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Raymond James’ Black Advisor Group Hosts Second Forum, Twice Size of First

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Raymond James Black Financial Advisors Network has aggressive short-term goals and a bold long-term plan.

“We would love to double our participation next year, which we could do. It will be tough,” said group co-founder Tony Barrett, in an interview.

The group, which held its second-annual symposium earlier this month in St. Petersburg, Florida, is pleased with its recent growth.

The Feb. 8-10 meeting included more than 60 people, double the number at the network’s first gathering last year. According to Raymond James, 48 advisors attended, one-third of whom are female and nearly two-thirds of whom are independent reps affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services. (Group co-founder Joel Burstein, the branch manager of Raymond James’ employee-advisor operations in the Miami area, also helped organize and lead the event.) 

“The situation in the industry is that less than 1% of advisors are African-American,” explained Barrett, Delaware Valley complex manager for the firm’s employee channel. “It can be frustrating, when — at a large [event with a] crowd — there are a maximum of five of us in a room.”

Barrett, who has been in the business for more than 20 years, says both Raymond James and the industry have work to do — and that includes African-American advisors.

“We want to do a better job communicating within the Raymond James universe and beyond and networking about the opportunities available to African-Americans,” he said. “We also want to position ourselves as a resource within Raymond James, so we can give feedback and have a say when it comes to examining different paths and approaches to diversity.”

Barrett is upbeat that within Raymond James, its different channels and its affiliated institutions (for advisory, clearing and other services) the group can boost its numbers.

“The nature of the firm, though in general it is very profitable, is that it is not short-term focused. It wants to invest in training for five or six years down the road vs. 18 months. That makes [the task of improving diversity] easier,” he said.

Having worked for two wirehouse firms, Barrett is more pessimistic about what larger organizations are likely to do in support of diversity.

“I’ve watched it happen at other [bigger] firms. They take token steps to show they care, but nothing really is done and put in place to make groups feel very included,” he explained. “And this happens like clockwork. Every few years, there’s a wave of lawsuits because they haven’t been giving equal opportunity. The hiring and promotion practices are biased in some ways.”

Morgan Stanley, though, says it has diversity officers in each of its eight regions “who are committed to attracting diverse candidates.” (It declined to share the number of African-Americans employed with the firm’s wealth management operations.)

In addition, Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Financial Advisor Forum blog, launched in 2011, “showcases the opportunities, challenges and advantages of a financial advisor career,” while letting multicultural FAs “share insights and ideas about the work they do … for people from diverse backgrounds considering a career in wealth management.”

Special Focus

Raymond James CEO Paul Reilly, who joined the firm from executive recruiter Korn/Ferry in 2009, believes expanding the firm’s diversity is important. The executive recently told the black advisors network about when he was young and assisted tennis legend Arthur Ashe at an event in the area. Ashe was asked to leave the country club due to his skin color.

Reilly’s “passionate retelling of his childhood experience and how it affected his attitude toward discrimination showed me that diversity at Raymond James is important not only because there’s a business imperative and it’s the right thing to do, but also based on very personal experience,” said Barrett.

Rather than layout just broad thoughts or general statements on diversity, Raymond James asked the black advisors to put together more details on steps for the group and the firm to follow. Barrett appreciates the approach, though he knows it is a heavy responsibility to carry, in addition to his other role as a complex manager for Raymond James.

Still, he won’t be in it alone.

At the black networking event, the head of Raymond James’ employee channel, Tash Elwyn, spoke about the need for diverse talent — for both cultural and business reasons.

“We’re facing a retirement tsunami of advisors leaving the profession, while at the same time experiencing a shift in demographics that will make our client base much more diverse,” Elwyn explained in a statement. “It only makes sense to have our advisors reflect the population they serve, and to partner with this network to expand our reach into new groups.”

— Check out First Quad-A Conference Bridges Gap for African-American Advisors on Thinkadvisor.


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