Move Beyond Diversity and Inclusion Programs for Lasting Change

Michael Madden,
Contributing Editor &
Research Analyst,
Wealth Solutions Report

Onyx Advisor Network Co-Founders and WSR Pathfinder Award Winners (Top Black Leaders in Wealth Management) Highlight Awareness, Mentorships and Community

We know our industry falls short on diversity and inclusion – honestly admitting this is the first step in examining our current initiatives and strategizing more or different steps towards our diversity goals. 

In our coverage of Black History Month, we asked our honorees for Top Black Leaders in Wealth Management probing questions so as an industry we can listen to their answers to discern new ways forward.

For solutions, you can start at no better place than the counsel of the two accomplished industry leaders who co-founded the Onyx Advisor Network, a platform for minority-led firms that supports underrepresented advisors to start, scale and sustain their practices, with a declared mission to change the complexion of wealth by providing minority advisors with the entire suite of resources needed to empower their clients to build wealth and scale their businesses.

Emlen Miles-Mattingly,
Onyx Advisor Network

Emlen Miles-Mattingly, Co-Founder of Onyx, is also President, CEO and Founder of financial planning firm Gen Next Wealth, a co-founder of BLatinX Internship Inc., a financial planning internship program created with the goal of placing at least 100 aspiring Black and LatinX financial planners with meaningful paid internships for the summer of 2022 and hosts the Minority Money Podcast. 

Dasarte Yarnway, Co-Founder,
Onyx Advisor Network

Onyx’s other Co-Founder, Dasarte Yarnway, also serves as Founder and Managing Director of RIA Berknell Financial Group and Head of Community at custodial solutions provider Altruist, hosts the podcast Pay Me in Equity and authored three Amazon bestsellers.

We spent time with Miles-Mattingly and Yarnway to talk about barriers and solutions for diversity in the financial advisory industry.

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?  

Miles-Mattingly: Being given that first chance is a huge hurdle for minority advisors, before you even have the opportunity to climb the ladder. Because I didn’t look like a typical financial advisor, both on and off paper, many of the firms I first sought work at turned me away.

The challenge of establishing and re-establishing your credibility within the industry is constant. Because there are so few other minorities in the space, there’s a lot of pressure to prove yourself, not just for you, but on behalf of all other Black people.

Yarnway: Black advisors are told “no” far more than the average person in this industry for no other reason than the color of their skin. The challenges I faced were so great when I worked at a large traditional investment firm, I saw no route to success other than starting my own RIA where I could design the infrastructure needed to welcome diverse clients and team members. 

The lack of mentorship available to young Black advisors and founders to model a path forward to success in the industry is a grave issue. That’s why my relationship with Emlen was so transformational for me as an advisor and the inspiration behind building the Onyx community. We couldn’t not build it.

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?  

Leverage diverse job boards but
most importantly leverage job awareness
among minority communities!

Miles-Mattingly: To answer this question we need to zoom outside of the industry itself. If we want to have leaders on C-suite teams from minority communities, we need to first make those communities much more aware of the profession and the possibilities this career choice could have for them. 

As it stands, most people from my hometown don’t understand what a financial advisor does, let alone feel that the profession could be a viable option for their future. To increase diversity in corporate leadership teams we need to start with awareness in those communities from a young age. 

Hiring managers should also investigate how and to whom they’re advertising these jobs. Is it through the same channels and recruitment strategies they have always used to source candidates? We know from the numbers that those channels lack diversity, so this fundamentally makes it challenging to get more minority voices in the room. 

Looking for systemic ways to address not just hiring practices today, but the company’s ability to create a culturally diverse team today and twenty years from now is how firms can truly work to change the complexion of their executive suite.

Yarnway: Your cries won’t be heard from the bottom, so diversity in leadership is important. Lots of companies and firms want diverse leadership just to check a box and make sure they have their token Black executive. Though many of them are well meaning, hiring managers need to take a big step back and reflect on some important questions. 

  • What kind of culture are they offering this person? 
  • Is it one where they can see themselves supported by a community, or one where they feel like they are just checking a box?
  • What are your company’s objectives for retention of diverse staff, not just recruitment? 
  • What systemic elements of your infrastructure need to be adjusted from the top-down to support minorities succeeding as leaders and drivers of industry change?
Strengthen your diversity recruitment strategy!

If you aren’t offering diverse candidates in executive roles a place where their voice will be heard, particularly in matters pertaining to diversity and race, then you need to rethink your approach. Get your intention and your hiring approach rooted in the right place first to ensure you’ve created a place where leaders from underrepresented backgrounds can enrich the ideas and culture of your entire company. 

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?   

Miles-Mattingly: Firms need to look outside of the insular wealth management community and think about how they can leverage their funds and resources to: 

  1. Increase awareness of the existence of financial services in underrepresented communities.
  2. Support mentorship and early education programs in Black communities to create more potential candidates for financial advisors from those communities in the future. 
  3. Design a financial planning curriculum for young and aspiring advisors that they can use to learn from independently to drive their career forward – free of jargon and exclusionary language.
Suit yourself seems like a dead cliché!

The phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” is so true for African American financial advisors. When you walk into a room and no one looks like you, it’s a challenge to really see how you could belong there. 

By focusing on awareness and mentorship about financial advice services in Black communities, firms will be able to drive more meaningful change for years to come than they are able to through quarterly “Diversity and Inclusion” trainings.  

Yarnway: The wealth management industry needs to be willing to truly transform itself into something completely different from what it has been traditionally. We need to be brave enough to ask ourselves the hard questions about the structures and processes within our firms that are responsible for creating barriers to entry for Black advisors, and then decide what it would really look like to reinvent them. 

Diversity and Inclusion initiatives are not going to drive industry wide change. Three things that can create an impactful and lasting shift are:

It feels great to be able to say ‘” I belong! ’’
  1. Creating more access to custodians and the technology needed for advisors to start and scale their practice. 
  2. The elimination of asset minimums for custodial support.
  3. Listen to Black advisors and communicate to them with your actions and words that they belong at your firm.

When you see a Black advisor or financial services professional in the room, welcome them into that space. Intentionally work to create a sense of community for diverse advisors who feel out of place most of the time they are in a room with other industry professionals. 

Michael Madden, Contributing Editor & Research Analyst at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at 

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