. Baby boomers will create conditions to share the wisdom and opportunities for succession planning for younger planners.
In terms of diversity, I hope that there will be a deeper, proactive effort to ensure that our planners within the industry better reflect the changing demographics in the U.S., and certainly internationally. And that we’re seeing—from a trade association perspective, and also within in firms—that not only are the financial advisers reflecting the changing demographics, but are also in leadership roles within these organizations and firms.
Ana Trujillo is associate editor of the Journal. Contact her HERE.