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5 Things About Incorporating DEI in RIA Firms with Daria Victorov and John Eing

Daria Victorov, CFP®, and John Eing, CPA, CFP®, of Abacus Wealth Partners have been avid listeners of the 2050 TrailBlazers podcast from the beginning. As a result, they teamed up to expand their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within their firm. 

Abacus Wealth Partners has made a lot of progress on building a diverse firm. Approximately 63 percent of their firm’s employees are women, which is well above the industry average, and 60 percent of their board members are women.

They were finding success with growing a diverse organization, but they also knew that there was work to be done to increase ethnic diversity. They decided to form a committee within Abacus focusing on growing their diversity initiatives. This committee develops strategies for next steps and evaluates how their DEI initiatives can help to boost business results. 

I recently sat down with Victorov and Eing on my podcast to discuss what actionable steps they’ve taken, what’s worked and what bumps in the road they’ve encountered that you can use to build an actionable blueprint to get started.

How did your diversity committee get started?

Victorov: We created “why” statements based on the book by Simon Sinek, Start with Why. Everyone knows what companies do. Some people know how they do it, but not everyone has a why. For us it was important to create that why statement—why are we interested in diversity and inclusion? Why are you here? Why do you want to make a difference? If John and I had different why statements compared to some other people that were on our committee, that wouldn’t really be helpful because we would all be coming at it from different angles. We have to work as a team with our committee. John and I are different ages. We’re in different locations, we’re different ethnicities and we also put a term limit on ourselves of two years because we want to make sure that we’re having diversity of thought with this committee. It’s also important to have diversity in the leadership.

What were some challenges you had in developing the diversity committee?

Eing: We realized without a strategic tie-in to a business purpose, we would quickly lose steam. So we said, what’s a tool that we could use to help us really hone and focus our mission? Similar to what we do with financial planning clients—you start with figuring out what’s important to them and then you create the financial plan—we took a similar approach. We read a book called Measure What Matters by John Doerr. This book talks about a framework called OKRs—objectives and key results. So, the whys we identified really gave us a vision but not direct objectives. An objective, for example, would be: we want to build the tallest building in the world. The key results would be: how do we do it? We have to find out what the tallest building in the world is. We have to find out how many floors it has, etc. We were able to take this framework to create concrete steps.

We’re large in the RIA space, but we’re not a huge company. We don’t have a dedicated chief diversity officer—we have people that have hobby jobs. Daria and I both serve on several committees, so we knew data was going to be important. And I mentioned our size—we found size being a challenge in that it was hard to fit demographic data to fit a particular office.

For example, I work out and in the San Fernando Valley in a smaller office; there’s four, maybe five of us out there. Well, it’s hard to match us to mirror the community we serve. The community is 60 percent Asian. I’m one of four people in the office, and I am the only Asian and it’s hard to go from 25 percent to 60 percent when there’s only four of you. But what we found was we were able to better mirror that if we took the whole firm together and we said, what does Abacus look like as a team, as a firm in total? How do we compare to the U.S. Census data? Because Philly looks very different than Santa Monica, which looks very different than San Mateo. But as a firm, we’re able to focus on the areas of opportunity for us and how we can get better.

What kind of programming did the diversity and inclusion committee offer?

Victorov: When we started the diversity and inclusion committee, we didn’t ask for money from our company. We really had to get creative about how we were going to connect with people and make sure that people were learning. John came up with a model where we have to entertain people, we have to educate people and we have to empower them. And everyone’s got to eat. So we just started with the idea of lunch and learns. We were having lunch and learns already for different topics at Abacus, and we wanted to pivot—instead of learning about estate planning or tax planning, maybe we’re learning about a different culture. Because of budget constraints, we looked to our own diverse colleagues. We all come from a different background and we all have different experiences and we ask people at our own company to start speaking. In September we asked George who’s our controller, so not in an adviser role, to speak on his experience in Brazil and a little bit about the differences between Hispanic and Latino heritage.

Your diversity committee used to be called something else. What was that?

Eing: So our tagline was “awakening our cultural consciousness.” The George example is so perfect because I’m Asian; I had no idea there is a real distinction between Hispanic and Latino. And something we learned was the three-factor model—entertain, educate and empower. We came up with that model because we said, look, we’re giving up an hour of our day; let’s make it fun—which is the entertaining part. Teach us about their culture and with George, it was really interesting because he grew up in Brazil and came here as an adult. He also shared with us what it’s like to be an immigrant in America and still be Brazilian and how Brazilian Americans adjust to that culture shift.

Then empower—it was like, okay, great. Now that we know about Brazilians and Brazilian Americans, what do we do with that information? That’s where these great diversity trainings get lost. How many times have you left the conference or training like, wow, that was awesome, and you’re all pumped up and you go back and you’re like, what do I do with it?

