Zions Bank, Commonwealth Financial Network and T. Rowe Price have launched programs they say could help increase black representation in wealth management and related fields — if other firms adopt them.
Common to these efforts is the participation of white financial advisors and executives, according to executives speaking at the Association of African American Financial Advisors (Quad-A) Vision conference this week in Atlanta. Because less than 5%. certified financial planners are black or Hispanic large wealth managers view diverse hiring and expanding relationships with historically excluded minority clients as a business imperative.
Sui Lang Panoke, Zions Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Scarlett Abraham Clarke, Commonwealth Chief Diversity Officer; and Rayman Jackson, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, T. Rowe; shared some details of their firms’ programs with Quad-A conference attendees in a session on the industry’s future path. For Zions, a regional bank in Salt Lake City that also offers wealth management services, the plan includes a book club asking the firm’s executives to hold one-on-one “deep conversations” with Panock and a community leader every other month. , she said.
To demonstrate that the word “diversity” means different points of view and backgrounds of all types, Panock chose the conservative industrialist Charles Koch book “Believe in People” last year and racial justice activist Heather McGee text “The Sum of Us” for 2022.
“I wanted to find a program that would interest and appeal to our white executives, and what do they do in their spare time? They read books about leadership, industry, self-help,” Panok said. “Sometimes the best thing you can do for black employees is to educate white employees, right? They’re forced to read content and be exposed to different points of view. That’s what’s going to solve all the biases we have.”
Commonwealth, a Waltham, Mass.-based wealth manager that created over $2 billion in revenue last year, is making strides in expanding the demographic of consultants and professionals seeking internships. The firm has “always had a great internship program,” but it increased the percentage of interns from minority groups to 43% last year from less than 20% in 2020, Abraham Clark said.
“Unfortunately, the internship program has historically relied heavily on referrals, so you can imagine who was referred for these opportunities,” she said. “Our internship program was key to not only understanding the fact that you can have a career in this space, but understanding from a financial literacy perspective what you should be thinking about at a very young age.”
T. Rowe, a Baltimore-based investment manager with more than $1.3 trillion in client assets, has added diversity and inclusion components to his sales meetings with prospects over the past year and a half, Jackson said. The company made the change after seeing a level of interest from potential clients in working with “a firm that reflects our values” and has a “diverse portfolio management team,” Jackson said. He recently attended a “final meeting” to close new client relationships covering $250 million in assets.
“For us, it really pushed us to say, first, let’s make sure our actions match our words, and second, let’s make sure our leaders understand what we’re doing and can carry that message,” Jackson said. . . “You can make revenue or you can lose revenue because of what you do in this space. So DEI and ESG are really generating income.”
Panelists described the progress as a positive byproduct of the trauma and social unrest following the 2020 killing of George Floyd. Many wealth managers and other financial firms have pledged to hire and retain more black advisors and employees, among other promises. With some firms delivering on those promises and others showing more lackluster results, panelists urged Quad-A members to push companies across the industry to do more.
By doing so, members can count on growing support for increasing the representation of black counselors and other minority professionals among their clients, Panock said. If companies don’t follow customer preferences, their “purchasing power will shift” toward competitors, she said.
“Consumer behavior is now driving many of DEI’s initiatives in the corporate sector,” added Panock. “Unfortunately, so many lives have been compromised, so many sacrifices have been made and lives have been lost to get us to this point. But I feel like in the corporate arena we’re at an opportune time to really shift and move the needle on that.”