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 — exclusively told to Investment Advisor/ThinkAdvisor.com — highlight the difficulties they and other people of color have overcome, while showing new ways to boost minority participation in financial services.
Chelsea Dawkins, a financial relationship advisor in Chicago, says she’s on the right career path. (She is one of 625 FRAs, who work with clients with lower asset levels.)
“The reason I wanted to get into this [business] is that 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. “I told one person I met with, for instance, 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,” David explained.
“Fast forward [to Wells Fargo’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. After … [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.
“Something clicked in my mind and I said, ‘You know, I’ve heard about the next-generation talent role and this new financial relationship advisor role, … and I really just decided I wanted to take that shot and set myself up for a career,” the younger Stacker said.
Wells Fargo Advisors’ yearly African American summit has become “a fun and exciting meeting to come to,” according to his mother, who is a senior vice president of the firm’s Diverse Financial Recruiting Strategy. “It’s a meeting that everybody looks forward to each and every year.”
Along with veteran and next-gen advisors, the event also includes African-American prospects; 20 attended this year’s gathering. “That part of the meeting has just increased and enhanced the experience over time, because it has created a buzz in the marketplace,” said Ruffin-Stacker.
“Our [prospective-advisor] guests always walk away with, ‘Wow. I’ve never been in a room with that many African American advisors,’” she said. “Our African American advisor population continues to grow, and I can only see that growing exponentially over time based on our next-gen advisors, as well as our experienced advisors. I … see this as an upward trajectory.”
Her son agrees. “I am seeing how many more African Americans in my role are here … ,” he said. “Now that we’re getting this next generation and focusing so much on diversity, it doesn’t really have a choice but to grow.”
Jason Prestwood decided to sign up for Wells Fargo Advisors’ associate advisor training program (which is like an apprenticeship) in 2014, 15 years after his father, Alan, started in the business at Merrill Lynch. They now do business together in Melbourne, Florida.
“After working in technology and data [solutions] for some time, I felt that I was done with options, so I talked to my dad,” Jason said, adding that he wanted “a different opportunity.” “Dad said basically, ‘You should join my team.’”
(Wells Fargo has about 600 financial advisors in training; it also has some 220 digital-based financial advisors as part of its next-gen efforts.)
One growth strategy of the Prestwoods, according to Alan, is hosting a monthly birthday dinner for the team’s top clients: “We let them know that we really appreciate their business and thank them, look for referrals.”
To add next-gen clients, the Prestwoods get to know their clients’ families, Alan says, and they “have [been] pretty successful at keeping these assets with us and at having those who inherit the money bring in more assets, as well.” And with Jason on board, the team has been hosting events that cater to next-gen prospects and clients, including movies and bowling.
As for Wells Fargo Advisors, the increased number of minority advisors “means that the programs that are being implemented and developed are actually working,” the senior advisor says.
Jason said meeting David Kowach, the prior head of WFA (and now head of Community Banking) when he started out had an impact on him. “He talked about diversity and inclusion and that they recognized there was an issue. Now, you know, five years later, I see the progress that’s been made.”
Overall, more needs to be done to bring in minorities. “The opportunity needs to be marketed,” Alan said. “We as a company and we as an industry need to market the position itself and that in turn will help others to know that it is available.”
For instance, advertising campaigns that feature images of and appearances by African American advisors can “send an extra signal to those watching,” he said. “Then, those seeing the ads might say, ‘Wow. I never thought about that [as a career].”
With close to 20 years as an advisor, Tonya Griffith says she’s thought a lot about what her retirement will look like and has watched many male advisors keep the business in the family.
“I saw the advantage of this [approach] for the clients, who felt reassured” that their portfolio management and contact with an advisor would be consistent after their advisor left the business, explained the head of Griffith Financial Group in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
About five years ago, the veteran advisor brought daughter Courtney to a women’s summit hosted by Wells Fargo Advisors and introduced her to Mary Mack, now head of consumer banking for the parent firm.
“Courtney said, ‘These ladies are phenomenal,’ and … [later] she said, ‘OK, tell me what you do.’ That started the transformation,” said Tonya, who believes she and her daughter — one of 475 associate financial advisors (or AFAs) with Wells Fargo — are likely the only black mother-daughter advisory team in the U.S.
She does feel positive that their situation could change: “The industry is changing so rapidly. Our firm recognizes the lack of diversity within the industry as a whole and wants to put programs in place to ensure the success of the next generation coming in.”
“The AFA program opens the door for me to hire a young person…, and it’s a true success story for me,” Tonya added. “I can assure clients that their plans will stay intact if and when I decide to exit the business.”
Plus, Courtney is speaking to her clients and their family members, which should mean strong retention of clients and their wealth. “I’m so pleased and excited that she is here,” the veteran advisor said.
Her daughter agrees. “People kept speaking about to me about how tough it would be to work with my mom. We get along great. When I struggle, she picks up on that, and when she has an issue, I can jump in to help,” the younger advisor said.
It’s a good blend, her mother points out: “My strength is that I, as a baby boomer, can make clients [of that generation] comfortable. But with all the changes, Courtney is so tech savvy, research focused and systematic. That means I can focus on what I do best.”
“Her research, tech skills and all address the millennial generation and others who will inherit wealth,” Tonya explained.
Overall, she says, their team represents what lies ahead for the firm and the industry. “Wells Fargo now understands the changing dynamics of our society and knows that is it is important to support underserved populations in general to ensure that every opportunity is given for success.”
Janet Levaux is editor-in-chief of Investment Advisor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.