George gave us some specific takeaways about working with Brazilian people—very simple things. For instance, in Brazil, the concept of time is very different than how we look at it in America. In Brazil, people are late and they just expect it. But even though they show up late, they want you to be generous with your time. If you think about that from a cultural perspective, can you imagine someone who grew up in America, if you’re 15 minutes late for a meeting, they’re going to be incredibly perturbed. Yet this Brazilian person shows up [late] and they’re happy as can be.

Why is diversity of leadership on the committee so important?

Victorov: We’re a large RIA, we get together every two years as a company. John and I had an opportunity to speak in front of the company about what we’re doing for diversity and inclusion.

Right after our presentation someone came up to me—they were one of the few minorities we have in our company—and said, “I really enjoyed your presentation.” That was really refreshing to hear, because during the presentation they didn’t ask questions or say anything. I was at a conference later this year and someone asked what do we think about how the future of our profession is going to change? And I said, the face of our profession is going to be changing. We’re all going to be looking a lot different. Later in the evening, a couple of the minorities had come to me, they were like, “Thank you for saying that.”

I challenged them. “Why didn’t you say anything after I said that?” Because after I said it, there were crickets in the room. It was really heartbreaking, to be honest. I think the profession can look different and no one had anything to say. Someone changed the conversation to something else. That’s why I challenged them. I was like, why didn’t you carry on a conversation? Why didn’t you say anything? They didn’t really have an answer. I brought this story back to John because I thought, what is going on?

This is not something where we’re creating a committee and then all of the sudden our demographics of our new hires is going to change. It takes a lot of work. It’s something that’s going to take years.

Even though I’m co-lead of this committee, I feel really awkward sometimes. Talking about it feels very uncomfortable and you just have to power through and know that it’s important and that the awkwardness is worth it. 

Rianka Dorsainvil

Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP® professional, is the founder and president of Your Greatest Contribution (YGC), a virtual, fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm dedicated to serving entrepreneurs, first-generation wealth builders and thriving professionals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. She also hosts 2050 TrailBlazers, a podcast aimed to address the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession by engaging industry experts and leaders in conversation.


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5 Things About Becoming the Employer of Choice for Women and People of Color with Mark Tibergien

TibergianMark Tibergien, CEO of Advisor Solutions at BNY Mellon Pershing, has prioritized being an employer of choice for minority groups—and wants to inspire other advisers and leaders in the financial planning profession to do the same.

Fifty-one percent of his employees at Advisor Solutions are women, and 42 percent of his Advisor Solutions team are people who come from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. 

Firms part of the Pershing network are generally transitioning from practice to business to enterprise, but are still facing the challenge that within the financial planning profession, only 23 percent of advisers are women, and only 8 percent of advisers are people of color. 

Tibergien’s goal is to help others who may be unsure of how to help support diversity, equity and inclusion. He recently sat down with me on my podcast to discuss how advisory businesses can support a more diverse financial planning culture, why being committed to elevating others is critical and how to do that.

Why do you think your company is the employer of choice for women and people of color?

There are a number of reasons that drive it in. Frankly, this is part of the culture of BNY Mellon. As an organization we’ve long thought about the diversity of views as being critical. We try to think about how people are attentive to the ways in which we contemplate our strategy and execute our plans. And it happens that Pershing itself is an 80-year-old company that just has a very community-centric orientation about it. 

I think the fact that we’re present where we are helps us to attract many people of color. I think the fact that we have a conscious attitude about the slate of candidates we want to recruit to our business also makes us compelling—our leadership reflects that makeup. So, a big part of our attitude is let’s make sure that we are recruiting and developing the right types of people.

When people start interviewing here, they say, “There are individuals who share my experiences, who look like me, who talk like me, who experienced things like me.” And that just makes a big difference in becoming the right kind of company.

For firms that may have a very small HR department—or no HR department—what are best practices that can increase their level of diversity from a gender perspective and a racial and ethnic perspective?

Your very best employee is as important as your very best client. So, the question is how do you create that attitude where not only do you hire the right people, but you come to rely on them as critical to your growth and you value them in the same way.

The way we tend to look at human capital is there really are three things that we’re trying to be conscious of. First is the nature of the work. Can we be clear on what the type of role it is? Is it an extraordinarily detailed role or is it more of a general role? The nature of work is critical and being conscious of how we define excellence within it.

Once we’re clear on the nature of the work in business, then we can become more direct and more obvious in defining the nature of the worker. What kinds of individuals or what kinds of background or orientation might fit within that job? And that has nothing to do with ethnicity or gender—it has everything to do with the capabilities of the individual. In fact, I’d argue that it doesn’t even have to do with education. Education helps—but that’s not necessarily the definition of success.

