For Beacon Pointe, an RIA based in Newport Beach, California, diversity happened accidentally, according to founder and partner Shannon Eusey.
When the company started in 2002, “I was the only woman,” she told ThinkAdvisor on Monday. “There was no intention when we started the business to say, ‘Let’s create a diverse work environment.’ I think it was happenstance as we looked at various positions.”
Eusey said that her presence as “a female in significant leadership of the company and one of the founders” made the firm “OK with hiring anybody. We really looked at who’s the best person for each key position.”
Intentional or not, that early example led to a very diverse firm where women are well-represented in leadership. “As it stands today, our director of marketing, female. Our director of research, female. Our director of planning, female. Our CFO, female. It just so happens that that’s how the firm was built out because of the qualifications of the women. As we look at it today, 65% of our firm roughly is female, which is really different from the industry,” Eusey said.
Since writing the business plan for Beacon Pointe in graduate school, Eusey said, the firm has grown to oversee about $7 billion in institutional and private client assets.
Eusey said that having more women in the firm has helped add a different element” to client conversation. “The conversation tends to be a little bit different when there’s a woman in the room,” she said. “It’s allowed us to bring more women clients to the table, or spouses of clients to the table.”
To help with that effort, Beacon Pointe established its Women’s Advisory Institute (WAI) to educate and engage female investors. “That probably wouldn’t have come out if we were an all-male organization,” Eusey said. “It’s very much promoted by the women in the office, but very much taken advantage of by the men in the office. The men have recognized what a great pathway that is to help bring the ‘way’ for the spouse or whatever to the table for understanding the investment.”
In a conversation with Mary Rosai of Schwab at Impact earlier this month, she noted half of advisory firms don’t have a female advisor at all. Eusey said that’s hardly surprising considering “30% of all advisors out there are female.” She suggested that her firm has been so attractive to female advisors because of the presence of women in its leadership. Firms run by men only or where women only occupy administrative positions will have a hard time attracting female advisors. “I’ve heard it when I’ve spoken about the subject or done forums — they all want to attract women into their offices, but it’s hard for [women] to say, ‘What’s the upward mobility for me?’ if they don’t see it within the organization.”
The benefits of a more diverse firm are clear. A 2013 Thomson Reuters analysis of 4,100 public companies found a strong correlation between mixed boards and better returns. A Credit Suisse report that analyzed 2,360 companies found those with at least one woman on their boards outperformed those with none in average return on equity and share price performance.
“You’ve seen the studies; women contribute significantly to the top and bottom line of organizations, and I think it’s just having a different eye and a different approach,” Eusey said.
For firms that want to build a more diverse team, Eusey suggested starting an internship program to expose both men and women to the business. “I think what happened in our industry is a lot of people don’t realize that this is a career opportunity,” she said. “Especially women, I find that [women say] ‘Gosh, what a great career this is and you talk so passionately about what you do, but I never knew I could do that. I thought all I could do was be a broker or I had to go into investment banking if I wanted to be on the finance side.’”
Another way to boost diversity in leadership and advisor roles is to look inside the firm for candidates. Women often start in financial firms in an administrative position.
Eusey used one of her own colleagues as an example. Allison Hillgren, Beacon Pointe’s vice president of marketing and communications, joined the firm as an intern with a master’s in communications and an undergraduate degree in business. “What she did, and I think it’s incumbent upon the employee to do, is learn the business inside and out. How does she take her degree and what her knowledge base is and transform it for our industry? She basically created a position for herself,” Eusey said.
Another employee joined the firm after leaving the work force to start a family. “She wanted to come back to the work force and she had the choice of going back to her former employer, which was a great job, or coming to work for us with a little more flexibility and she saw that we modeled the flexibility,” Eusey stressed. “We can talk a big game and say, ‘Oh yeah, we promote diversity and we want to be able to have that position where women can have it all and men can have it all for that matter,’ but what is leadership doing to say that’s OK?”
Another strategy is for advisors to form study groups with firms they want to emulate, Eusey suggested.
The key is balance, Eusey said, not just in diversity of gender, but diversity of designations, too. “Diversity of degree and education is extremely important, and we promote whatever educational path people want to go down,” Eusey said. “We’re huge proponents of education. We have somebody who’s studying for their divorce degree in financial planning, and somebody who’s studying for the CAIA [chartered alternative investment analyst].”
— Check out Well-Off Women Say They Enjoy Making Money — and Are Good at It on ThinkAdvisor.