Diversity in Finance

Deep Dives

As if the challenges of COVID-19 were not enough in 2020, many of us witnessed racially provoked killings across America more publicly thanks to technology. The public display of atrocities towards African Americans in the United States is a festering wound that haunts generations. However, this time it is different, we hope.

Multi-national companies have decided to take a stand and speak out about racial injustices and invest money in diversity initiatives. As a black-owned company, we get to play our role to implement plans and goals to improve the financial industry's diversity from entry-level positions to leadership roles.

My first job in finance

I started my financial services career at Bank of America (formally Nation's Bank) in Charlotte, NC, in 1999. In my training program to become a teller, I was the only black person in the group of 15 trainees. I completed my training and assigned to the Transit Center's downtown branch, where all city buses convened. I considered myself extremely fortunate to be placed in a branch with a black manager. She reminded me of my mother, and she even had a prosthesis in the same arm as my mother. I felt safe.

Though I had my manager's support, I did not feel the help of my team of recent college-graduate Asian and Caucasian women. Over time they realized I was just as ambitious for growth out of the teller role as them, and we learned to grow and support one another.

One afternoon while on lunch break, our branch was robbed. The description of the perpetrator was a slender black man, approximately six feet tall. He was wearing a ski mask, sunglasses, and hat. I typically enjoyed my lunch break on the Transit Center's south side, and I watched in awe as the police cars streamed into the center to respond to the alarm. My team was in trouble; curiosity and camaraderie lead me to drop my sandwich and run towards the face of danger.

I was immediately detained and questioned for hours. I was never placed "under arrest," but there I was, arrested into a small conference room. I was placed on administrative leave while an investigation ensued.

I'm confident if it weren't for the adamant denial of the manager of my innocence, my ability to work in finance today would have been in jeopardy. After a week of unpaid leave, I was allowed to return to work. The branch was under heightened-supervision, including my fellow black manager. She later informed me of growing suspicion of one of my white female co-workers opening fraudulent accounts costing the branch thousands of dollars. To shield me from further scrutiny, she wrote a gleaming letter of recommendation and promoted me to a branch in a much nicer part of town. And there I was again, the only black employee at the branch.

When I finally made my way to American Express (now Ameriprise Financial), I met with a similar crowd. I was (and still am) one of the very few black professionals in the finance industry. As a leader, I often received accolades and awards to hire a diverse team of advisors. My peers would ask: how do you do it? My answer was simple; it's not hard to hire a diverse team when I am diverse. It warms my heart every time I see the individuals whom I recruited still in the financial field today.

Recognizing the lack of diversity in numbers

The lack of diversity is due to a lack of financial literacy knowledge, tools, and resources. Currently, the financial industry- from Wall Street to prime banks, is dominated by white males. 81% of executives in the financial industry are white males. This factor alone contributes to the lack of diverse voices or influences within the financial field. Various groups such as BIPOC and Black Lives Matter have continuously encouraged others to recognize the lack of diversity. The growth of diverse financial advisors has declined from 2015 to 2020, according to statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2015, 8.1% of financial advisors were African-American. By 2020 blacks only made up 6.9% of the population of financial advisors. At the same time, the white male population of advisors grew from 79% to 82.2%.

Understanding the Need

Money Script Wealth recognizes the need for diversity and financial literacy. Since our inception, we've been building on this concept, even before Corporate America decided to have a voice and speak out against race and gender inequality. Our financial planning organization believes that the way to financial freedom and wealth begins with financial literacy. Several firms on Wall Street have acknowledged that the diversity amongst its senior officials and executives is less than 3%. Financial firms and corporations need to understand that the key to higher profitability begins with diversity. It is not just racial diversity; it is inclusive of gender diversity as well. Customers want to seek services that represent them or come from a background similar to theirs. The need for diversity is more than just representation by numbers. It is a need for diverse voices to be seen and supported. Individuals want to feel that they are valued and that they are more than just a number.

Making Improvements for the Future

To improve diversity in the financial industry, access to knowledge needs to expand. Financial literacy needs to be instilled in the classrooms from highschools to universities to encourage individuals from diverse backgrounds to be interested in the financial sector. Less than 10% of these programs represent a racially diverse population in schools across the United States. The fintech industry is an example of improving diversity in the financial sector. The industry has the opportunity to use modern-day technology and resources to educate members of the black community and all communities to understand why financial literacy is essential. By reaching out to more members of these communities, companies will be able to show their purpose! Doing so will reflect in the leadership, employees, clients, and prospects. Big banks and financial corporations have pledged to improve diversity by doing their part over the next few years. Including increased black leadership and hiring of more black employees over the next five years. One particular investment firm has pledged to increase the number of black employees by 30% in the next 4-5 years. When accomplished, the economy will become profitable. The key players will see substantial growth over the next few years.

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