Embracing diversity to reach new retirement plan clients

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When looking to grow a diverse team of retirement plan advisers, the goal should not be limited to reaching out to new clients, but to also build a team that looks like your future clients and address your own subconscious biases.

Anne Lester, managing director, portfolio manager, and head of retirement solutions at JPMorgan Asset Management, knows this first hand. Growing up in Hawaii, she said that the residents would always identify people by race because of the island state’s diverse ethnic population. It wasn’t until she reached college on the mainland that she realized that doing so was considered wrong.

Thirty years later, she is participating in diversity efforts at JPM where more than 83 female PMs operate in the asset management division.

“We faced the fact that we were struggling to move the needle. We wanted to look like our clients and we are working to get people to acknowledge and compensate for their unconscious biases when hiring, speaking with people, giving performance reviews and promotions,” she said at the NAPA 2018 conference in Nashville, Tenn.

“Once you acknowledge you have biases and realize how many you have, you know why that reptilian part of your brain is shortstopping the business actions,” says Lester.

Born in Nicaragua, Douglas Bermudez, SVP and investment officer for Berumudez|Hall Retirement Group of Wells Fargo, came to the U.S. in an Air Force C-130 with his family to escape the Contra revolution that roiled Latin America in the 1980s. Growing up in San Francisco, where he walked to school through the city’s Castro District, he soon realized that he was in a new land that was different from his native Nicaragua. Living in a diverse community surrounded by other cultures helped him climb the ladder as a retirement planner.

As a Spanish speaker, he can communicate with clients who speak Spanish, Spanglish, Central American dialects of Spanish and more. He knows the culture and understands that some clients have fake social security numbers and are worried about raids from local Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

“I work with people who say they won’t be here in six months and I take their picture with my phone and when I come back in six months, I show them the picture and sign them up for retirement plan participation,” he says.

He also discussed long-term planning with his clients, who often think only short term. “I tell them that if they save they can retire in Central America with American dollars where they grew up and live like kings,” he said .

For Janine Moore, CPFA and principal/managing partner for Peak Financial Group, she straddled two worlds as a light-skinned African American in Ohio. “I was too dark skinned for my black friends and too dark skinned to fit in with my white friends,” she recalls.

After serving in the air force, she attended a college job fair and took a position with an insurance company. She admits failing the Series 6 test the first time she took it, which made her feel awkward in front of her team. “Here I was, the new manager and I failed the test and I was leading people who had done this job for 10 years,” she says.

She passed on her second try and eventually accepted a new position in Texas overseeing the retirement plans for the City of Houston, which at the time had a woeful track record of plan participation: roughly 3,000 participants in a pool of 17,000 city employees. One person on her team had a unique way of greeting her when they met for the first time: He asked what color underwear she was wearing.

Emboldened, she took the job and after many successes – plan participation rose to 13,000 – she won awards as well as some animosity from her staff. One, she suspects, threw a brick through her office window, she says.

Growing up in New Mexico, Michael Curry, financial advisor for Retirement Plan Consulting Services, UBS, went east for an internship at the FAA. This eventually lead to a job at Goldman Sachs at the start of the financial crisis of 2008 – 09. He soon moved to retirement accounts where his drive and Mexican background helped him to sign up new clients.

Curry is a big proponent of mentoring especially for minatory candidates. “How can we make sure we are helping people and giving them the spark to be seen?” he asks, adding “Mentoring has made a big difference in my career growth. I maintained great relationship with people throughout the way.”

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