Atria’s Chief Growth Officer Advises Industry Leaders to Give Back, Mentor Underrepresented Youth, Educate Communities and Ensure Representation
As we celebrate Black History Month by honoring the Top Black Leaders in Wealth Management as part of the WSR Pathfinder Awards, it’s important to recognize what our industry has achieved in progress on diversity and inclusion, while embracing the need for continued – and continuous – improvement in this arena.
We asked our Top Black Leaders in Wealth Management questions to reveal our road ahead in achieving greater diversity and inclusion.
Without question, Atria Wealth Solutions is one of the stand-out growth stories of the independent wealth management space, especially when you consider that the firm didn’t even exist more than five years ago.
But since its founding in 2017, the senior leaders of Atria – including Kevin Beard – have taken the industry by storm, together growing the firm to more than 2,500 financial advisors across the country, and over $100 billion in client assets.
Taking a broad view across the solutions suggested by Beard and other recipients, we see common themes emerge including educating communities of color, students and youth on the financial services industry, financial planning and careers in wealth management, paving the way for mentorships and ensuring leadership and C-suites contain role models for new industry entrants.
Beard shares powerful examples from his own life and experience on how his father’s teaching and support propelled him forwards, while others who lacked knowledge lost opportunities over the years.
WSR: What are the greatest challenges that you’ve faced as an African American in your journey up the corporate ladder in the wealth management space?
Beard: I have three daughters, and their experience growing up is vastly different from mine. They’ve known only two former presidents in their lifetime – Barack Obama and Donald Trump – whereas I grew up without a Black president, and during a time when the very possibility of having a Black president of our country seemed nearly impossible.
To be clear, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have many people who served as mentors to me in the wealth management space.
But looking back, I’d say it was challenging for me to not really have anyone in a senior most position at the firms I worked with who looked like me and could serve as a role model.
So instead, I’d look more widely across the whole of the financial services sector for role models, at least on a conceptual basis. For example, I would look to Kenneth Chenault – the former CEO and chairman of American Express – as a leading exemplar.
And without question, our industry could use more Black role models in the C-suite if we want to encourage more diversity. This can be a challenge, but we’re making progress. So there’s significant cause for optimism.
WSR: Without question, African Americans continue to be underrepresented on the C-suite teams of wealth management firms. What should the industry be doing more of – or do differently – to drive more cultural diversity on corporate leadership teams?
Beard: One thing that is urgently needed is much more financial education in underserved communities.
In hindsight, I was very lucky to have parents who instilled the right values and basic knowledge about savings and investments.
My dad, who worked at Ford Motor Company, taught me how to read the Wall Street Journal. He also took me to see a financial advisor when I was young, and we would sit there and talk about my dad’s 401K or retirement plans.
But not everybody from communities of color have a similar level of access to financial education and professional guidance. For example, I remember visiting family friends who were also Black.
They were a middle-class family in Cleveland, Ohio, and the husband had worked for 40 years at General Electric. Now, here is the incredible part of the story: They’d been receiving shares in the company for years, and didn’t realize the value of it all.
They asked me to take a look at a thick stack of stock certificates to see if they could afford a new driveway at a cost of $2,000. So I reviewed their stock certificates with them and we discovered that they had received about $900,000 in GE shares over the years. So yes, they could afford that new driveway, but they could also afford an earlier and more comfortable retirement than they had previously expected!
This story ended well, but there are so many that don’t. So without question, boosting financial education in communities of color also benefits individual families.
One final thought worth emphasizing on this point: If firms seek to drive cultural diversity by drumming up interest with visits to school campuses, they need to be mindful of who they’re sending to tell their story. Potential candidates who can alleviate the wealth management industry’s diversity problem want to hear from people with similar experiences as minorities.
WSR: What are three things that wealth management firms should do to best support the professional success of African American financial advisors – And how does greater diversity in the financial advisor community in general benefit the industry and our broader society?
Beard: The industry should be supportive of not only Black financial professionals but other minorities also. In the last few years, more firms have launched diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, so as an industry we’re catching up.
But much more needs to happen. For instance, one company that I know of created a D&I committee, but it was made up of four white guys, with nobody representing a Black, Latino, Asian or female perspective. Representation is a priority. Firms must walk the walk and talk the talk.
Second, build more trust factors into your corporate leadership so Black financial professionals know they have someone to turn to at the top. Again, I was fortunate to meet people who were very supportive mentors, but not everybody starting out in this industry is quite as fortunate.
Third, if you’re in a position of leadership, give back to up-and-coming financial professionals from underrepresented groups.
I remember when I was 22, my dad told me that I would go on to do great things, but that I should give back, because people would be looking to me, even when I didn’t think they were. So I am active in mentoring, advising, and encouraging others who are seeking to further their career in financial services or other industries.
Diversity in the advisor community benefits the industry and society because it addresses the needs of underserved communities — helping families achieve financial security and create wealth across the generations.
Julius Buchanan, Senior Contributing Editor at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org