The third, which is also critical for small businesses just as it is in large businesses, is to be clear on the nature of the workplace. If you can define the nature of the work, then you can define the nature of the worker. And then you have to think about what kind of environment are you creating in order for both to function at an optimal level.

How can firms better show they value employees?

What typically happens within every firm—but it’s especially noticeable in small firms—is that we tend to forget that the people we hire are no longer new to the business after a few years. They are no longer inexperienced or young or not connected to our clients. All those excuses that we tend to make. There was a great quote that I tend to live by now, by a woman by the name of Jean Harris—who has kind of a checkered history but was a brilliant leader of a school— “The greatest indignity that one person can commit against another is to underestimate them.” And we do this by expecting little of them. 

This is where small business owners have to change their mindset from looking at people as a cost to be managed to thinking of them as an asset on which to get a return.

You penned an article, “What Will Become of Us,” where you interviewed Simon Sinek, author of the Infinite Game. Sinek explained that leaders with the infinite mindset realize that the goal is not to beat your opponent, but to stay in the game as long as possible. In terms of our profession, how are you playing the infinite game?

I’m not a technologist, but having a home in Seattle, I’ve always been conscious of Microsoft. I remember meeting Bill Gates when he was just starting out and I had moved to Seattle. When he wisely transitioned leadership to a professional manager because he realized that his greatest impact was on innovation, the person he put in charge tended to think in terms of the competitors and how do we beat the competitors.

The obsession with beating Apple was kind of futile because Apple was only concerned about serving their clients and improving education of students. So one [company] was antagonistic and competitive and the other was focused on creating the ultimate client experience.

When we look at financial services, I think that we have the same challenge. We have many people who tend to denigrate other competitors in the business. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard RIAs speak ill of their brethren on the brokerage side, not recognizing that there are creeps and victors on both sides of the platform. The registration is not what’s significant, it’s the behavior of the individuals. And that throughout financial services, there are those who are deciding to serve people who don’t have any money at all, who are just trying to make planning choices, and those who serve the ultra-wealthy.

Simon Sinek said that we don’t really have competitors—we have worthy opponents. And by their nature, they reveal our weaknesses. And that’s probably true in life too, isn’t it? When we think of individuals who can make us stronger or make us better or expose weaknesses, the question is, what are we going to do with that? Rather than, why are we going to be defensive about it? And that becomes our opportunity to think about what this business will become.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are important to companies in a bull market. Unfortunately, when a bear market comes, DEI programs get slashed, underfunded or unfunded. Can you share what BNY Advisor Solutions will do with your DEI initiatives when we hit the inevitable bear market?

Diversity and inclusion is fundamental to our beliefs.

As a company, you have to take a longer view about people being critical to your future success. If you have the attitude that human capital is as important as financial capital, then you just have to recognize that diversity and inclusion is one of the cornerstones of that strategy and commit to it. I’m less concerned about in our company it becoming a casualty of a down market because I think we’ve already experienced enough vibration, and that if that had been an issue, we would’ve dealt with it. At some point, I’m hoping for a transition where diversity and inclusion becomes obsolete as a strategy and it just becomes obvious that when we look at how we’re going to drive success, that having a broader slate of candidates—regardless of their ethnicity or religion or country of origin, or gender even—makes a difference. 

 

Rianka Dorsainvil

Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP® professional, is the founder and president of Your Greatest Contribution (YGC), a virtual, fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm dedicated to serving entrepreneurs, first-generation wealth builders and thriving professionals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. She also hosts 2050 TrailBlazers, a podcast aimed to address the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession by engaging industry experts and leaders in conversation.

 

 

 


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5 Things about Family Dynamics and Money in the African American Community with Lazetta Rainey Braxton

Lazetta Rainey Braxton.jpgLazetta Rainey Braxton, CFP® professional, knows that, many times, sitting down with a financial adviser might be the first time a couple has had a conversation about money. In the African American community, money conversations don’t often happen organically. Money might be viewed as a stressor, and talking about money might be seen as rude or uncomfortable. 

I recently sat down with Braxton for a 2050 TrailBlazers podcast episode to explore family dynamics and money, what guilt African American professionals may carry with them if they feel they’ve “made it” while their community still has financial need and how the importance of serving your clients best interests. 

There are people who feel a sense of fear to talk about money. Where does this come from and how does it impact the African American community? 

Regardless of race, there is lack of money talk in various families. What we should anchor this in is the statistics that really highlight the racial wealth gap that try to figure out how to navigate the disparities. There’s a New York Times article that says for every $100 in white family wealth, black families just hold $5 and 4 cents. So yes, as African Americans, as blacks, we say money talk is even more important because we have to try to make up for lost time. Also, each generation is trying to figure out how to navigate what they’ve inherited or not inherited in terms of the wealth transfer.

