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A Concise History of Diversity Programs at FPA and Looking to the Future

It was the FPA annual conference in Nashville in 2006. Lee Baker, CFP® professional, counted maybe 30 other African American attendees out of around 3,000.

In one intimate conference session, Baker, who said he was in a good—but flippant mood—said to the group: “My name is Lee. I’m from Georgia and from the looks of things I’m here to add a little color to the conversation.”

This sparked a few nervous chuckles. After the session, Ed Gjertsen, CFP® professional, walked over to him and the pair struck up a conversation about the lack of diversity at that conference and in the profession.

Signs depicting diverse people—Black, Asian, Latino—were posted up around the meeting space with the message, “We are FPA.”

The pair approached a then-staff member and told her that the signs represented where FPA aspires to be, but not where we are.

Gjertsen and Baker connected with Trudy Turner and formed what would in 2007 become the FPA Diversity Task Force in the hopes that one day it would become a permanent committee.

“Part of our thought process was, let’s make this part of our DNA and part of our infrastructure,” Baker said.

Later in 2007, the task force organized the inaugural invitation-only Diversity Summit pre-conference to the FPA Annual Conference.

In 2008, the task force established the Diversity Scholarship. The next year, it officially became the FPA Diversity Committee, chaired today by Charles Adi, CFP® professional, and later in 2009 created and adopted the FPA Diversity Statement.

Turner grew up in the FPA, she said, being a member before FPA was FPA (back before the merger). Turner recalled during her time at FPA Residency in Denver, the late Dick Wagner came up to her and asked, “Where are the rest of the people who look like you?”

“I so appreciated and have always appreciated that,” Turner said. “Dick was always so good at encouraging, supporting and challenging people to make this a better profession.”

It is people like Wagner and like Louis Barajas, EA, CFP® professional, who paved the way, Turner said.

Barajas said that he’d been talking about diversity since before his time on the FPA Board, which started in 2004.

“I started paying attention to the demographics and realized how fast we were growing and saw what the needs were,” Barajas said. “I felt like I was just talking and what I was saying was going in one ear and out the other.”

Turner heard him.

“I credit and stand on the shoulders of people in FPA who were beating the drum but weren’t getting anywhere,” Turner said. “I stand on the shoulders of Dick Wagner, I stand on the shoulders of Louis Barajas, who were talking about diversity, but it wasn’t going anywhere.”

Renewed Commitment to Diversity

In the past few years, the profession has seen a renewed interest in increasing diversity in the profession, an interest Turner said FPA has always had.

“FPA has very much been at the forefront,” when it comes to diversity and inclusion work, she said. This interest manifested in strategic partnerships with Quad-A and PridePlanners, which have both had pre-conference events to FPA’s Annual Conference.

So far in 2019, FPA launched the FPA Latino Knowledge Circle, a community for Latino financial planners to engage in professional development and networking, thanks to the help of Barajas. Along with partner CFP Board, FPA launched the Dick Wagner Scholarship. Lastly, FPA’s membership publication, the Journal of Financial Planning, had its first-ever diversity issue this month.

The early contributors to the Diversity Task Force and later Diversity Committee have said they are proud of the work FPA has done in this realm.

When Turner looks at what has come out of the diversity task force, it’s almost like she’s a proud mom, she said.

“I think the single best thing that we did was create the Diversity Scholarship,” Turner said. “When you see the talent that has come about—when you see Rianka [Dorsainvil], when you see Lazetta [Rainey Braxton], when you see Marguerita [Chang], those are diversity winners and they have come into the profession and started engaging.”

The scholarship, which includes one free conference admission, one-year membership dues, one-year chapter meeting fees, and support to thrive personally and professionally at FPA, has been awarded to 42 individuals.

Looking to the Future: What Can You Do?

The time of the frustrating “business case for diversity” conversation is gone. Now is the time for action. Oftentimes people ask, why care about diversity? For people of color, there is no choice but to care about it.

“When you’re born into things, you don’t have the luxury to sit back and go, ‘I wonder if that’s important?’” Turner said. “I am a person of color. I am a woman and it’s always been important for me.”

And it appears as though it’s becoming important to others and that people are listening.

“We’re talking honestly about [diversity] now,” said Saundra Davis, MSFP, APFC®, FBS®. “We’re not tip-toeing around it anymore, it’s not filtered conversation anymore.”

Also, Turner added, “People are listening.” However, the problem of genuine inclusion and implementation remain.

Focus on human resources.

Turner said this is the biggest area we should be focusing on. A strong human resources team can help retain talent. Good HR professionals versed in diversity can help foster a culture of genuine inclusion.

Ensure you are recruiting diverse candidates.

