An overwhelming majority of Hispanic and African-Americans say that financial services firms need to hire more diverse staff, according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Edward Jones.

About two-thirds of those polled, and more than three-quarters of Hispanic and African-Americans respondents, said that a firm’s advisers should more closely resemble their client base. Despite the need to recruit more diverse staff, minorities have long been underrepresented in the profession.

Although Hispanics comprised about 17% of the total U.S. population in 2012, they made up less than 5% of personal financial advisers, including employee and independent channels, according to data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. African-Americans were also underrepresented, having comprised about 13% of the total population, but less than 5% of advisers. Slightly less than a third of all financial advisers were women.

Improving recruitment efforts is part of the solution, but retaining minority talent is equally important, says Jesse Abercrombie, a financial adviser at Edward Jones in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Simply having more minority role models among the advisers can help retain talent.

“If a minority financial adviser sees several other successful minority financial advisers, then they’ll feel a lot more comfortable in their own future,” he says.

In addition to having visible role models, firms also need mentorship programs, Abercrombie says. He volunteers as a regional leader for Dallas-Fort Worth in a mentorship program at Edward Jones called BRIDGE (Bringing Results through Inclusion-Driven and Guided Efforts). Abercrombie says the program works on raising cross-cultural awareness, provides mentoring to new advisers and program members participate in recruitment events.

“We feel that if we have our team in place, and they see with their own eyes who they are, and we meet them, that they’ll join,” he says.

Abercrombie, who has been at Edward Jones for the past eleven years, wasn’t surprised by the survey data given the profession’s recruitment problems. He remembers reading about diversity problems when he started in the profession. But Abercrombie says that he has seen the financial adviser profession make headway in recruiting and retaining minority talent.

“I look at how it’s grown, and it’s gotten better. But there is still room for improvement,” he said.

Welsch writes for Financial Planning, a SourceMedia publication.

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