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RIA Says Being Black, Under 30 Makes Him a 'Unicorn'

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Samuel Deane stepped into the financial services industry with big entrepreneurial plans. First, there was his intention to launch his own RIA after notching just three years in the business.

Nevertheless, “there was a time when I felt like being Black or under 30 would hold me back,” he tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

“But since I started my own firm, being under 30 and Black makes me more of a unicorn,” the 29-year-old financial planner declares.

Before launching Deane Wealth Management in 2018, he had indeed worked for just three years at Lincoln Financial Group and then at a small RIA.

Starting with zero clients and zero revenue, his firm’s growth has been impressive: He is already serving 35 client households and has $6.3 million in assets under management and $25 million in assets under advisement, as of December 2021.

This year, he expects his AUM to double.

Revenue for his first year in business totaled $5,000. Last year, it came to $110,000.

Much of the secret to Deane’s success as a specialist in equity compensation and tax planning is his choice of client niche: millennials in technology. 

They are startup founders and employers, plus other young tech professionals with complex equity compensation and tax planning needs.

Deane, who is based in Atlanta, says that he understands their “concerns, constraints and pain points.”

A pithy pitch on his website seems to sum up his business model: “No sales. No commissions. No BS.”

Depending on asset level, clients are charged either an AUM-based fee or a flat monthly fee.

In the interview, the RIA, who was born in St. Lucia and came to the U.S. with his parents at age 7, relates why from the get-go his plan focused on forming his own RIA.

He also touches on the issue of industry efforts to expand diversity and inclusion, which he sees as “lip service.”

“I don’t think the industry really wants to be diverse,” says Deane, who has an MBA from Hofstra University and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University at Albany, State University of New York.

A former adjunct professor at Baruch College, he markets his practice by writing online content for Morningstar and Investopedia, among others, and speaks at technology companies about equity compensation.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Deane, who was on the phone from Atlanta.

“I put my brain on the internet” is how he describes his marketing tack.

Here are highlights of our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: You worked as a financial advisor for just three years before you opened your own RIA. Why the rush?

SAMUEL DEANE: It was very intentional. I wanted to launch my own wealth management firm, and you have to be working for three years under a CFP who’ll vouch for you. 

I knew what my end goal was, and I intentionally sought out opportunities at RIAs to devote my time to a deep learning of my craft.

Did you have any doubt that you’d make it?

There was a time when I felt like being Black or under 30 would hold me back from accomplishing my goals.

But since I’ve started my own firm, I’ve had quite the opposite experience.

Being under 30 and Black makes me more of a unicorn because there aren’t many Black advisors under 30 who run their own firms, [especially] a fee-only firm that puts clients’ best interest first.

What’s your view on the financial services industry’s efforts to be more diverse and inclusive?

It starts with the leadership. In all honesty, I don’t think the industry really wants to be diverse. I think a lot of it is lip service.

I’m no diversity and equity specialist, but I don’t see why it’s so difficult to build a diverse organization — to put [diverse people] in leadership positions and have them do what they do best.

So I’m tired of the lip service around being diverse. I’d rather see it in action.

These companies have billions of dollars, tons of resources. If they found it was that important to make the change, I have no doubt they would [have].

Why did you choose the client niche of millennials in technology?

More on this topic

Being under 30 and a Black advisor, I knew it was important for me to have a niche. I knew there had to be something special I’d need to offer. 

From the perspectives of business value and a competitive edge, I knew I had to be a specialist and that it was important for me to work with [clients] who think like me and are relatable.

That encouraged me, number one, to work with millennials. And the technology space is interesting because of its [largely] equity compensation, where a lot of planning and intricacy are involved.

I don’t want to do general [advisory], like “max out your 401(k).” That’s great foundational stuff, but I want to be challenged by the work I’m doing.

Tell me more about why you picked millennials in the technology arena.

My wife is a software engineer, and I [learned] that at tech firms, equity compensation is a pretty significant part of overall compensation. 

I dived deeper into the tech world, and then decided to position myself as a specialist in equity compensation, focusing on folks in [the tech] space.

How big a role does crypto play in your practice?

If you’re working with millennials, it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll have to educate yourself about crypto assets in order to provide prudent financial advice.

I’m not one to encourage clients to invest in [crypto], but people come to me already invested.

Because of that, it’s my fiduciary duty to educate myself on crypto and provide investment advice about it.

Why did you want to become an FA in the first place?

My family’s trajectory shaped my [viewpoint] about money and ownership, and my desire to be a business owner.

My family is from Guyana. I was born in St. Lucia. We came to America in 1999, when I was 7. My mom is a registered nurse; my dad is an MTA bus driver in the Bronx. 

They were very hard workers who came to America [New York] with a plan on how to attain the American dream. Seeing their hard work sparked a fire in me.

When I was growing up, my mom worked three full-time jobs at one point. My dad left for work at 5 a.m. and didn’t come home till 10 p.m.

Within six years, we went from renting — living in someone’s basement — to owning a five-bedroom house in the Long Island suburbs. That’s disciplined savings!

How did your parents manage to save so much?

They bought two properties that [they rented out], one in Guyana in 1997, the other in Delaware in 2009. Both of those helped fund my college education.

Separately, they saved for our home on Long Island, which they purchased in 2005. 

In business school, I gravitated toward finance because of my background and what I knew my parents [had done].

How do you market your practice?

I put my brain on the internet: I write, and [prospective] clients come to me. When I was launching my firm, I identified that I’m not someone who’s going to go out and try to sell you on who I am and what I know.

I started a blog and a newsletter with content that relates only to equity compensation. Because I do that consistently, folks reach out to me saying: “I read your article. I’d love to work with you.”

That way, you’re giving consumers insight into how you think before they work with you. I thought that was a big key to growing my firm.

I also speak about equity compensation at tech companies.

You’re co-founder of Wealthtech Venture Partners. What’s that?

I recently partnered with another RIA owner to raise a venture capital fund. Wealthtech is a subsection of fintech focused on anything that enhances the wealth management and investment process for professional and retail investors.

My partner and I are very deep in the wealth management industry and know what [tech] features are critical, what absolutely moves the needle from a practice management perspective.

Having that day-to-day operational experience will give us a better edge than general venture capitalists. 

So, aside from providing capital, our feedback is going to be important because we’re the ideal users.