Deborah Owens calls herself a “financial freedom fighter.”
A close friend conferred that moniker on the financial consultant, coach, and former vice president at Fidelity Investments, and she loves it because she says it fits her to a “T.”
“I’m working to empower people to effectively manage the shift to what I call the new financial normal, a world in which individuals have to take ownership of their financial success,” she says. “The shift from defined benefit to defined contribution plans, coupled with the new dynamics of the workplace, has meant that individuals need to take tremendous responsibility,” and that they need the expertise to “shift their thinking from an income mindset to a wealth mindset.”
This isn’t an easy shift to make, particularly for women and minorities, who are fairly recent entrants to the world of financial planning, Owens says. These two groups are particularly behind the curve when it comes to having the wealth mindset that is required of personal financial planning today, she says, and they are in particular need of both information and advice.
Helping women and minorities achieve financial empowerment and attain a wealth mindset is close to Owens’ heart and she is the creator of the “A Purse of Your Own Campaign,” which aims to financially empower one million women by encouraging them to form “Purse Groups” comprising five to 10 members who meet monthly to provide support and hold each other accountable.
But Owens also believes that financial advisors have a key role to play in getting women and minorities up to speed, and she’s willing to share her expertise with them.
In today’s post-financial crisis world, advisors need to form “lasting partnerships” with all their clients if they want to do their jobs well, she says, but those kinds of deep and enduring partnerships are particularly important to ensuring the financial success of their female and minority clients.
Doing things right means that advisors need a nuanced and culturally based approach to understanding their clients and relating to them.
“Women, for example, like to converse, they like to ask questions,” Owens says, “they like to do their own research and discuss that with their advisor, and advisors should listen to them and not talk down to them. Most African-Americans are typically risk averse and that’s coming from a simple lack of experience with the financial markets, so there an advisor has to be completely non-judgmental and create an environment in which these clients feel comfortable to have the kinds of conversations they want to have.”
Financial planning firms have made a good effort to hire new advisors from diverse cultural, ethnic and gender backgrounds, which helps create new relationships. But where they continue to fall short is to give these people the requisite tools to cultivate their unique diversity so as to bring it out for the best use possible to the general public.
That’s in large part due to the onerous regulation that has been hitting the financial services industry since implementation of Dodd-Frank began.
“The larger organizations in particular are taking compliance so seriously that it’s strangling all creativity in the advisory force and the ability for advisors to build meaningful relationships in this dynamic environment we live in,” Owens says.
She also believes that many smaller, independent advisory firms lack the kind of infrastructure that would properly support a diverse workforce and give emerging leaders from different backgrounds the kind of professional development tools they need.
“For women and minority advisors, unless you have had someone go before you who can coach you and give you insight into what you need to develop, it’s very hard to move forward,” she says. “There has to be some kind of support for what I call ‘the soft skills,’ for nurturing the dormant talent that’s there but doesn’t know how to shine, how to move forward and how to develop the value proposition they bring in order to then develop relationships with others, with women and minorities in the public. That’s the kind of commitment that I believe will produce an army of Financial Freedom Fighters to help navigate this shift toward a wealth mindset and eventually close the wealth gap.”