PLANADVISER recently hosted a one-day digital learning seminar, “Building Your Practice in 2021,” that aimed to speak to the facts of this year and to frankly and unabashedly address the persistent and pernicious problem of wealth inequality in the United States.
One session during the seminar featured an in-depth discussion on building talented teams and addressing the clear and present lack of racial and gender diversity in the advisory industry. To that end, Dominique Henderson, founder of DJH Capital Management and the JumpStart adviser mentorship program, joined in and shared his story about first founding an independent registered investment adviser (RIA) firm and later establishing his coaching program.
Henderson is working to redefine what the typical entrance into the brokerage and advisory world looks like, shifting the focus away from sales quotas and business development and toward a more holistic, humanistic way of doing business. As recounted in the Q&A transcript that follows, Henderson says he believes the future of the advisory industry can and should look a lot different than it does today. He also encourages other financial services professionals to think about how they can do their part to make this a more welcoming and receptive field.
PLANADVISER: Before we talk in detail about JumpStart and its mission, can you please tell us the story of your own entrance into the brokerage and advisory industry?
Henderson: Certainly, though I will say that I need to work on my elevator pitches. I have been in financial services since 1998, when I was first employed out of college by a hedge fund. I spent several years there, but I pretty quickly realized that I did not want to be in that role, serving institutional clients for the hedge fund.
I left and found myself floating around and trying to decide what part of financial services I wanted to move into next. I ended up finding a job at a small broker/dealer [B/D] that is now defunct. But I got my life and health insurance licenses and started to really enjoy the broker-client relationship.
As my skills and interests progressed, I eventually moved into a role at a large registered investment adviser [RIA] here in Dallas, which is where I really cut my teeth for about six years. It was a great management experience, talking to a lot of families and getting a lot of case history. I gravitated toward the Certified Financial Professional [CFP] designation.
I should point out that my decision to leave the RIA was in large part due to the fact that there were no succession plans being made that involved me, and so I decided it was best to start my own RIA. That’s the brief overview of how DJH Capital Management came to be. Today, it is all about providing individuals and families with comprehensive financial planning. In 2021, my clients aren’t coming to me for more information. My clients come to me because they need their lives made simpler with all the information that is out there. I take my clients’ limited time and money and help them make a holistic plan.
PLANADVISER: A theme that has come up time and again in interviews with advisers is that this is a space they stumbled into. Was that your experience? Or did you see the career path in front of you early on?
Henderson: Honestly, I was that weird kid who was always interested in this career and in finance. I was the child that was walking around the house with my dad’s tie on and carrying his briefcase—always wanting to be a business-management type of person. So my undergraduate and master’s degrees are both in finance, and I got my CFP, so I feel I was made for this.
What I will say is that I’ve had some really great heroes and mentors in my life along this path. I would also say that, largely, the financial services industry was then and is still associated with the sales process—the client-facing role where you are having to be this energetic personality that is leading the charge. I know now that there are a lot of other support roles and career paths that don’t get their day in the sun, especially on the part of outsiders looking into our space. There are opportunities in compliance, marketing, operations, etc. There are crucial support roles that can make for a great career path for people who might not want to be that lead adviser. We need to do a better job conveying such information.
PLANADVISER: What does your own team look like?
Henderson: In terms of my ‘team’ at DJH, it’s an interesting picture. I decided early on to keep my firm very simple in its structure, in part because when I started this firm I had had my fill of working within a really large firm. The firm I left had 600 families and I was the lead on a third of those relationships, so it looked different from what I do today.
Right now I am coming up on my 50-family limit that I have set for myself. I am self-aware enough to know that this is the right size for DJH Capital Management.
My team is not a bunch of people on my own payroll. I have an outside introducing broker/dealer relationship that I rely on a lot, and I have a firm called Shareholder Services Group that does an excellent job at helping me with serving my clients and giving me what I need as an independent firm owner to do this. Additionally, I have a variety of independent contractor-type support relationships that I utilize regularly.
I am strongly considering expanding my Form ADV to allow me to bring on some additional part-time support that is a little closer in than the extended network I rely on now, which is exciting.
