The wealth management industry has long been characterized by a lack of diversity. Now a group of advisors and branch managers at Raymond James aim to rectify that.

The group has launched a Black Financial Advisors Network at the firm, with the goal attracting minorities to the business while also retaining and supporting existing minority advisors.

The effort mirrors the company's successful (and more than 20-year-old) Women Advisors Network; Raymond James has the highest percentage of female advisors in the industry, according to Financial Planning's most recent FP50 rankings.

"There's not a lot of diversity in this industry, so we can't simply target advisors at other firms," says Tony Barrett, a 21-year industry veteran and a complex manager based in Philadelphia. "At other firms I worked at I was almost always the only black financial advisor in the office."

The group, led by Barrett, financial advisor Kaon Nelson and Miami branch manager Joel Burstein, will also work hard at retaining existing black financial advisors and helping them develop their practices.
"We want to make sure that we take care of the people in the industry, so that means creating a support network," Barrett says. "It's always refreshing when you can get a group of people in a room and they can share their experience."

And the group has a third mission, Barrett adds: giving people a collective voice. When senior management wants to know what it can do, the group's members will be in a position to provide feedback, he says.

"The leadership here has been fantastic in their support and receptivity. But they will be the first to tell you that they are no more experts in this than I am. So we need to help them find answers, not wait for them to give us the answers," he says.


Raymond James also announced this week a new director for its more than two-decade old Women Advisors network, after Nicole Spinelli left the company in January.

The network's new leader is Michelle Lynch, a 17-year marketing veteran who has spent the past 11 years working with the firm's Private Client Group and Asset Management divisions.

Lynch has worked closely with Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James & Associates, the firm's employee broker-dealer, and Scott Curtis, who oversees the firm's independent advisors as president of Raymond James Financial Services.

"The network itself is critically important to Raymond James. It's been a long standing part of the fabric of our culture," says Elwyn, who notes that Lynch's experience and familiarity with the firm made her a particularly strong candidate.

Both of the diversity-focused networks are intended primarily to retain and support the firm's existing advisors, he says. But a secondary goal is to create role models and inspire new candidates to enter the industry.

"I think that is the key for our profession and for Raymond James to create change," he says. "Not just incremental change, but significant change, and it will have to be generational. Kids in school today need to be inspired in order to get into our profession -- and they will be inspired by professionals who resemble them."


Barrett says that the idea for the network grew out of conversations that he'd had with Burnstein and Nelson.

"It was always, 'Somebody should do something about this. Somebody should help the firm figure this out,'" he says. "About a year ago or two years ago, we kind of figured out that if anyone was going to do it, it should be us -- because we were the most affected."

Accurate statistics on the diversity in the industry are hard to come by. Research firm Cerulli Associates does not keep data on the number of minority advisors. Raymond James says that across the board, 15% of its advisors are women -- the percentage is larger within RJFS -- but it doesn't have statistics on the number of minority advisors.

Last November, On Wall Street asked 11 broker-dealers what percentage of their advisors are women and minorities. Eight firms declined to provide statistics. Of those who did, Edward Jones boasted the highest figures, reporting that 18.7% of the firm's advisors were women while 5.9% were minorities.

But even these figures were unrepresentative of the national population. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women represent 50.8% of the population while blacks and African-Americans represent 13.2%.

"No one wants to share their statistics because they are bad," says Barrett. "I don't know that I've been in a room with 100 financial advisors and seen 3 other African-Americans."

Barrett praises the support the trio has gotten from Raymond James leadership, but adds that this is just the beginning of what he expects to be a long-term effort.

"This has always been a good career for career changers, people looking for more autonomy," he says. "It's exciting and encouraging [to have formed the group], but we're being realistic about it. This is a problem that the brokerage industry hasn't really solved -- I don't expect it will be smooth sailing the whole way in order to figure it out."

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