Updated: Jun 11, 2021
“To this day, Grandma 'fraid what I might say
They gon' have to kill me, Grandmama, I'm not they slave”
Financial Advisor, Wealth Manager, Hedge Fund Manager, Private Equity Manager, Financial Planner. What comes to your mind? Who do you see?
A white man?
I mean, in some ways you are not wrong. If we are just talking about the CFP® designation, white men make up more than 70% of the profession. What does that mean for me, Odaro Aisueni, a dark-skinned, black, Financial Planning student whose parents are from Benin City, Nigeria, and who grew up south of the beltway in Houston, Texas. Let us simply say I feel like a “square peg trying to fit into a round hole.” I do not fit in, I do not fit the mold, and by no means will I ever “fit” into something I was not created to be
“It baffles me that an industry that clearly understands the benefits of diversification for their portfolio – because a variety of exposures that act differently reduce volatility and improve risk-adjusted returns – can be so far behind in terms of exposure to people of color. Funny how things work, right? Before Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and many other African Americans were murdered on camera, and peaceful protests and riots followed, there had already been people in the financial industry bringing to light the issue of racism. There were blog posts, podcast episodes, and the topic had even been spoken about at a few conferences. However, there was a sense of a silence and lack of reaction to the issue. I know to some reading this, they might use my age or experience to denounce my claims, but I urge you to not find another excuse to coddle racist biases. Further, I will explain how I saw this play out in my upbringing and in college, and suggest ways that you can make a change.
I remember my father telling me how his first job after graduation was at Hertz Rental Car. He held his MBA, but no, he was not on the management team. He was a bus driver whose manager was a white woman with a high school diploma.
And yes, English was my father’s first language.
For some, notice how your brain automatically tried
to find a way to devalue this experience.
My dad had peers from his graduating class go on to work on Wall Street, but he never had the opportunity. This was not because he was under-qualified (his undergraduate degree was in business finance). It was because he did not fit the mold. It is sad that some of the obstacles my father faced over thirty years ago his son faces now. Do I have my MBA and drive a bus at Hertz? No, this is not the case. But racism is not extinct in our country, it has simply evolved, well kind of.
Black people are still lynched in the street.
Rather than driving a bus, it looks different for me and my peers who are people of color. Racism is not as “in your face,” but we can still feel and see every ounce of it. When I was in the fifth grade, I remember my mom asking my three older siblings and I if we wanted to change our names to more “American” names to avoid discrimination from future employers. I laughed at my mom for “overreacting.” Today, as a young, 23-year-old man, I understand her worry. She knew I would quickly go from being an innocent fifth grader to being seen as a threat. I learned that my skin made people uncomfortable. My skin made people on my campus ask me “you play on the football team?” Come on, I am barely 5’10”. And I know my skin color makes people in my profession of wealth management uncomfortable. I always wondered why my peers were described as “nice young men” while I was just a box filler. I was sought after to be used for photo opportunities and an eventually PR campaigns. I am here to speak for not only myself, but for every other black financial planning student or prospect. Please do not hire us to fill a box or to have a “sprinkle” of diversity on your company website.
One of my go to interview questions is always “What is the firm doing in the community?” It is almost laughable the responses I have gotten. I will spare you from reading the excuses that I have heard. Whenever I have expressed interest in getting a financial designation that would help me do more pro bono work (AFC®), I always hear the same response.
“Firm owners do not care.”
“It is not useful for our clients’ demographic.”
“Just get the 65.”
This is the issue: Employers are willing to hire black candidates to fill in the box so that the SEC, CFP® Board, or any other financial group does not come asking questions. This practice is playing into the systematic issue of our country. If you hire a person of color, they will bring a unique perspective that you may have been blind to. They can help you make lasting changes for the good of your company and city, not just bring in more assets to manage.
So, what can you do? 1. Learn. Take a break on the books on markets, (we already know that they are efficient) and pick up a book on the black wall street. Learn about the times of thriving black communities, and where white supremacists destroyed those communities because of their success and perceived “threat.” Look at a map of your city and see where banks are located, see what neighborhoods they are not in. Look up “white flight,” and see how whites would flee neighborhoods whenever black people would move in because of fear that their home’s value would plummet. Learn about redlining, the practice where bankers would avoid giving mortgages in communities of color. Just imagine the generational impact that these things have on communities. If you know anything about estate planning, you should know the importance of generational wealth and the ability to give your children/beneficiaries an inheritance.
2. Use your own time to make a difference. It is easy to say, “TD Ameritrade is doing something,” “Vanguard is diverse,” or “Schwab gives out scholarships”. These are great, but what is your firm doing? Go into underrepresented communities and schools and teach kids about credit, help them learn about the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. How about, instead of going to a networking event, spending that time teaching a financial education course to parents at their kids grade or middle school?
3. Make intentional efforts to find qualified POC. Trust me, we exist. Look, I bleed Red & Black (Go Raiders!!!), and know that Texas Tech has a phenomenal financial planning program, but maybe try looking into recruiting from an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Have your firm attend the Association of African American Financial Advisors. Talk to the leaders of the organization and figure out ways you can navigate hiring and recruiting their members.
4. Allow what you learn to change your perspective and bring a lasting impact.
Stop reading blog posts about exit plan strategies for maybe a month. I know some of you guys do it just so you can sound smart in front of other wealth managers. Actually spend time thinking about how you can make an impact in communities that are underrepresented. Go into it understanding that black kids are not dumb, and they do not need a “white savior.” They just need a chance. A lot of us did not have the same resources that our white peers did. Look at the difference in schools. I know it is easy to drive past “that side of town” passing judgment. But I think rapper Andy Mineo said it well,
“You see them dudes on my block? They been selling them packs
You probably think they’re low-life’s or some felons in fact
I see math teachers who know how to add & subtract
Business owners, entrepreneurs, intelligent cats
In the wrong element but ain’t nobody telling em that.”
Yes, I had friends growing up that sold drugs. No, I am not condoning it, but I hope to be the example they need. I know they did not do it to seem cool, they did it because they had bills to pay. Now, take your CFP®, CFA, Series 7, Series 66, or whatever designation you have, and go make a change!
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be used as investment, tax, legal or accounting advice. All investing involves risk. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Diversification does notensure a profit or guarantee against a loss. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors.