Financial advisors serving minority clients often complain about the lack of proper channels and networks through which they can communicate with their peers. Scattered around the country, such advisors—a minority themselves—find it hard to liaise with their peers and exchange ideas and know-how.
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MSSB) is one firm that’s helping to change that. A little over a year ago, the firm launched a web portal, The Multicultural Financial Advisors Forum (www.multiculturalfaforum.com), designed to bring together financial advisors who are working with minorities and who, in many cases, may themselves be from a minority community.
The site, says Kerry Piercy, head of diversity and inclusion at MSSB, has two goals: To offer a venue for the firm’s own advisor force to connect, and to bring advisors outside of MSSB into the diversity conversation. It provides financial advisors from different backgrounds, who in turn are serving clients from different backgrounds, a chance to share insights and ideas about the work they do, the people they help, and the paths they took to success, and it operates in the same way as MSSB’s very successful Women’s Financial Advisor Forum, which was launched in June 2009.
“Since the site was launched, we’ve seen traffic coming both externally and we have folks leveraging it internally,” Piercy says. “It’s been a challenge to have people connect with each other, but we are trying to use multiple methodologies to get the word out to externally and to keep people connected internally.”
MSSB also launched an internal social networking site, Advisor Insights, in June 2011, for its own financial advisory force to network and share their experiences. “We’re really trying to make a big company feel smaller and more connected,” Piercy says.
MSSB has maintained a strong focus on encouraging people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to join the firm, Piercy says, and going beyond that, providing ways in which they can connect with each other in a way that would ultimately benefit the firm itself and enhance future business. A key part of that approach is to spread the word about the financial advisory profession to people of different backgrounds.
“Part of the approach we’ve taken has been showcasing the financial advisor role to people who might be looking to make a career change, so while the site gives people already in the firm a way to connect, we also hope to reach out to people are interested in recruiting,” Piercy says. “One of the greatest challenges the financial advisory profession faces is awareness. In order to make sure that people are thinking about this as a career, we want to reach out to them early. We want college students of different backgrounds to be thinking about becoming financial advisors.”
And in order to keep the momentum and make sure it’s sustained, MSSB’s diversity council has put in a young analyst program that places college graduates in a two-year training program.