LeCount R. Davis accepted a lifetime achievement award at InvestmentNews' inaugural Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion awards, which celebrated 26 individuals and firms for their commitment to making the financial advice industry more inclusive.
The award celebrates Mr. Davis' more than 40-year career in financial planning, which includes his becoming the first African American to earn a certified financial planner designation and founding of the Association of African American Financial Advisors (known as Quad-A). InvestmentNews also recognized 10 "See It, Be It," role models, three rising stars, three firms for their outstanding efforts in building a diverse advisory business, and nine other firms for championing diversity efforts in the industry.
In accepting the award, Mr. Davis thanked his faith, his wife, Jewel, mentees like Quad-A director Lazetta Rainey Braxton, and mentors like Alexandra Armstrong, founder and chairwoman of Armstrong Fleming & Moore, all of whom attended the event in New York on Tuesday.
He also urged industry executives to look for new talent in traditionally under-represented communities to close the financial literacy gap separating many people of color.
"Look at the historically black colleges. In them, you'll see there's a treasure trove of brains, capabilities and passion for our mission," he said. "They are saying to the industry, 'put me in coach, I'm ready to play.'"
Before the awards luncheon, winners and other industry professionals dedicated to boosting diversity in the profession discussed existing challenges and considered possible solutions.
Panelists suggested that cultural norms, hiring practices and implicit biases still create unique roadblocks for people of color, including low confidence in financial skills and a lack of awareness about financial advice. These factors contribute to fewer minorities, especially those who are African American and Latino, seeking out financial planning as a career.
The same can be said for women.
Despite years of effort to make financial services more diverse across genders, the industry remains steadfastly 23% female, according to Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, executive director of CFP Board's Center for Financial Planning. Firms need more than just initiatives, they must have proactive and intentional hiring policies, she said.
And despite recent legal victories for the LGBTQ community, few firms are staffed to properly serve the financial needs of these people and families.
"We all have to be very realistic. It's not going to happen overnight," Ms. Mohrman-Gillis said. "It's going to be a very long game, and we have to be prepared for it."
Half of the battle for advisory firms is how they communicate a commitment to D&I with clients, prospects and potential employees. For Kathleen Navarro, vice president and chief diversity officer at New York Life, D&I can't be placed to the side. It must be embedded into education and training at every level of the company.
In particular, middle managers in charge of hiring should receive training on the benefits of making teams more diverse, said Kate Healy, TD Ameritrade Institutional's managing director of Generation Next. Job descriptions should be rewritten to remove unconscious bias, and firms need to provide resources to expand where they look for talent.
The good news is that the needle is starting to move. For example, Ms. Mohrman-Gillis said a record number of new women entered the industry last year.
Firms are recognizing a solid business case for creating a more diverse, inclusive firm. For example, 70% of advisers believe there is a talent shortage in the industry, according to research from InvestmentNews and Fidelity Custody and Clearing Solutions.
Sarita Bhagwat, Fidelity Custody and Clearing Solutions' head of thought leadership marketing, believes intentional D&I recruiting programs can be the solution.
"You shouldn't have to provide business proof for diversity, but what I was grateful to see in our data was we were actually able to show that business imperative," Ms. Bhagwat said.
This data can show reluctant executives that D&I isn't just about feeling good or being politically correct, but that it has a tangible positive impact on the company.
But change requires work by people like Mr. Davis and the other D&I award individual and firm winners that are committed to expanding not just who works in financial services, but which clients they work with, too.
"Not knowing how to handle money … is the genesis of a lot of social problems," Mr. Davis said.
By helping those traditionally ignoring by the industry, advisers can help lift communities out of cycles of poverty and crime. Quoting the Bible, Mr. Davis added, "What you do unto the least of us, God said, you do unto me."