Inclusion, Diversity and the Noble Purpose of Advisers

The principal of financial adviser inclusion and diversity at Edward Jones reflects on her job leading the advisory company’s revamped diversity efforts—informed by her own first career as an adviser in the field.

During a recent conversation with PLANADVISER, Monica Giuseffi, principal of financial adviser inclusion and diversity at Edward Jones, offered a refreshingly candid take about the problem of a lack of diversity in the financial advisory marketplace.

Right now just 19% of advisers in the U.S. are women, she observed. When one considers the professional fields that intersect with the financial and retirement advisory space the problem is thrown into sharper relief; fully 52% of accountants are women and 32% of attorneys are women. So it does seem that there are specific characteristics of the financial advisory marketplace that have prevented women from full enjoying fuller participation.

Speaking directly to the issue, Giuseffi speculations that for a long time there has been a perception that taking on the job of a financial adviser will mean you are working on the set of the movie “Wolf of Wall Street,” in reference to the recent film’s infamous depiction of a rather-less-than-ethical culture existing among successful advisers and brokers. Of course that kind of dramatized perception is far from the reality, particularly in the institutional retirement advice market, where trust and reputation are crucially important for long-term success, but it has been enduring enough to cause a real gender diversity challenge.

Other more tangible hurdles to entering the advice field, both for women and men, include uncertainty about the work-life balance of advisers and the natural difficulty of first entering a business where sales cycles and client relationship develop quite slowly. This is part of the reason why younger people have also been slow to enter the advisory marketplace—although there is some evidence that this trend is easing.

Giuseffi’s own background offers direct insight into the challenge at hand. She was a field adviser for 13 years before being invited to serve as a regional leader, overseeing a new but sizable territory of advisers in the Atlanta area. After several years in that role she has taken on a senior leadership job in the home office, leading the effort to boost adviser diversity in the firm and at large. She loved her career as a field adviser and met with success as a regional leader, but she did face her share of challenges through the years.

NEXT: Grasping the long-term problem 

At Edward Jones, the advisory force is structured so that there are some 6,000 centralized corporate employees, whereas the field representation is 36,000-plus. Giuseffi’s role involves mostly thinking about how to increase gender and cultural diversity in the client-facing advisory positions, which is a related but distinct challenge from improving diversity within the home office locations. She describes the work as “a joy.”

“This is a very important time both for our firm and the industry as a whole to get focused on this challenge,” Giuseffi says. It is a matter of necessity not just in the interest of doing the right thing, but also for long-term business success. “Looking forward, 70% of the tens of trillions of dollars in wealth transfer we expect from the Boomer generation will be controlled by women. Over 40% of Millennials are diverse today in terms of their cultural background—that’s who will be directing and receiving the massive wealth transfer. We have to ask, as a firm, how can we make sure that we remain relevant to the needs of this evolving client base?”

Giuseffi’s basic prescription for her firm and others is to take a strategic approach to this problem; in other words, it’s not a problem that will naturally resolve itself over time without a concentrated effort from senior leadership and the field staff alike. Encouragingly, this message is not just coming from Edward Jones. In March of this year, the American College of Financial Services launched a generous scholarship program as part of its “mission to double the number of African Americans working in the financial services industry within the next decade.”

The organization says “anyone who is Black or African American and is in college, recently graduated, or interested in changing careers is welcomed to apply.” According to the organization, the scholarship program will cover 100% of the cost of earning a professional designation such as certified financial planner (CFP) or earning a master degree in financial services or financial management.

The need for the program is clear: Even though African Americans make up about 13% of the United States population, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports they account for only about 7.6% of financial services professionals.

“The path you walk as a female adviser or the path you walk as culturally diverse adviser is an important one. Like all advisers tasked with the duty of serving the best interest of their clients, they have a noble purpose,” Guiseffi concluded. “We should feel encouraged. In my first leadership role leading the Atlanta region, it was a new region and we started with the goal of diversity in mind. After just three years of sustained effort we had become the most diverse region in the country, so progress is possible.”