Rene Nourse thinks that a relationship in which an experienced financial adviser mentors a rookie is key to building diversity in the financial advice industry.
An African-American adviser who started her career in the go-go 80s, Ms. Nourse said there has been some progress for women and minorities, but more is still needed. Helping the career of a younger professional should be a significant part of that effort, she said.
"We're seeing more women who want to enter Wall Street, and we're seeing more diverse people because they are being connected to people in the industry," Ms. Nourse said.
Wall Street has talked for decades about becoming more diverse and increasing the number of female and minority financial advisers, but doing so has been a struggle. There is a startlingly low number of certified financial planners who are African-American. According to the Association of African-American Financial Advisors, of which Ms. Nourse is currently president, only 1,200 of the 80,000 CFPs in the U.S. are black. That's just 1.5%. The association plans to launch a mentoring program this year and renew its efforts, focusing on building up membership and sharpening its message.
Ms. Nourse's goal is to see the advice business look like the rest of the country, and she is hopeful.
"Now, in the industry, there are some younger people, people of color, LGBT, she said. "We're in a different world right now. That's the issue."
"Mentoring, messaging — that is a big part of building community and getting the word out," said Lazetta Rainey Braxton, a board member for the association and CEO of Financial Fountains, a financial planning firm. "Rene hears and sees where people are and has an appreciation of how a business needs to be run. Rene is very much in the trenches, building her firm and heading this volunteer organization."
It hasn't been quick or easy succeeding in the advice business.
With a background in insurance, Ms. Nourse knocked on doors of brokerage firms 35 years ago and Dean Witter Reynolds in Southern California finally gave her a shot in 1985.
"First off, being in that traditional wirehouse was extremely beneficial to me," she said. "The training was awesome. We learned about capital markets, investments and a number of things, and that is not easily replicated today in the independent or breakaway space."
The downside, however, was the culture at times of such institutions, she said.
"There were definitely times when clients did not want to work with me," Ms. Nourse said. "Back when I was cold-calling clients, they knew I was a woman. But when they came to the office and found out I was African-American, that ... did not always work out."
"I loved Dean Witter," Ms. Nourse said. "The firm was open, diverse and they hired women and people of color."
Dean Witter Discover & Co. merged with Morgan Stanley in 1997. Ms. Nourse eventually earned her CFP in 2003 and left the wirehouse side of the industry about a decade later to focus on financial planning, she said. She started her firm, Urban Wealth Management, in 2012 and today it has $120.7 million in client assets.
"I got my sense that people and clients I was working with needed more than just asset management," Ms. Nourse said.
They needed help directing their financial lives, she said.