Originally published in the Journal of Financial Planning.
By Liliya Jones
Liliya Jones is director of operations at Modernist Financial, and she heads up most of the content production for her firm’s marketing efforts. She was part of Modernist’s founding team and serves on the board of the Portland chapter of Women in Insurance and Financial Services.
People tell me I’m a millennial. I believe them because I graduated college in a recession and don’t plan to have kids. But sometimes I have my doubts, because I don’t use Snapchat and I work at a financial firm. When I try to tell acquaintances about my work, I frequently see their eyes glaze over. The larger financial services industry can seem like the dominion of old men in dusty offices, so I wanted to share the story of why I am making my way through it as a 20-something woman.
First, you would not be wrong in the above assumption. Seventy-nine percent of financial advisers are white, and 69 percent are men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey. Seventy-seven percent of CFP® certificants are men, according to CFP Board. There are more CFP® practitioners over the age of 50 than there are 20- and 30-somethings combined. (CFP Board doesn’t currently track data on race or sexual orientation, which I think says a lot).
And yes, I have heard some toxic comments about “paying your dues,” the scourge that is maternity leave, and endured my share of unsolicited hugs.
But know that the financial industry is rapidly changing, though not due to oft-cited robo-advisers (which are in fact neither robots nor advisers, according to Michael Kitces). Inside the industry, the consensus appears to be that independent, small registered investment adviser firms are going to be the future of financial services, leaving the wirehouse brokers of yesteryear to wither in their polyester suits.
Because many of these RIA firms are small and fairly new, they can be hotbeds of innovation. They proliferate throughout the country and focus on a great many niches. There are firms that focus on school teachers, fishermen, athletes, entertainers, engineers, and so on. The firm I work for is a great example of this. Started by a woman who studied fine art, we focus on working with creative entrepreneurs and inheritors. Our clients are designers, music producers, and innovative Portland business owners.
Aside from getting to work with interesting clients, there are other advantages to working at an RIA. Though opportunities were denied to non-OWGs for a long time, that is starting to change and the great compensation, benefits, and flexibility that the industry offers are starting to become accessible to a new cohort of employees (though still not as diverse as I would like) as older advisers get ready to retire. Our firm is small enough that all employees participate in decision-making. We run an open-books business and offer robust continuing education benefits. We even have iMacs!
Investment management itself is changing, too, with a growing interest and access to ESG investing and a trend toward lower fees and increased transparency. With the recent implementation of the fiduciary rule, more advisers are required to put their clients’ interests before their own. All of this should start adding up to change the industry’s previously negative reputation.
Give It a Try
As a first-generation American, financial stability is really important to me. But as a millennial, meaningful and interesting work also matters. The changing world of modern financial advisory firms can offer both. I’d love to see more of my peers give it a shot.
Young professionals or career-changers interested in exploring the financial services industry or the financial planning profession specifically have a few possible routes to take. Several well-respected undergraduate programs now focus on financial planning and there are even more options for pursuing the CFP® designation through one of many CFP Board registered programs.
Of course, the trusty standby of seeking an internship at an existing firm is perhaps the best way to dip your toe. I suggest checking out one of the RIA firms that have chosen to become certified B Corporations (do a search at bcorporation.net); they have a strong focus on building community, and will likely be happy to meet values-aligned job-seekers.