When Lee Jenkins, former NFL player for the New York Giants and founder of Atlanta-based financial education and outreach firm Lee Jenkins Group, joined the financial advisory business 25-plus years ago, minority advisors like himself were few and far between. Today, “on a percentage basis, there are still very few minority advisors,” he says, “and that’s very disappointing.”
One of the main reasons for the paucity, in Jenkins’ view, is that the financial advisory profession hasn’t done a good enough job of profiling successful African-American advisors and showcasing their success.
“If you don’t see people like you in a certain industry you most likely will shy away from that industry when making your career choice,” he says. “I really feel that financial advisory firms could do a much better job of promoting the success of minority advisors, both within financial advisory firms themselves and also through industry magazines and publications, in order to spread the word.”
Highlighting the professional success of African-American advisors is important not just because they are underrepresented in the profession, but also because, in Jenkins’ view, it is still much harder for African-Americans to get into the profession in the first place.
Few African-Americans grow up around money and investing, he says, so the financial advisory profession isn’t an obvious career choice. Further to that, “I believe there are a number of hurdles that are specific to African-Americans and minorities at the outset. Getting over these is much harder than it is for others,” he says.
Raising awareness of the successes of those who have made it could help younger members enter the profession and that in turn would prove beneficial to firms that have, through the years, been making a far greater effort to not only hire minority advisors but also reach out and understand minority communities better, Jenkins says.
But if firms hire African-American advisors to increase their black clientele, then one of the key issues they need to understand is that it is going to take longer for a black advisor to build up their business simply because there is less wealth in the African-American community. According to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, the wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, compared with eight times the wealth in 2010.
It’s harder to find existing pools of wealth in the African-American community because “black wealth is a lot more fragmented,” Jenkins says. “It’s harder to find because we’re not all hanging out in country clubs, for instance, or yacht clubs, so there’s no real concentration of black wealth.”
However, both individual African-American advisors and the firms that employ them can learn from Jenkins’ own experience and those of other successful minority advisors, he says, “because once a minority advisor gets over those initial hurdles, and they perform well, their clientele broadens out. It’s very hard for minority advisors to get through the door and get going, but once they get the opportunity to perform and their client base becomes more diverse, then all hurdles disappear and that works out well for the advisor and for the firm they’re with.”
Jenkins worked as a financial advisor for Dean Witter, Morgan Stanley and the Atlanta Capital Group, among others. Some years ago, he switched gears to work full time as a minister, doing, among others, outreach and financial education. He also consults with other financial advisory firms that want to understand the African-American market better.