Winner Of WSR Pathfinder Awards – Black History Month Organization Of The Year Describes Its DEI Training And Initiatives And Advises How To Improve The Industry
As WSR honors outstanding individuals with Pathfinder Awards as Top Black Industry Leaders of 2023, for the first time we have extended the honor of a Pathfinder to an organization. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) has created a DEI Training and Certificate program and implemented other changes to improve the industry for its 4,515 members and beyond.
NAPFA has run the training program twice – the first time in a virtual format and the second time in a hybrid format with both virtual and in-person components. The program has 40 alumni and registration is now open for the third run in May with a hybrid format. Registration is open to both members and non-members.
In addition to the training, NAPFA developed a DEI toolkit, hosts quarterly conversation circles and two to three webinars each year on DEI topics, and ensures that DEI is covered in its conferences. NAPFA has made DEI one of the pillars in its strategic framework, ensuring that DEI is woven into all its activities, including volunteer training and member recruitment.
We spent time with Nikki Palluzzi, NAPFA’s Senior Director of Member Services & Experience, to ask about the organization’s DEI initiatives and successes, and how industry participants from small to large can make a difference.
WSR: What has been the response to your DEI Training and Certificate program? What impact and change have you seen as a result of this program?
Palluzzi: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Advisors appreciate the mix in both on-demand and live content and the ability to discuss how to develop and apply DEI strategies in small group settings. One member cited it as one of the most impactful programs they’ve ever participated in with NAPFA.
The program was created by financial advisors for financial advisors, which has helped to make it a more relevant and actionable experience for the financial planning profession. It was important to NAPFA’s DEI Initiative Committee to ensure that not only did the program cover a range of topics related to DEI (e.g., culture, hiring practices, inclusion and people) but that it spoke directly to the experience of applying those topics in a financial planning firm setting.
The program is a catalyst for continued change and progress in DEI within the NAPFA community and beyond to the profession. NAPFA is dedicated to creating resources and spaces where members can connect and move forward in their DEI journeys, and this program is a concrete example of how NAPFA can be a partner along the way.
WSR: Tell us about how working with Dr. James Pogue has changed your organization and members. What have you learned from him and what changes have you or your members implemented as a result?
Palluzzi: Dr. Pogue has been instrumental in NAPFA’s DEI Initiative. Initially, he was contracted to facilitate volunteer training for NAPFA’s National and Regional Boards, and it became clear that he could help on an association-wide basis. He recorded one of the modules for the on-demand portion of the program and has also spoken at both of the first two live portions of the program.
His DIBs (diversity, inclusion and bias) framework encouraged NAPFA to make organizational changes in how it thought about DEI work. Expanding its idea of DEI as not only being focused on race and ethnicity, but instead including nine different areas (age, race, religion, politics, geography, sexuality, differing abilities, socioeconomics and gender) helped NAPFA and its members begin to think about framing their own DEI efforts in the same way.
This change in thinking has propelled the NAPFA community forward and pushes us closer to being a more inclusive association. Different initiatives within NAPFA now work together under the umbrella of DEI, and it’s become a more intersectional and all-encompassing effort for the entire community. NAPFA may have gotten there eventually, but made a much quicker evolution with the expertise of Dr. Pogue.
WSR: What steps can individual advisors or wealth management professionals take to improve the wealth management industry with regards to DEI?
Palluzzi: There are different ways to approach this, depending on the lens you have as a firm or advisor. If you’re a solo advisor, consider taking a look at the diversity of your vendors and ask them about their DEI plans. Midsized and larger firms can look toward refining their hiring practices by retooling job descriptions, working with historically Black colleges and universities, and considering the BLX Internship program.
Large firms are creating their own internal committees to specifically tackle the work it will take to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive profession. Data shows that diverse teams are more successful, so considering these items and acting on them will have a positive impact on the wealth management industry. NAPFA is currently developing a series of case studies detailing what member firms have been doing in this space, so that others can learn from their work.
My advice is to start somewhere and do something – once an advisor or a firm takes that first step, however small, it builds momentum. Often, I see advisors struggling to make sure their first step is splashy and perfect – a great goal to aspire to, but the reality is that the work of DEI is nuanced and complicated. It’s most important to show up doing the work – if the first step isn’t perfect, you’ll learn from it and improve.
James Miller, Contributing Editor & Research Analyst at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at ContributingEd@wealthsolutionsreport.com