Ajamu Loving’s dad, who was a financial services professional, used to frequently make house calls to meet with his clients. It was back in the 1980s where everything was done on paper. So he’d haul his suitcase full of papers to each meeting with him.
One of his first clients gave him a shopping list before they’d even met. He agreed, reluctantly, to pick up the items for her.
“I said, ‘So what did you do?’” Loving, Ph.D., assistant professor of finance at the University of North Texas at Dallas told Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP®, in an episode of the podcast 2050 TrailBlazers. “He said, ‘I went to Jewel [a Chicago-area grocery store] and I picked it up!’”
When he got to the Chicago apartment building with the items, he realized she lived on the third floor in a building with no elevator. He walked up all the way to the third floor with his briefcase, all his papers and the client’s groceries. He was feeling somewhat disappointed and a little frustrated.
“When he knocked on the door and she opened it, she was in a wheelchair,” Loving said. “He’s not the only one who’s had that experience of meeting clients, going that extra step to meet their needs … even when they might seem unreasonable, you see at the end why it was worth it to do it and why it was the right thing to do.”
This is where financial planners come in in transforming people’s lives. Going the extra mile will make the difference in making diversity and representation matter in this profession. Eventually the profession will see why it’s worth it.
“If we can recognize that level of servitude in our professional side of things and we can translate that to our efforts with respect to diversity, I have all the confidence in the world that we are going to be, as a profession, ready to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse America,” Loving said.
There are several things we can all do to move the needle forward.
Meet people where they are. The financial planning profession is made up of kind people who genuinely want to change people’s lives for the better. And likely increasing the diversity of both planners and clients is something most want to participate in. But what if those people who want to help are afraid to misstep? Say something that could be construed as racist or could be considered a microaggression?
Dorsainvil says planners need to start meeting clients where they are—no matter their social or economic background, personal finance knowledge or their fears.
“I would love for us to start meeting our colleagues and our peers where they are as well and understand that we all have different backgrounds,” Dorsainvil said.
One action item, she noted: “When you go into a room where you see someone who is the only one who looks like them, just know that there is a level of discomfort and you can be that person that walks up to them to say, ‘Hey, my name is such and such, and I’m so happy that you’re here.’”
Find diplomatic ways to educate. Part of meeting people where they are is knowing those growing pains are going to happen. We are all going to have uncomfortable conversations.
Once a client told Loving, when he was a young professional, that he watched a documentary on slavery, and had a question: if people owned a good horse, why would they want to whip it?
Loving took a moment to respond in the most diplomatic way he could: “I looked at the gentleman and I said, ‘I think that the deep tragedy here is that any human being would ever be treated like a horse to begin with,’” Loving said. The client nodded in agreement and they moved on in what Loving called a “productive direction.”
“I think if we can have productive direction conclusions to all of the inevitable awkward moments that are going to come … if we can keep our heads focused in that direction, we’re going to be alright,” Loving said.
Loving said that particular client didn’t come from a place of malice, but ignorance.
“He was legitimately curious and also legitimately ignorant about slavery,” Loving explained. He understood what he was trying to say, took the empathetic route and redirected the conversation to educate the client in a diplomatic way.
Loving will present at the FPA Annual Conference on Oct. 4, from 9 to 10 a.m. on the current state of diversity in the profession. The session, titled “Economics of Diversity” will discuss research that aims to assess the value of diversity in business and how this relates to the planning profession. Register for the conference before August 17 to save $100.
But one thing to always keep in mind if this topic is important to you:
“You want to treat this situation the way that you’d treat a client scenario,” Loving said. “Think about how you’d be proactive in solving it and working towards what it is that we want to accomplish—a more inclusive financial services profession that is really servicing the needs of our evolving and developing country as it’s growing.”
About the 2050 TrailBlazers Podcast
Dorsainvil began streaming episodes of 2050 TrailBlazers in March 2018. FPA is one of the sponsors of the podcast that is sparking conversation on diversity and inclusion in the financial planning profession and attempting to address issues of recruitment and retention of professionals of color.
This podcast highlights ways to increase diversity in the financial planning profession. Listen to the podcasts by a previous FPA Diversity Scholarship winner during your commute and check out the show notes for more information about the people and topics covered. Subscribe on iTunes and Google Play or visit the website. Interested in the FPA Diversity Scholarship? Apply today to be considered.
Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.