I can say there are different firm structures that are possible, and it’s important to understand that surrounding yourself with the right team doesn’t mean putting everyone on payroll. This is a space where you rely so much on your partners and you don’t have to be under one roof to deliver an effective client services experience.
PLANADVISER: What is JumpStart?
Henderson: I feel confident saying it is the first truly international community for connecting aspiring financial professionals. My vision ties back into what we’ve already discussed. It’s symbiotic. In my heart, I feel that everyone should have access to good financial advice, regardless of your demographics, where you come from or what your money story is. I believe this because I know that quality, comprehensive financial planning has the power to change lives and whole family trees.
At a certain point I realized that, yes, I can work in DJH and over the years I may serve a thousand families or so. But we have 300 million-plus people in the United States. So JumpStart is meant to allow me to give my knowledge and experience to aspiring financial services professionals, so that they can go out and start to be those conduits of real financial advice for the people who need it.
When I take someone through the program it looks a little different than what you might expect. At the end of the day, an aspiring financial professional has to do the work of getting that CFP designation or going back to school. I can’t do this work for them. What I can do is spell out how determination, skills and opportunity work in tandem to make career paths in this industry. So, I can’t give you determination. I can cheerlead you a little bit, but that’s not what I do. Skills I can help you with, a little, but at the end of the day, I don’t have a coaching program to certify you.
What I can do most with JumpStart is connect you with opportunity and help you take advantage of your opportunities. If you are willing to do the work, I can provide you with the right opportunity. If you think about the aspiring financial professionals I work with, often they are someone who has had a 10- or 15-year career already, but they have an affinity or passion for financial services. At the same time, they don’t know what it all means or how they could fit in. JumpStart helps flatten that curve, remove the fluff and give you what you need to do to make this career happen. I don’t pull any punches, either, and I will step on your toes.
Ultimately, when you shorten and simplify the path for people to get into this business, the outcomes improve and the retention of talent is so much better. I feel this is how we can get away from the churn-and-burn mentality that has defined parts of this industry and that has kept more diverse people out, as well. So many aspiring professionals who could have been successful in this space have instead been chewed up in the introduction process.
PLANADVISER: Do you see this philosophy being embraced more broadly?
Henderson: It’s happening more in the RIA space versus the broker/dealer space, but, honestly, it’s like trying to turn the Titanic in a very small lake. This is going to take a while.
There is definitely a new emerging outlook in our industry among the group who is say, 25 to 40 years old. They have a totally different outlook on what their impact in financial services can be. It’s very much focused on community engagement and some of the points I’ve been discussing—holistic planning that is about more than just product sales and quotas.
These people are changing the industry slowly but surely. From a long-term vision standpoint, ideally, JumpStart can be a place not only of shared resources, but it can also become an ever-growing and dynamic pool of diverse talent for the forward-looking firms that really want to employ these people.
As a firm owner myself, I can say definitively that I would much rather have a career changer that has experienced life and has transferrable skills and dedication, compared with someone who is just coming in with a check-the-box education that you would have wanted in a financial professional in the past.
One of the greatest things I’ve offer to my clients is my life experience. I have been married 23 years to my wife and I have three adult children. That’s a family. My life experience has made me a better adviser.
This is what entrepreneurs and firm owners should be looking for—people who are coachable and people who have the emotional intelligence and the soft-skills that can complement the automation that is entering our industry.
PLANADVISER: Can you reflect on what you talked about with us last year about the importance of finding a mentor?
Henderson: Definitely, but my thinking has actually evolved a little bit after I had the experience of interviewing Seth Godin, the best-selling author, for my podcast. We had an interesting disagreement about mentorship. Godin says that, of course it’s important, but we need to redefine mentorship.
It doesn’t just have to be about working very closely with a mentor. It’s also about having a hero—a vision and a blueprint for what we might want to eventually achieve. We don’t necessarily have to even be in direct contact with these people to learn from their experience.
I’ve embraced this within JumpStart. I preach the ‘why, who and the how.’ Your ‘why’ is defined by asking why you are coming into this space and what your motivation is that will help you get through the inevitable obstacles you will face. Then you get to figure out the ‘who’—who is doing something similar to what you want in your ‘why’? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, in other words. This leads directly into the ‘how.’ There is likely already a solid blueprint that exists for getting you to where you want to go. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s doable.