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The Inclusion Opportunity

By Erinn Ford, EVP, Advisor Engagement Advisor Group

In the wealth management industry, it’s no surprise that we like numbers. We also like to say that you can’t rely on the numbers you see today to predict what will happen in the future. But that’s not always the case. Take, for example, these numbers:

The average age of financial professionals is about 55 – and almost 40% are expecting to retire in the next 10 years.

Those numbers represent a big opportunity for Millennials, Gen Z, and our industry as a whole. While the industry is making great strides in its diversity and inclusion efforts, this coming demographic shift offers a rare opportunity for us to make meaningful advances on the diversity front – elevating representation among providers and consumers of financial advice. There’s a lot at stake. And there’s a lot we can do to move the ball forward.

Challenge Misconceptions About the Wealth Management Industry

The wealth management industry is about so much more than numbers.  Successful financial professionals come from all backgrounds, including writers, editors, customer service specialists, graphic designers, project managers, economists, marketers, researchers, and more. A common characteristic is that people who succeed in this industry have a passion for helping others and building lasting relationships.

Give Ourselves a Shout Out

One of the basic building blocks to driving greater diversity and inclusion in any industry is introducing young people to the vital role that industry plays in our day-to-day lives. Events like the Diversitas symposium not only bring together movers and shakers on the diversity and inclusion frontlines, they also help to reframe what we do in financial services – and how we do it – for people outside the industry. We need to start a new conversation about the role financial professionals play in the overall well-being of their neighbors and their communities. People gravitate toward the element of “doing well by doing good” and our industry is a great place to do just that.

Click here for a recording of this year’s Diversitas symposium.

Envision the Future and then Work Toward It

The fact is our industry is at a pivot point. Looking five to 10 years into the future and envisioning what that will look like will help us plan our next steps. People need financial guidance. That’s not changing. How we deliver it – and who is delivering it – are the opportunities we need to embrace. We know that Next Gen advisors and clients take a different approach to financial services. This is a moment; a real opportunity to engage more people – both advisors and clients. We can do that by meeting them where they are and delivering our message in a way that resonates with them personally.

Steps Individual Firms Should Consider Taking

It’s all about how we show up every day and the language we use. We need to be more inclusive in how we speak, how we talk, and how we act. And we have to get out there. Go to the schools. Meet kids and show them why it’s important to be financially savvy – and show them the role they can play in making that happen for members of their community. Not just in colleges but starting early in the high schools. Bring industry professionals into the classroom to share their expertise and experiences. Develop scholarships and internships for students. And don’t stop there: make sure they know about the opportunities and set them up for success with classes and other resources. The health and future of our industry will rely on new talent and perspectives, from all walks of life.

So, What Now?

I know first-hand that firms across the financial services industry are hard at work developing and implementing policies and programs designed to create inclusive, diverse environments. But, don’t discount the small steps that each of us can take right now that will make a difference. We are all able to contribute to the future of this industry, and our communities, by grasping this opportunity to cast a wider net. Let’s make a difference, in our communities, our schools, our families, and beyond, by starting the conversation, listening to diverse viewpoints, and embracing those who hold them.

Erinn Ford is Executive Vice President of Advisor Engagement at Advisor Group, the nation’s largest network of independent wealth management firms, which oversees approximately $475 billion in client assets. In this role, Erinn directs enterprise efforts to ensure consistency and accountability and drive desired metrics to manage the overall financial professional experience for its six wealth management firms and 10,000+ financial professionals. She provides executive oversight for the National Advisory Board, Corporate Communications, and Business Coaching & Consulting.

A 30-year veteran of the wealth management industry, Erinn is the former CEO of Advisor Group subsidiary firm KMS Financial and the former President of Cetera Advisors. Earlier, she served as Chief Marketing Officer for Pacific West Financial Group.