Financial Advisors do not look like me. Am I wrong for wanting one who does?

Note: This is a guest post written by our intern Tara Fenty.

When was the first time you heard the words “financial planner”? How about “financial advisor”? For me…I think it was nearly a decade ago, due to an unimaginable and sudden loss. As I write this, the intro to The Flash television show comes to mind. It begins with the line:

”for you to understand what I am about to tell you, I need you to…” know a bit about what I have gone through.

The day was March 13, 2013 and it was a fairly typical day. I was at home planning a movie day with the family; my son’s school was offering a donation match at a local restaurant, so we decided to pair that with watching “The Lion King”…a classic, I know. My partner, Antonio, came home and informed me that he was going to go for a ride on his motorcycle with a few friends. We had a small argument because we had already made plans together, but he decided to go on the motorcycle ride instead. Was I upset? Extremely! He grabbed his stuff and left on his bike. That was the last time I saw him alive!

The next few years were unbelievably hard. When the accident occurred, Antonio and I were set to be married in just 36 days. Due to a lot of “putting it off until tomorrow” mentality, we did not have any of the estate planning basics in place. And because we were unmarried, I was not eligible for many of the benefits I would have received had the accident happened after our wedding. However, I learned that there would be certain benefits that our daughter would be eligible for and I wanted to plan for that. Here is the thing: I had no idea how much money she was entitled to or when it was coming. I was given the initial time frame of roughly a few months but it actually took over a year to come through.

I get my first exposure to the financial services industry

In those early days after the accident, I started to do some research and was surprised when I came across the term “financial planner”. I didn’t even know what this meant. According to Investopedia, a financial planner is defined as someone who “works with clients to help them manage their money and reach their long term financial goals”.

After that initial shock of finding out about this whole financial planning world, my next surprise was that not one of the images of financial planners I came across online looked like me…a Black woman. I was trying to come to terms with my new reality, that I would have to navigate survivor benefits while simultaneously grieving. On top of that, I would also potentially have to confide in a complete stranger who looks nothing like me! 

Choosing a financial planner is not something that should be taken lightly. You are literally handing over some of your most private and intimate financial details. The information you are sharing includes your own personal money story of how you got to be where you are. 

I returned to the question: is it important to have a financial planner who looks like you? 

For starters, it can bring a sense of familiarity and peace to you as the client. I imagined working with a planner who notices that my hair budget is rather big (multiple product changes, specialized hair stylists, etc.) relative to their other clients. As a Black woman, I would feel misunderstood. In my culture, our hair is our Crown and it is how we show and express who we are. It is such a huge part of who we are that companies such as Dove have done research and created The Crown Act and the Crown Coalition to celebrate natural, Black hair. But again, if my planner questioned why I need to spend so much money on my hair, I would feel judged.

At the end of the day, as much as we want to work with people who have similar backgrounds as us, that’s often not possible. The most important things to look for in an advisor are of course, things like integrity and competency. But also a level of curiosity that shows the planner truly sees you as a human being and will accept you as you are.

Fast forward a decade and I’m now pursuing this as a career. In the interim, I’ve worked with other survivors who are navigating their potential benefits, while dealing with the loss of a loved one. I know first hand how important this work is and how devastating it can be when you haven’t got your s**t together.

The work of financial planners and advisors is beneficial in so many ways. I learned early on that the industry is not very diverse; at present only about 4.8% of CFP professionals are Black or Latino. I wasn’t sure if this was an industry that would welcome me. 

Signs of progress

On the other hand, many companies and organizations are recognizing this deficit and are striving to be more inclusive and diverse. There are organizations such as the BLXInternship program whose goal “is to increase the diversity of the financial planning industry to better reflect the population of our country” (disclaimer: I am a participant in this program, which is how I came to work at Xena FP). 

There are firms such as Ellevest and Xena FP (nice plug, I know) that are creating a supportive and welcome environment while prioritizing diversity and inclusion. Although progress has been slow, there are signs of improvement! Last year the CFP Board announced its most diverse class of CFP recipients yet (nearly 15% of the current class of CFPs is “diverse”).

All of this is to say that whether you are a prospective client, or an aspiring planner, the tide is turning. There is a firm or a planner for you, even if they don’t look just like you. You are not alone, even though it may feel as such. Take it from someone who has felt that way in more ways than one.