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Q&A with Colleen Bell, Cambridge Investment Research

We sat down with Colleen Bell from Cambridge Investment Research to pick her brain on the state of the financial services industry. Where are we now? Where are we headed? Who will lead us into the future? Colleen offers her insights on some of the burning questions facing the industry.

Cambridge is sponsoring the upcoming Diversitas Symposium, taking place Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021. The virtual event is free to attend and will dive into the future of the industry and opportunities for young professionals looking to succeed in financial services. Register to attend here.

Tell us about the work you do to increase diversity and inclusion in financial services. Have you/your firm launched any initiatives to bring more diverse talent to the industry?

As part of its commitment to fostering a culture of diversity, equality, and inclusion, Cambridge is taking action to continually improve its outcomes in this area. Cambridge’s Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Committee is made up of 20 associates and 3 executive sponsors. Additionally, 15 Cambridge Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Advisory Council members work in partnership with the committee and sponsors to identify and bring forth opportunities for positive impact within our Cambridge communities. Our associates and financial professionals give so much of their time and talent to these efforts and we really appreciate their different perspectives.

Our focus has been on learning and engaging associates as well as financial professionals in a number of areas. This includes everything from surveys to better understand where we are and where we need to be, training for leaders, and workshops and forums for associates. We are working to be more mindful and thoughtful in our approach to celebration and recognition of diverse holidays, events, and activities. We’re evaluating our hiring, recruitment and retention practices and building and strengthening business partner and supplier relationships.

Last year Amy Webber, our CEO, started a podcast, Cambridge Stronger. New episodes are released each week and many of her guests are financial professionals. It is so inspiring to hear their stories of how they got into the business and how they integrate values and purpose in their care for their diverse client base.

Cambridge has been implementing programs focused on diversity for over a decade. We’ve had great engagement with our Community of Women, which brings together hundreds of financial professionals from different backgrounds and stages of their careers to network, learn, and collaborate on a monthly basis and attend in-person events each year. We also just completed our tenth year of The Cambridge Next Step® program for student interns. We more recently introduced a program for associates who have reached retirement age, but may wish to continue working part time. This allows Cambridge to leverage their experience, while providing mentorship and guidance to new team members. We are proud of The Cambridge Foundation, which was established to further support our extended community, adding to its quality of life economically and culturally.

These are just a few examples but at the end of the day, we want to create a culture where existing and prospective associates, financial professionals, their staff, and their clients feel comfortable to be who they are, have the resources needed to flourish, and feel valued and respected.

Do you have any recommendations for how the industry can look to increase diversity and inclusion? Any steps individual firms should consider taking?

Across the business landscape, companies and organizations in every industry — including financial services, tech, retail, education, and more — are changing the way they approach diversity and inclusion. We’ve found that a good combination of exemplary leadership, focused education, and measurable goals has helped us create an inclusive environment.

We know we have a ways to go and there is always more we can do, so we try to take small steps and build around five core principles:

  1. Educate and Train

We strive to help associates understand how cultural differences can impact the office through different training exercises throughout the year. Many training programs are centered around key concepts like navigating different communication styles in the workplace and utilizing effective conflict resolution techniques.

  1. Develop a Culture of Equality and Belonging

Managers need to focus on creating an inclusive environment that promotes the cultural shifts the organization is trying to make. It starts with building a culture where all employees feel comfortable being themselves.

  1. Set Detailed Goals and Benchmarks

Establishing a group of detailed, realistic goals to pursue throughout the year is critical.

  1. Measure and Track Progress

Constantly knowing where our firm stands in relation to targeted goals is essential and helps us remain accountable.

  1. Leaders Lead the Way

To drive change throughout the entire organization, the actions required to support and grow a diverse and inclusive environment should start with executive leaders and management. Our CEO, Amy Webber, has been very engaged as an executive sponsor on our Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Committee and ensures that diversity initiatives are a priority when it comes to the firm’s goals.

What characteristics or traits do you commonly see among successful advisors? Do you have any advice for aspiring advisors on how to hone those traits?

At Cambridge, our core values of integrity, commitment, flexibility, and kindness reflect our purpose, define our culture, and direct our actions. Generally, the financial professionals we partner with share similar values. The financial services industry, at its core, is a relationship business — strong interpersonal and relationship-building skills are essential. I truly believe our financial professionals care deeply about their clients and want to do what is best for them.

Most of the financial professionals we work with have a strong commitment to independence, and they are looking for flexibility to run their businesses based on what works well for them and their clients. Successful financial professionals are generally those who actively seek opportunities for personal and professional growth and have a strong desire to learn. It can be a challenge to get started as an independent financial professional looking to establish a book of business, but those who possess strong will and determination are able to thrive in this segment of our industry.

What advice would you give students looking for internships in the field, and how should they maximize their time during those internships?

This is a great question because one of my favorite things about Cambridge is The Cambridge Next Step® program for interns. We just wrapped our tenth year of the program, hosting 29 students from across the country at our Fairfield, Iowa location. We have hundreds of applicants and quite a few of the interns return for permanent positions with us or start a career with one of our financial professionals. The program is structured in a way that encourages a diverse learning experience. Students selected for the internship learn about industry basics and trends, participate in professional development courses, shadow Cambridge associates in other departments, and present their final projects to colleagues. We’re very proud of the program and how it has helped students gain a true understanding of this industry. We also learn a lot from the students and it’s just a fun and dynamic experience. We look forward to the interns coming every summer and the energy they bring.

Internships are a valuable way for students to gain a feel for what our industry offers. When I talk with students, I always encourage them to have an open mind and try to absorb as much information as possible while they are here. Whether that means shadowing people in many different departments to get a full experience, or simply finding one or two really strong mentors working in their desired field of specialization, internships provide a great learning environment for students interested in this industry. Everybody is different and everyone has preferred ways of learning. The key for any intern is to be proactive and actively seek opportunities to learn and grow.

Colleen Bell joined Cambridge in 2006 following her experience as a securities examiner for the SEC and currently serves as a member of Cambridge’s Executive Council. With nearly 20 years of experience in the financial services industry, Bell has been instrumental in the collaborative leadership and development of Cambridge’s innovative solutions. She is responsible for the executive oversight for the service, solutions, and support delivered by Cambridge’s Operations Team. Bell also oversees the Fiduciary Services Department, which focuses on providing service support for Cambridge’s fee-based programs, retirement plan platforms, and advisory-focused compliance solutions.