The excuse that you can’t find qualified candidates of color is outdated. They’re out there. And they’re highly qualified. You just have to know where to look, where to post your job descriptions and how to write those job descriptions to attract them.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

People in the profession want to move the needle on diversity, Gjertsen said, but oftentimes they don’t want to say something offensive or be uncomfortable.

“That is one of the elements that is truly challenging for those not engaging,” Gjertsen said.

For Gjertsen, it wasn’t always the most comfortable thing to try to talk about diversity with people from underrepresented groups, however he got comfortable with being uncomfortable and his colleagues gave him grace, he said.

Listen to employees of marginalized communities.

If you don’t have the human resources in place, and an employee tells you about something, believe them and work to make their environment a safe space.

Work to fix the problem.

Doing exit interviews with diverse employees who leave your firm or company can help unearth some issues. Identify those and work to address them.

Advice for Planners

For planners from underrepresented groups, a few bits of advice stood out in our interviews:

Pause your movie.

Baker thought back to that conference in 2006. Though he said he never felt anybody treated him differently, there is still a truth as a person from a marginalized group any time you are in a space with thousands of people from the majority group: It’s lonely. There is a movie playing in your head about why people are not engaging with you, Baker said.

“You have to navigate that dynamic that says, ‘Am I being ignored because I’m Black or am I being ignored because they don’t care?’” Baker explained.

Represent. Another truth people from marginalized communities realize is that when they are at events, they aren’t just representing themselves, but also their groups. For instance, Baker said, recalling a conversation he had with Dick Wagner, if he were to have a few too many drinks at Annual Conference, it might lead to people judging his entire ethnic group.

“There’s a kind of pressure for me—not that it’s intentional—but if I screw something up, it is not Lee did this, it becomes they did this,” Baker said.

Make the most of your memberships. Baker said to take advantage of what’s available to you. Apply for the scholarships, join the webinars, attend local meetings and go to the conferences.

“It’s expensive to take days, hop on a plane, but it’s incredibly important to your future,” Baker said.

Find what Davis calls safe and sacred spaces to participate—whether that be Quad-A, PridePlanners or FPA Latino—and make them your own.

Don’t be afraid to make space if you can’t find it.

Davis said there are so many firm owners of diverse backgrounds because sometimes they can’t find their space in more established firms.

“People come in and they have high hopes,” Davis explained. “They’re welcomed at the beginning, but as soon as the microaggressions kick in, they try to talk about it,” but oftentimes they are not heard or helped.

Be yourself.

Davis said that she didn’t do the work she did in this arena for minority professionals to not show up in this profession as themselves.

“We shouldn’t have to not be ourselves to fit in,” Davis said. “We are equally as competent and sometimes even more so. Don’t think for one minute you’re not doing something significant.”

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Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org, or connect with her on LinkedIn


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5 Lessons from the Godfather: LeCount Davis, Sr. Shares Wisdom from a 40-Plus Year Career

LeCount Davis Sr., CFP® professional, has been making history since he first received his CFP® certification in 1978. He was the first African American CFP® professional. He founded the Association of African American Financial Advisors (Quad-A) in 2001. And he’s always focused on making an impact in his community and profession. All reasons why he is a winner of a Lifetime Achievement in Diversity and Inclusion from InvestmentNews.

The next generation of history makers have much to learn from him, said 2050 TrailBlazers host Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP® professional, in a recent episode highlighting an industry trailblazer in celebration of Black History Month.

Lesson No. 1: Find Your Champions and Allies

Davis knew that if people had more knowledge about their wealth and finances, it would have a ripple effect of good on their financial lives. That’s what led him to financial planning and to founding his first company, LeCount R. Davis and Associates. In doing research for how to realize his vision of providing planning for all aspects of a person’s financial life, he found the International Association for Financial Planning (one of the organizations that merged to form FPA in 2000. The other was the Institute of Certified Financial Planners). He went to a few meetings and met several people who shared his vision, including then IAFP president Alexandra Armstrong, CFP® professional.

Armstrong did not engage in what Davis described as “benign neglect” of him when he was the only person of color in the room, she welcomed him and he started volunteering on several committees within the IAFP.

Another person Davis recalled as being an ally was Robert Ginsburg, who after Davis got his CFP® certification told him that would get him to the table, but it wouldn’t get him anything off the table. Ginsburg invited him into the inner circle, showing him the inner workings of the financial planning profession.

Lesson No. 2: Be the Champion to Bring People into the Profession

In 2001, Davis founded the Association of African American Financial Advisors, or Quad-A.

“I knew that if we didn’t have that type of group, [we had to] put the group together that would be able to approach the industry in certain numbers,” Davis said. This would ensure that black financial planners had the numbers to generate the respect of the industry and make progress.

