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Practice Management > Diversity and Inclusion

Beware of Culturally Misaligned Retirement Imagery

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What You Need to Know

  • One person’s retirement dream may look a lot different from another’s based on both personal and cultural factors, inclusion experts say.
  • Imagery that resonates with one cultural group may be off-putting to another.
  • Ultimately, advisory industry professionals must be ready, willing and able to apologize to a client or prospect if one inadvertently makes an inaccurate assumption about a person’s money beliefs or aspirations.

Advisory industry leaders working to improve the racial and cultural diversity of their firms often focus primarily on efforts related to recruiting, hiring, compensation and workplace culture.

These are all clearly important areas to address, says Chuck Adams, co-CEO and managing principal at the inclusion-focused consulting firm Language & Culture Worldwide. The advisory industry’s diversity stats, Adams observes, are about as bad as any industry gets, especially when one looks beyond the entry level and towards the higher ranks.

As such, he hails industry leaders who have come to see this lack of representation as the unacceptable problem that it is, but he also suggests advisory firms have a lot of other areas to consider when it comes to improving their overall diversity, equality and inclusion footing. Among these is the marketing effort and the imagery that firms use in their various client-facing materials and advertisements, especially those pertaining to “retirement.”

Simply put, the “traditional” images of a well-dressed, stylish older couple strolling down a beach, or the stereotypical shot of an older gentleman piloting a sailboat, can fall flat. This is true for people who feel they share a similar cultural background with those who are depicted in the imagery, Adams says, but such imagery can create a particularly negative impression when shared with clients or prospects who may differ from those being pictured racially or culturally.

Adams shared this warning during a presentation at Envestnet’s 2023 Elevate conference, which took place during the final week of April in Denver. Adams was joined in the DE&I-focused discussion by Alisa Kolodizner, L&CW’s other co-CEO and managing partner, as well as by Envestnet’s Tisha Boyd and Sonya Dreizler, co-founder of Choir, an organization that works to improve diverse representation in the media.

The speakers shared a wealth of information about how advisory firms can attract and retain the next generation of diverse talent. They emphasized that many of the strategies shared will take both time and sustained effort to drive real change, but their warnings about marketing imagery were more immediately actionable.

‘Why Is That Poor Older Man Alone on the Beach?’

To drive the point across, Adams recalls a focus group experience he once had, in which a diverse group of test subjects was shown an advertisement from a leading financial firm focused on retirement.

“So, one of the ads we showed was an older white guy walking down a beach in a white linen shirt with his pants rolled up and walking his dog,” Adams recalls. “The verbiage in the advertisement, as I recall, was all about ‘taking control of your financial future.’”

For some in the focus group, that message resonated and made a lot of sense, Adams says, especially for those people who turned out to be more individualistic or independently minded. But for many others, it clearly failed to hit home.

“We actually had some participants who were Black and Latino asking, ‘Why is that poor older man alone on the beach with his dog? Where is his family? Doesn’t he have any friends?’” Adams recalls. “It was really eye-opening for some of the marketing people, because it showed that not everyone responds to the same images in the same way.”

There is obviously a lot of nuance and variation within any given cultural group, the experts warn, but there are also some common themes to be considered. Some communities, for example, tend to be more communitarian than others when it comes to money matters. The key is to not make universal assumptions.

“Rather than seeing themselves in someone walking alone on a beach, a client might resonate much more with a picture of a big happy family all sitting around Grandma in the backyard,” Adams says. “Things have improved somewhat with the financial industry’s marketing practices, but I still hear so many stories about people just feeling really alienated or just not understood.”

When in Doubt, Ask Questions and Seek Help

The DE&I experts emphasize that not everyone can be expected to have a deep expertise in every potential culture from which a potential client could come. In fact, there is also a risk of firms or professionals coming off as patronizing or making untoward assumptions, so it’s important to be mindful in the marketing effort even as one strives to be more inclusive.

“Another insight we can share is that it is OK to admit that you don’t know something and that you need to ask questions and seek guidance to better understand a person or their background,” Kolodizner suggests. “The interest and the empathy is the important part.”

The panel also urged advisory industry professionals to be ready, willing and able to apologize to a client or prospect if one inadvertently makes an inaccurate assumption about a person’s money beliefs or aspirations.

“That apology and the subsequent discussion can go such a long way,” Dreizler says. “It’s so common for people in financial services to have so much confidence and to believe they’re the smartest people in the room. Sometimes, that is just not the case, and so being open and being willing to learn and engage is crucial.”

(Image: Adobe Stock)


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