The United States is facing a reckoning when it comes to who has historically benefitted from privilege, and who hasn’t. Our country has enacted racist policies that made it more difficult, if not impossible, for Black Americans, other Americans of color, and immigrants to succeed.
The financial planning industry has not been historically kind to minorities and women. Clients have been disrespected by financial planners who don’t take them seriously, which makes them less likely to seek the life-changing advice that so many older, white male clients benefit from. And when you work in the industry, the Old Boys’ Club is still very much in play. It can be hard to find your place if you’re not over age 50, white, male, and born into a family that’s been in America for generations. (Or as I like to call it: stale, male, and pale.)
As someone who never felt at home among the suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying, golf-playing population of financial planners, I had to strike out on my own to build the type of business I felt was lacking. I am a firm believer in needing more diverse financial planners in this profession, so here is a list of 10 POC-Owned Advisory Businesses with Insanely Great Marketing. (Shout out to my friends Luis and Kaya who both made this list!)
I’m honored that many of my clients are immigrants or first-generation Americans, or married to someone who is. (For background: my grandparents were Polish slave laborers in Nazi Germany and my dad is a first-generation American.) Some of my clients are the first in their families to go to college (as was my dad) or attain a high net worth. It is a privilege to be on someone’s team as they reach a level of success their parents and grandparents could only dream of. If you’re a financial planner who is reading this, this is for you. Here’s how I structured my business so I could be of service to a more diverse group of clients.
Make it easy for clients to meet with you
Don’t assume everyone works a 9-5 desk job with the flexibility to leave early so they can meet with you in person. They may have jobs that don’t offer paid time off for mid-day appointments, or children to pick up, or other family to care for.
My company has always served clients virtually. I got a lot of side-eye for years about that, but the pandemic has forced even the most traditional firms to go remote (and now everyone knows what Zoom is). This dramatically evens the playing field: clients no longer have to take time off to meet with you. They don’t even have to work with a financial planner who lives in the same city! If possible, especially when you’re first starting out, offer evening or weekend hours on an as-needed basis, so clients with a variety of work schedules and family commitments can meet with you.
Take the position that the client is the expert in their own life
My family background affects how I view money and how I conduct my relationships with my parents as an adult. Other cultures operate differently than mine, and that doesn’t make them “wrong.” So when I work with a client who immigrated from a country where it’s common for multiple generations of a family to live together, or for young adults to support their parents financially, I try to listen to how the client wants to help their family, and how I can be on their team.
When a client tells you that it’s important for them to support their parents, or take in their teenage nephew, or pay for their younger sister’s college education, listen to them. Assume what they want to do is the right thing for them to do. From there, you can look through their financial statements and make recommendations that fit these financial goals into their overall plan.
Don’t just give advice: educate
Americans of all different backgrounds are sorely lacking financial knowledge, and that’s even more true for those who have been shut out of traditional financial and banking products because of discrimination. While running analyses and giving guidance is your job, teaching is also essential.
Handing a client a 30-page plan filled with graphs isn’t going to teach them to fish. When people understand how different types of financial products work, they can begin to open and manage accounts so they can grow their wealth.
Avoid being condescending. Your clients are intelligent people who are hungry for knowledge. But if you make them feel like idiots, they will fire you as a financial planner. And they’ll be right.
Be open to your clients educating you. I’ve learned so many things from my clients and been introduced to new ideas, products, services, and other tools out there that I wouldn’t have known about if my clients hadn’t asked me about them or told me they existed. Some of these have become resources that I’ve passed onto other clients or provided context for our team in how we could serve others better.
Are you a prospective client? Here’s what to look for
If you’re looking for a financial planner, know that it’s totally normal to interview a few possibilities before you pick the planner you want to work with. You don’t have to settle for someone just because they were the first person to reply to your email, or because your friend recommended them.
You and your financial planner talk about some very personal things, so you need to feel completely comfortable opening up to them. I’m often one of the first phone calls my clients make when they lose their job, find out they’re pregnant, or decide to shop for an engagement ring, because life stuff is also financial stuff. Look for a planner who:
- Treats you with respect. If you feel like they aren’t taking you seriously because of your gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or country of origin, don’t hire this person.
- Really listens to you. When you tell them something is important to you, they work that into your plan. That includes risk tolerance, by the way — if a planner’s recommendations take you too far outside your comfort zone, it’s okay to not take that advice. You need to be able to sleep at night!
- Sees you as an individual. Don’t settle for a cookie-cutter financial plan that only exists to sell you products you don’t need. A financial planner is an investment, so you should be getting advice that feels authentic to how you want to manage your money.