What You Need to Know
- The growth of diverse, affluent U.S. households is outpacing the general population, according to three new studies.
- Merrill executives remain commited to making more diversity strides, the firm says.
- Black Americans were twice as likely as the general affluent population to be focused on reducing debt.
Merrill Lynch continues to make strides on its diversity initiatives but recognizes more progress is needed, the company said while publishing the findings of three studies showing the growth of affluent U.S. Black, LGBTQ+ and Hispanic/Latino households was outpacing that of the general population.
The studies, conducted by research firm Ipsos, found that, since 2015, members of the Black, LGBTQ+ and Hispanic/Latino communities with annual income of more than $125,000 grew 65%, 76% and 81% respectively, while the general population increased 53%.
The overall picture presented in the reports, released Wednesday, was fairly positive. However, “this research cannot and does not stand on its own,” according to Kirstin Hill, chief operating officer of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “It needs to be a part of a much broader set of things that we as an organization are doing both inside of our firm and outside.”
Merrill’s Diversity Initiatives
When it comes to Merrill’s diversity efforts, there is first a “commitment from the top” executives at the firm, Hill said. It is “clear that it is a leadership priority for them,” she noted.
Merrill Lynch Wealth Management was pulling out all stops to add more women and people of color to its “thundering herd” of advisors to meet the firm’s goal of becoming the industry leader in diversity and inclusion, Andy Sieg, its president, told ThinkAdvisor in an interview in November.
The second important thing for Merrill when it comes to its diversity initiatives is accountability, Hill told reporters in a briefing on the new diversity reports on Monday. “These objectives are good and important but we have discovered ourselves that, without accountability, progress is very hard to make,” she explained. “So one of the areas that we have really committed to is holding ourselves accountable as a leadership team.”
That includes “making progress in terms of the representation of our teams because while it is certainly not the only gauge of success in terms of serving diverse communities, it is important that we as an organization do better in looking like and being a part of the communities that we serve,” she said.
“We have progress still to make and, to that end, you saw us last year commit to transparency around the racial and gender diversity of our advisor force,” she pointed out.
Although “we have a lot of progress remaining to be made,” she conceded, “we are making progress.” As an example, “over the last 18 months, over half of our new advisor hires have been diverse,” at 54%, up from 39% in 2017, she said.
“Now we need to keep that up and we need to do the work … around the kind of the culture of inclusivity, among other things, to ensure then that we kind of retain and support the folks that we hire,” she said, adding: “We are absolutely committed with our time, with our resources and … with our leadership time and resources to ensuring we make progress.”
Merrill, Wells Fargo and Edward Jones are among the firms that have been hit with discrimination complaints in recent years.