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Practice Management > Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity Is More Than a Fad

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Managing client relationships is challenging enough without the added demands of administrative issues like compliance, technology, human capital and managing to profitability — and yet, the subject of diversity and inclusion (D&I) needs to be addressed.

According to the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning, the profession has not seen much improvement in representation since diversity and inclusion became a conference topic about 20 years ago. Today the advisory world consists of just 23% women, and only 8% people of color. Further, we now have more CFPs over the age of 70 than under the age of 30, a concerning statistic. At the same time, most firms say they are having a hard time finding, hiring and keeping talent of all genders, races and ethnicities.

It is not that advisors lack the will. They just lack the way. We tend to describe the need for greater diversity as an industry problem, rather than an opportunity for each individual advisory firm to drive growth and enhance their business. It is easy to agree with a main stage speaker who exhorts us to hire people who do not look like the majority of practitioners. It is even easier to leave it to other advisors to put the effort in to change our industry demographics for the better.

Bear in mind, women account for more than 50% of the U.S. population. According to the consulting firm Accenture, women are almost three times as likely to be on the fast track to leadership in an organization that has at least one female senior leader compared to those firms with all male leadership. In less than 20 years, the U.S. is projected to be comprised of more than 50% racial and ethnic minorities. A similar logic applies. We must work to get more diverse leaders on board, to jump-start the process of diversifying our industry.

We see that a human capital strategy that consciously recruits and promotes women and minorities brings fresh energy, great ideas and access to new communities of wealth and innovation. That said, there is no catchall method for recruitment. As with all business strategies, leaders must start the process with questions.

First, identify the “why”: Why would we benefit from more women and people of color in our firm? Then ask “what”: If we strive for greater diversity, what are the measures of success? This conversation leads to the critical question, “how”: How will we achieve our goal?

Identifying candidates Where will you find candidates to join your firm? Some firms hire employees right out of school so they can train and mold them into the types of advisors they want. Some firms prefer to recruit experienced advisors to avoid the pain of developing people. Other firms seek career changers who bring wisdom, maturity, relevant experience and contacts, assets they feel they can leverage.

If you are interested in developing new advisors, more than 100 colleges and universities around the country offer CFP Board Registered degree programs. Some institutions offer discrete certificate programs in financial planning, a great option for those deepening their knowledge of financial planning or considering a career change.

In addition to traditional programs, a number of affiliation groups provide training, networking and personal growth opportunities for people of color who work in finance.

Most notable are the Association of African American Financial Advisors and Association of Latino Professionals for America. The CFP Board Center for Financial Planning produced a helpful reference on this topic.

Look for online resources as well. According to an analysis by the Center for Work-Life Policy, now known as the Center for Talent Innovation, 31% of high-performing women voluntarily left the work force between 2004 and 2009, primarily for childcare reasons. To help address this opportunity for the benefit of prospective employees and employers, Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin started as a vehicle for helping women transition back into paying jobs, including financial services.

Onboarding As most advisory firms are small businesses without official human resources departments, advisors, partners and staff have to be more engaged in the onboarding process. As an example, a number of enlightened firms partner each new hire with an employee who acts as a resource, showing them how things work and providing training and support.

Reflect on your own experiences as you build out a human capital plan that includes D&I. Why did you leave previous jobs? Was it because of an undefined career path, few opportunities for personal growth, limited feedback on performance, unfair pay or poor training? What will it take to make your firm’s culture attractive and fulfilling for new employees?

The first impression is important; be prepared to articulate your offering as you recruit talent from all backgrounds into your firm.

Compensation Philosophy Compensation is a significant factor in your employment offering. Every advisory firm needs a coherent compensation policy that is aligned with expectations and roles, and stands up in the marketplace. Two compensation practices that often stifle a firm’s ability to recruit candidates are commission-based plans and unpaid internships.

As the business evolves from professional sellers to professional buyers, most firms are finding that commission-based compensation does not support the behavior they seek. A change from variable to fixed compensation does not mean that one pays less; it just means that the structure of the comp is based on the value an individual delivers beyond bringing in new clients. Bonuses or incentives effectively recognize unique or important contributions an individual makes, or reflect the success of a team or the business itself.

A large number of teams that break away from wire houses eventually move to a fixed salary plus bonus system in their firms, transitioning away from the “eat-what-you-kill” approach. Part of this evolution stems from the recognition that advisory firms do more than sell product and they need to value the other functions. Another part comes from the realization that the “producer” mentality does little to encourage teamwork.

Many advisors use internships to introduce candidates to the firm and help young people learn the business. This strategy can work well as a recruiting tool, but unpaid internships tend to devalue their labor and contribution. In addition, those without outside financial resources often cannot afford to take an unpaid role, meaning you will miss out on some talented recruits. Consider improving your internship program’s structure and training, and including fair compensation for the candidate’s time.

Inclusion At a recent Barron’s event, Penny Pennington, managing partner of Edward Jones, described their D&I philosophy to the audience: “Diversity you can count. Inclusion you can feel. If you don’t feel it, it doesn’t count.”

That is a profound observation about how the business of financial advice works. We can rely on lagging indicators to show that our numbers are better than the previous year. But the leading indicators of staff engagement, career progression and meaningful growth opportunities reveal more about a firm than the number of degrees and certifications the advisors have.

Retention is key. Staff turnover is inevitable in any business, but engaging with employees early and often goes a long way towards keeping them committed to your business. Once leadership has embraced the idea of diversity and created a plan to expand the pool of candidates it considers for hire, the next challenge is making sure that new employees feel like they belong.

It is time to make diversity and inclusion part of your mission. Each individual advisory firm has the opportunity to improve hiring practices and employee engagement now. A large population of talent waits to contribute to your growth, innovation, experience and community commitment.

Mark Tibergien is CEO of BNY Mellon’s Pershing Advisor Solutions. Tibergien is also the author most recently of “The Enduring Advisory Firm,” written with Kim Dellarocca of BNY Mellon and published by Wiley. He can be reached at [email protected].


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