The industry statistics for minority participation are strikingly bad. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards says less than 3.5% of financial planners are black or Latino. But a group of Wells Fargo veterans and their children say programs focused on next-gen talent could be a key way to turn this situation around.
Ending discrimination against people of color in financial services, of course, has involved different measures over the years. Black advisors, for instance, have gone to court and won legal settlements with JPMorgan ($24 million in 2018), Wells Fargo ($35.5 million in 2017) and Merrill Lynch ($160 million in 2013).
A number of broker-dealers have set up networking groups and recruitment programs to help address the situation. Wells Fargo Advisors began staging its yearly conference for black/African American advisors and related professionals in 2009.
At this year’s event in St. Louis, nearly 200 individuals attended, four of whom are veteran advisors and employees with children in the business at Wells Fargo. Their stories point to the difficulties overcome but also to some new ways to boost minority participation, they said in a series of interviews with ThinkAdvisor.
Chelsea Dawkins, a financial relationship advisor in Chicago, thinks she’s found the right career path. (She is one of 625 FRAs, who work with clients with lower asset levels.)
“The reason why I wanted to get into this [business] is that, you know, luckily I was born into a home in which my father’s worked in finance and had that [background],” the junior Dawkins said.
Her father, David Dawkins, now the director of Diverse Client Segments for Wells Fargo Advisors, became an advisor some four decades ago.
“But so many people that look like me, and … that I know, don’t know anything about finance,” Chelsea explained. “And unfortunately it shows, right? We as a community, the black American community, struggle with finance and understanding what to do with it even when we get it.”
This situation also motivated her to go into advisor work, she says: “I really wanted to join this business to help combat the issue that we face in the community — whether that’s the wealth gap or a lack of knowledge. And [it’s about] trying to build up our community, so we can continue to grow and to be active members of our society. Doing that takes resources and knowledge, so I really wanted to do this.”
But she didn’t want to go the “traditional way” in which after a few weeks of training, “you are on your own and … call your friends, call your family, anyone you know with any kind of money at all” to build your book of business, Chelsea explained.
At a branch in Chicago, she now works with several advisors and their clients. “I’m working with existing relationships, building those relationships and continuing to strengthen them. It’s a little different approach than the traditional [one] — ‘here’s a phone book. And good luck,’” she said.
The training is spread over two years. “That gets you on your way and sets you up for success in a way that that’s very unique,” Chelsea said.
“It’s going great. The Chicago market is … very large, … so there are lots of advisors that I work with,” she said. Plus, “My dad is … a phone call away if I run into anything and using his 40 years of experience has definitely been helpful.”
The young advisor says she is talking to others about financial advice careers. “One person I met with, for instance, I told her about the programs that we have here and [that] it’s an amazing opportunity for people interested in the business but who don’t have the personal connections that people traditionally needed to be successful [in it],” Chelsea said.
Her father, who helps run Wells Fargo Advisors’ diversity efforts that specifically focus on mentoring, says this and other recruitment and training programs are game-changers.
“We are doing something here that I think is incredible,” David said, about the retention of next-gen advisors of color. “We’ve created a way to develop them, retain them and if they are interested, help them go into leadership, so that we can attract even more.”
The senior Dawkins cut his teeth in the business in 1980 at Merrill Lynch. “The day I started I was called by two gentlemen. … I still remember their names, because they were the only two African American advisors I was aware of [back then] … They made a point of reaching out.
“Fast forward [to this group’s event this summer], when I walked into a room … and there were 170 of us!” he said. “I … said to myself, ‘This looks like a black African American summit.’”
“I had an emotional experience. I cried about it. … [so many years] in the business …, for the first time I felt like I was among people of a common experience who understood what I lived for [so long],” David explained. “Yeah, I was emotional.”
These sentiments and a desire to see more people of color in the business are why “I am doing what I do today. … And I am happy and proud to be a part of an organization that sees that as critical to the future. That diversity is important. And we’re very serious about it,” the senior Dawkins explained.
His daughter says that the program for financial relationship advisors includes people of many different backgrounds. “We’re kind of changing the face of financial advising, which is really interesting,” she said.
Her father says such programs are essential, both for Wells Fargo and for the broader community. “We are innovating on that and creating a model that hopefully one day others will replicate. I’m proud to be one of those leading that.
“Ultimately, then, Wells Fargo can be the destination of choice for financial advisors and leaders in our business, for team members and for clients,” he said. “We’re looking to change their financial futures and help them succeed financially.”
Chase Stacker remembers his mother Angela Ruffin-Stacker studying for the Series 7 exam more than a decade ago. “I had no idea why she had all this paperwork and was doing what I call ‘homework.’” he said, adding that she “never pushed me into being in this industry.”
But his mother’s time with A.G. Edwards, Wachovia and Wells Fargo exposed him to the advisory world. “I always felt like part of this family. And her cohorts have always been incredibly supportive. This has all helped a lot,” Stacker said.
He ended up working at Wells Fargo Advisors’ base in St. Louis and then moved to San Francisco, where the parent firm is located. Like Chelsea Dawkins, he is a financial relationship advisor.