James Brewer, founder of Envision Wealth Planning in Chicago, met Lazetta Rainey Braxton, founder and CEO of Financial Fountains, quite by chance through a random Internet search.
“I was online, doing a search on African-American advisors, and there she was,” Brewer says.
Things happened quickly, and Rainey Braxton recruited Brewer to serve on the planning committee for the Association of African American Financial Advisors’ (or Quad-A, as the organization is known) first-ever national conference, which took place in Boston in late September. Rainey Braxton is Quad-A’s president.
The sold-out event “unknowingly brought together a large group of highly successful, extremely intelligent and powerful African-Americans from the financial services industry,” Brewer says, and “most of us, it turned out, hadn’t even known about each other before.”
That is the reality for African-American financial professionals. Although the make-up of the financial industry is changing and becoming more diverse, “most of us still operate individually,” Brewer says, “and it’s hard to find others and make connections. It’s really scary that it took this long to create the first conference of African-American financial advisors, but that’s just the way it is.”
Now that the conference has happened, though, Brewer hopes that the ties it has created and sealed will last and will give strength in numbers to African-American financial advisors and enable them to do more for the community at large, a goal that is near and dear to many of them.
“We need to take this brain power and move forward,” he says, “to tackle the many problems that African-Americans face. The racial wealth gap in the U.S. is still huge, and that needs to be addressed. African-Americans have health problems – which I believe come from their wealth problems – there’s a retirement problem and many students are struggling to pay off their loans. Many black people just don’t have financial experience and knowledge, or they have had a bad experience with the financial services industry, so there’s a lot of work to be done.”
But as much as working for the greater good of the community is important, African-American advisors like Brewer also need to make a living, and this isn’t always easy, he says, “because I still struggle to get clients.”
Despite their qualifications (Brewer holds an MBA from MIT) and their experience, Brewer believes that race is an issue that many African-American advisors are still contending with and that impedes them from getting more clients. African-American advisors still feel isolated compared to the mainstream, he says: “Although I used to go to the industry meetings in the beginning, I stopped going after a while because I felt so out of place.”
But the recent conference is a huge step forward, and it was attended by all manner of industry heavyweights. “I feel that now I am better equipped to become more involved with the Financial Planning Association and other bodies,” Brewer says.
He centers his practice around empathy and shared experiences that allow him to strike a common chord with his clients no matter their background. This helps to build trust, he says, which is the bedrock of an advisor-client relationship. Brewer also focuses on developing plans that incorporate and honor each individual’s unique values.
In addition to Envision Wealth Planning, Brewer also founded Envision 401(k) Advisors to help address the retirement planning needs of his clients that sponsor retirement plans.