African Americans who I like to call first-generation wealth builders might feel an obligation to help everybody else in their family. Tell me more about how we can help clients put on their own financial oxygen mask first before helping others.

There is this obligation that you feel to give back and lift others up. When I work with clients, I ask them, “Do you have people who will be financially dependent on you?” And oftentimes I hear parents or aunts and uncles helping a niece or nephew get through school or they’re also dealing with their own children as well, but the extended family is typically on the payroll—or are a line item for that budget.

When family members ask clients for money, use the line item as a reference saying, “You know, my family fund is depleted.” I go a step further if you’ve learned how to put your mask on first—it’s your responsibility as you’re giving to help others put their mask on. Ask some questions. Why do you need the money? What went wrong? How can we not let this happen again? Because if we don’t try to educate and elevate, then the wealth gap within our own family will continue to persist.

Educate and elevate—what does that look like?

I start first by helping them name the family members who may be draining their finances. I  couple that with asking, “What are you proud of that you’ve done well with their finances, and where do you need to improve upon so that we can get everything out on the table?” We can eliminate what I call that money fog—fear, obligation and guilt. Having the conversation lifts the fog so you can be clear about who’s responsible for what. 

When you start liberating people to take the deeper dive and own how they want to live, it gets contagious. Then when people are asking them for money, they can say, “Well, hey, I improved my situation, you can too.” 

Historically the African American community has navigated toward annuities and whole life insurance as a way to invest versus the stock market. Also, they tend to want to own rental property. Shed some light on that for us.

In terms of exposure as African Americans historically, we like things that we can see and feel and know that there is a contract. That goes in line with what we’ve experienced within this country of having property taken from us. So if we know we own it—with the deed and with the contract and paying the premiums—there’s a feeling of having guaranteed income, even if there are other opportunities to grow that income. African Americans historically have anchored their wealth in real estate. They are also very comfortable with insurance because insurance has been around for a long period of time. Also annuities have a component of insurance tied to them as well. 

Now I’m not disparaging any of those asset classes—they are important. What I’m also saying is, I see wealth transfer among the white populations—which have significantly more wealth—is happening through the stock market. There is the ability to grow your wealth exponentially with this concept called compounded growth, while your money is constantly working for you. There are also tax considerations that make stock ownership or exposure to the market more attractive as well. African Americans have to be more comfortable with the stock market because a lot of their assets are in retirement plans. And there has to be that basic understanding and comfort level with knowing that there is potential for growth, noting that  markets do go up and down. We’re not saying that there’s not that volatility, but over long periods of time it has worked out well for other populations.

[Wanting to own rental property] is still an extension of what you know—if you own a home, you know what you need to maintain it. How we in our community fall short is that we don’t have the capital. You need a capital fund for home ownership. That capital fund is going to cover you when your renters tear up your home. When you have to fix stuff, right? When you’ve got to keep landscaping or if you can’t rent it for four months and you’ve got to still cover the mortgage on it. 

I’m sure there are some [readers] saying this happens with my clients and they’re not people of color. What I want to emphasize over and over again is that the wealth gap and the economic conditions compounds these issues within our community.

Something that is important in both of our lives and especially in the African American community is our religious beliefs. Tell us how that plays into money. 

So what institution historically has the most longevity in terms of organizational strength? The black church. Now we’re looking at several generations later where there is still some strong residual commitment to supporting the church. So the black church has been kind of the center of economic distribution—good or bad. It has supported people when society couldn’t really be there for them—whether it was helping them with rent, making sure they were fed, proving a place of refuge when the world was still saying you’re not welcomed here. So as a part of the biblical understanding of stewardship, I grew up with this understanding of you give to God first of your fruits and that really equated to 10 percent. So if you’re giving to God first and then yourself, you have to help people understand how to live off the remaining 90 percent when that 90 percent reflects a terrible income gap and a wage gap as well. So that cultural understanding of giving to the family and also giving to the church is a sensitivity that advisers have to be aware of when serving black clients.

This is where the f word comes into play: fiduciary. That means keeping your client’s best interests first. Our clients are telling us what their interests and what their goals are, and if you don’t have the cultural competency to understand that and take the deeper dive, then you’re not being that fiduciary that they need and deserve.

Rianka Dorsainvil

Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP® professional, is the founder and president of Your Greatest Contribution (YGC), a virtual, fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm dedicated to serving entrepreneurs, first-generation wealth builders and thriving professionals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. She also hosts 2050 TrailBlazers, a podcast aimed to address the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession by engaging industry experts and leaders in conversation.