The United States is facing settlement when it comes to who has historically benefited from privileges and who has not. Our country has taken racist measures that have made it difficult, if not impossible, for black Americans, other colored Americans and immigrants to succeed.
Historically, the financial planning industry has not been kind to minorities and women. Customers have been disrespected by financial planners who don’t take them seriously, reducing the likelihood of them getting the life-changing advice that so many older, white male customers benefit from. And when you work in the industry, the Old Boys’ Club is still very active. It can be difficult to find your place if you are not over 50, white, male, and born into a family that has lived in America for generations. (Or as I like to call it: stale, masculine and pale.)
As someone who had never felt at home among the financial planners who played suit, briefcase and golf, I had to start my own business to build the kind of business I was missing. I firmly believe that I need more diverse financial planners in this profession. Here is a list of 10 POC-owned consulting companies with insanely great marketing. (Greetings to my friends Luis and Kaya, who both made this list!)
I am honored that many of my customers are first-generation immigrants or Americans, or are married to someone who is. (Background: My grandparents were Polish slave workers in Nazi Germany and my father is a first generation American.) Some of my clients are the first in their family to go to college (like my father) or to make a fortune. It is a privilege to be in a team when they achieve a success that their parents and grandparents could only dream of. If you are a financial planner who reads this, this is for you. This is how I structured my business so that I can help a more diverse group of customers.
Make it easy for your customers to meet with you
Don’t assume everyone has a 9-5 desk job with the flexibility to go early so they can meet you in person. They may have jobs that don’t offer paid free time for lunch, or children that need to be picked up, or other families that need care.
My company has always served customers virtually. I’ve been drawing a lot of attention for years, but the pandemic has forced even the most traditional companies to move away (and now everyone knows what zoom is). This dramatically balances the playing field: customers no longer have to take the time to meet with them. You don’t even have to work with a financial planner who lives in the same city! If possible, especially if you are starting out for the first time, offer evening or weekend classes as needed so that customers with different work schedules and family commitments can meet with you.
Take the position that the customer is the expert in his own life
My family background influences how I see money and how I cultivate my relationships with my parents as an adult. Other cultures work differently from mine, and that doesn’t make them “wrong”. So when I work with a customer who has immigrated from a country where several generations of a family live together, or when young adults support their parents financially, I try to listen to how the customer wants to help their family and how I am on their team can be.
If a customer tells you that it is important that they support their parents, host their teenage nephew, or pay for their younger sister’s college education, listen to them. Suppose you want to do something doing the right thing for them. From there, you can view the annual financial statements and make recommendations that include these financial goals in the overall plan.
Don’t just give advice: train
Americans from different backgrounds are painfully short of financial knowledge, and this is all the more true of those who have been discriminated against from traditional financial and banking products. While it is your job to do analysis and give instructions, teaching is also essential.
When you give a customer a 30-page plan with graphics, you don’t learn how to fish. When people understand how different types of financial products work, they can open and manage accounts to increase their wealth.
Avoid letting yourself down. Your customers are intelligent people who are hungry for knowledge. But if you make them feel like idiots, they’ll fire you as a financial planner. And they will be right.
Be open to your customers who are educating you. I learned so many things from my customers and got to know new ideas, products, services and other tools that I wouldn’t have known about if my customers hadn’t asked me or told me that they existed. Some of them have become resources that I have shared with other customers or given our team a context in which we can better serve others.
Are you a potential customer? Here’s what to look for
If you are looking for a financial planner, you should know that it is perfectly normal to discuss a few options before choosing the planner that you want to work with. You don’t have to settle for someone just because they were the first to respond to your email or because your friend recommended them.
You and your financial planner talk about some very personal things, so you have to be comfortable when you open them up. I am often one of the first calls my customers make when they lose their job, find out that they are pregnant or choose an engagement ring because life is also financial. Look for a planner who:
- Treat yourself with respect. If you feel that they are not taking you seriously because of your gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or country of origin, do not hire this person.
- Really listen to you If you tell them something is important to them, they will incorporate it into your plan. Incidentally, this also includes risk tolerance. If a planner’s recommendations take you too far outside of your comfort zone, it’s okay not to follow this advice. You must be able to sleep at night!
- Looks like an individual. Don’t settle for a cookie cutter budget that only exists to sell you products you don’t need. A financial planner is an investment, so you should get advice that feels authentic about how you want to manage your money.
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