His company underwrote all the expenses for the organization in those initial years, so Davis knew the organization had to grow—both because his pockets were not that deep and because he wanted to reach more black planners.

But credit is due all around, Davis said.

“I was the first president of the association, but you got a lot of people who came after me who did wonders for Quad-A,” Davis said, giving praise to Lazetta Rainey Braxton, CFP® professional, in particular. “If they had not put in the sweat and tears and blood they did, Quad-A … would not have gotten to where it is right now.”

Lesson No. 3: Stick to Your Goals

In your profession and your life, there are always going to be trials, but you have to press on. Identify your goals and stick to them.

“There are going to be tough times, but you’ve got to tough it out,” Davis said. “Joy and pain are just like sunshine and rain. You have to first have the ability to withstand the hard times.”

Lesson No. 4: Always Learn

Strive to always learn about your profession.

“You must be students of your profession,” Davis said. “You can never stop learning.”

Lesson No. 5: Practice What You Preach

Some articles out there show financial planners don’t always follow their own advice. Doing that affects your credibility, Davis said.

“People see what we do, they don’t just listen to what we say,” Davis said. “So if we’re going to tell them to do certain things, they’re going to wonder why we are not doing the same thing that we’re telling them to do.”

The next generation of planners should take these lessons from one of the profession’s history makers.

“My generation and me, I’m able to do what I do because of advisers like you,” Dorsainvil said to Davis. “I’m able to do what I do very easily. It’s not the easiest but it’s easier than maybe you’ve had it.”  

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Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.


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Mentoring: The Key to Retention of Diverse Hires

The business case for diversity has been a topic of conversation since the 1980s. And it feels like only recently the financial planning profession in particular is ready to take some action.

One of the many takeaways from CFP Board’s inaugural Diversity Summit held last October, is that we can start advancing the profession today by mentoring.

“Mentoring is crucial if we are going to get minorities up to speed in our profession,” said Louis Barajas, EA, CFP® professional. “Mentors help speed up the success process for financial planners. Especially those also servicing underserved clients.”

Charles C. Adi, CFP® professional, said his mentoring relationships accelerated his learning curve.

“It enhanced my textbook education with the practical/emotional side of the business,” Adi said. “My mentor definitely prevented me from making mistakes while delivering advice and challenged me to be my best daily.”

Mike Alves, CFP® professional, CLU®, CRPC®, said mentoring is the reason he even chose financial planning as a profession.

He went into finance through the investments route at Merrill Lynch, but he found something was missing—helping people.

Alves met a colleague who was a CFP® professional who suggested the CFP® certification.

“He said if you want to help people, you have to get your CFP® [certification], and he was right,” Alves said. “If it weren’t for him, I would not have been a CFP® [professional]. I might have been out of the industry altogether.”

Adi’s mentor motivated him to get his CFP® certification.

“If it were not for her, I probably would not have pursued the CFP® [certification] when I did,” Adi explained. “I would have pushed it off for a few more years. Especially since none of my clients asked about it.”

Informal Mentorships Better

For years companies have implemented formal mentoring programs for women and people of color, but the most impactful mentoring relationships are informal.

Studies show that informal mentoring programs are responsible for deeper relationships that last longer than those forged from formal mentoring programs, according to research cited in the book Diversity at Work. The book also reported that mentees in informal mentoring relationships reported higher job satisfaction, higher salaries and more advancement opportunities.

Alves’ story indicates that’s true.

“For some reason I felt a connection,” with the people he chose as mentors. As a result of these relationships, he was able to learn more skills quickly.

Studies show that women and people of color face a harder time finding a mentor. Alves says look for people you have a connection with. It doesn’t have to be somebody from your same cultural background. None of his mentors were Latino, it just has to be somebody who cares about you and who you connect with.

FPA Latino (3)What Makes for Successful Mentoring Relationships?

Barajas mentored numerous people over the years—not all financial planners—and he says it takes both sides to make the relationship work.

“Mentoring is about a give and take. Both sides have to offer something. Both sides have to be engaged. Both sides need to be vulnerable and share what’s worked, what hasn’t and stories about their lives,” Barajas said.

In addition to effort on both sides, showing appreciation is also key, Alves said.

“Make sure you appreciate the time and advice that a mentor gives you,” Alves said. “If someone is trying to help you, you should show appreciation.”

Barajas will give a talk on mentoring for FPA’s new community, FPA Latino on Feb. 28, at 2 p.m., EST.

“I’m hoping that we attract mentors who are willing to share their stories and mentees who are hungry for advice to help grow as individuals as much as financial planners,” Barajas said.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.