Will COVID- 19 change industry attitudes about advisors’ race
No. I don’t think it will have any impact on that at all.
By “selfish,” do you mean advisors are in it just for the money?Yes, the money they can make. That’s why some advisors don’toffer their services to people who can’t pay. We’re taught [bythe industry] to be selfish: We never put anything back into thecommunity. That’s a shame because there are hungry children,and poor and homeless people all over. Meanwhile, we’re patting each other on the back, giving congratulations for makingthe Barron’s 100. That’s unacceptable.
What needs to be done?
We have to move from a business that’s taught to take to a business that’s taught to give.
In what way are you personally giving?
It’s very important for me to use my experience of growingup in an unbanked home, someone who didn’t know whatthe stock market was until the age of 26 and someone whohas worked with young black and brown kids who have beenraped, been gang members, abused, neglected and unsheltered.
How does that work relate to financial services?
As an industry, we touch what everybody in the world needs:money. We’re complicit in the income inequality in this country. And as an industry, we don’t do enough to combat it.
What are you doing along those lines?
I don’t agree to speak or take part in conferences [whose spon-sors] don’t give back to the community. Those of us who areblack and brown — especially those of us who are black men —have to start using the leverage and platform we have to let [theindustry] know we’re no longer your “diversity-and-inclusionhires.” I’m OK with you checking [that] box — but if you useme, I will use you.
What’s your hope for the industry regarding these issues This is going to explode. We’ll see it all change. It seems likethere’s been a shift. In 10 to 15 years, financial services will bethe most beloved industry in the world.
Really! How does it get from here to there?
It’s the exponential [factor], as we’re seeing now with coronavirus — and with the compound interest that we all pontificateabout. You’re seeing people on a lower level starting to look atgiving back. Some are becoming thoughtful givers. Conferenceshave started to change. And this attitude will become a part ofthe conversation with clients. Then it will become industry-wide. You’re already starting to see ripple effects.
What’s a “thoughtful giver”?
Someone who, perhaps, gives money to you, but who alsotouches your spirit. A lot of advisors actually are thoughtfulgivers. They just aren’t conditioned to show it because theindustry says the important thing about this business is assetsunder management — the more assets you have, the smarterand more connected you must be. That’s not true.
How should advisors be evaluated?
When assets under management changes to: Are you merciful?Then the industry will really start to change. The problem, asI’ve said, is that in this business, we’re taught to take. But evenif you’re the most hardened, cold salesman of an advisor, atsome point you’re doing what you’re doing because you careabout people.
As director of community at Altruist, what’s your focus?The purpose of Altruist is to make it cheaper for advisors towork with clients and [thereby enable them to] take on households they normally wouldn’t take on. …The focus is financialliteracy and education for all.
You were a Merrill Lynch advisor for five years, from 2012 to
2017. How was that experience?
My mother would say, “If you don’t have anything nice tosay, don’t think it.” My experience there was very mixed. I’mgrateful for my time at Merrill because my first mentor was awhite 30-year advisor who managed about a billion dollars.He literally changed the trajectory of my life — he poured a lotinto me. [On the other side] I experienced horrible racism andbigotry from the firm and sometimes from clients. That waspart of the reason I left.
Can you elaborate?
Merrill Lynch didn’t want a 30-year-old black man — or any[African American FAs], for that matter. When I left [in 2017],there were 14,000 advisors, and [it seemed to me that] 100were black. It’s laughable. That firm has been around for 100years — so, one per year? Thank you!
What’s the biggest challenge facing financial advisors
Today, it’s the market going to hell! The biggest [long-term]challenge for advisors is the demographic shift that’s happening, with $13 trillion that will transfer to the next two generations. They’re going to want financial advice. But how aremillennials and Gen Z going to pay for it?
Jane Wollman Rusoff is a contributing editor who specializes ininterviews with thought leaders. An author and prolific journalist,Jane is founder of www.FamilyStarProductions.com.