News / Info

Q&A with Emlen Miles-Mattingly, Gen Next Wealth

We sat down with Emlen Miles-Mattingly, founder and CEO of Gen Next Wealth, to pick his brain on the state of the financial services industry. Where are we now? Where are we headed? Who will lead us into the future? Emlen offers his insights on some of the burning questions facing the industry.

Emlen spoke at the  Diversitas symposium, which took place November 3rd, 2021. The virtual event dove into the future of the industry and opportunities for young professionals looking to succeed in financial services. We have published recordings from the symposium which you can access for free on our website.

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

First and foremost, we need leaders in our industry to take a step back and recognize that diversity and inclusion is a problem. Financial advisors from minority communities, on average, have far less access to the resources needed to pursue higher education, but is anyone really paying attention? It’s upon all of us in the world of financial services industry to understand that there is a problem and work together to make our industry more accessible.

Where we stand today, most people in minority and underserved communities don’t have access to the industry. Most people don’t even see financial services as a viable career path. That feeling makes it challenging to feel like this space is for us. While some organizations are trying to address issues of equity and inclusion within the culture of their companies, this is not enough. Appointing a “Diversity Officer” or starting a diversity and inclusion training program doesn’t accurately capture what is needed to drive this mission forward. You can’t delegate improving diversity to one person or have a training on being inclusive and call it a day. It is not one person’s responsibility; it is a complex systemic issue that must be everyone’s responsibility.

When I was already a bank manager embarking on my career as a financial advisor, I was turned away because didn’t have a college degree. While I understand and appreciate the importance of education and certification, I was dismissed just because I didn’t check the boxes they were looking for. It didn’t matter if I was already prepared for the role. I believe this is where firms need to zoom out. While I eventually was able to make my way, this is a barrier to entry in the industry that firms have control over and could replace the existing requirements with standards that are more equitable to people of all backgrounds.

Why have underrepresented advisors traditionally had challenges starting and scaling their firms? What tools and resources do they need to have the same opportunities for success?

When you’re an underrepresented advisor, it’s hard to scale and grow with marketing strategies meant for someone else. The model being given to everyone else in the industry doesn’t always work for minority advisors.

Earlier in my career, there wasn’t a single person of color on any of our firm’s marketing collateral. To further highlight the issue, I was so accustomed to not seeing people who looked like me in marketing and advertising that I didn’t even notice. It wasn’t until my business coach at the time – a white woman – pointed it out to me after I sent our monthly newsletter. How could I grow when the tools needed to market my business to my ideal client didn’t even exist?

Marketing is just one example of why the models most advisors lean on to grow their businesses don’t have the same resonance in minority communities.

To even the playing field, minority advisors need access to custodial services, compliance solutions, financial technology, coaching and a community of peers to lean on who understand their experience. Going back to the issue of access, we need to look at this in two ways. First, we need to remove as many barriers to entry as possible for advisors of diverse backgrounds looking to grow. And second, it is imperative young advisors have access to mentors and coaches to help them begin their careers and help them along the way.

I’ll offer a few examples. For custodians, access could be increased by waiving minimum requirements to join. For compliance, we could be providing young advisors with education on various regulatory requirements and resources for administrative support to help them remain compliant; and avoid the fees and setbacks that come with missteps. Technology companies could offer discounted subscriptions for services on a sliding scale, providing access to those who may be starting out at lower income levels.

How do you think financial education programs and educational institutions can increase awareness in minority communities?

When our industry talks about financial education and educational institutions, most probably think of higher education. However, I do not think that is where we need to start the conversation. From my experience, many people don’t even know what a financial advisor does, let alone take the steps to apply to a financial planning program at a university.

We must increase awareness and education about the importance of personal finance at an early age. Children are not being prepared to grow into young adults, who must manage their financial lives. To bring these kids into the industry as adults, we must put intentional and collective effort into increased awareness as early as possible. Though the responsibility to solve this problem doesn’t fall on just one entity, think about how beautiful it would be if the financial services industry came together and issued a recommended curriculum our kids should be learning.

All in all, we need solutions that address the underpinning cultural context of why awareness is so low in minority communities; like early outreach programs and resources for parents that help them begin teaching their kids about money at a young age.

What impact do you hope organizations like Diversitas will have on the wealth management industry in the coming years?

My hope is that they will continue to increase awareness about the lack of diversity in the industry and we will see some meaningful numbers indicating increased representation of diverse groups across all financial services.

It’s no secret that the financial services industry does not look like our country; 70% of advisors are men and nearly 80% of them are white. This is why we must change the complexion of wealth and find ways like this to open the door into the industry for underrepresented advisors.

Organizations like Diversitas are really trying to make that change — if you look at the people they are working with and the voices they are amplifying, it’s evident they are walking the walk and talking the talk.

Emlen Miles-Mattingly is the CEO and founder of Gen Next Wealth. With nearly 20 years of experience in the financial services industry, he spends much of his waking day helping clients make smart financial decisions.

He strives to bring more value to the table for his clients by encouraging them to manage their resources in a way that leads to generational wealth. His ultimate goal is to help clients align their money with their values.

After previously selling insurance products for large corporations, Emlen would receive additional questions from clients about retirement accounts, estate plans, employee benefits, and other financial concepts. It was then that he realized that he was selling products, but not providing solutions. Consequently, he decided to focus on financial planning in order to provide comprehensive solutions for his clients.

His approach emphasizes empathy and compassion, and his recommendations are always based on the client’s best interest. He has been able to interweave his personal life stories into actionable items for clients, adding a level of vulnerability and connectivity.