When financial advisor Nina O’Neal was a 23-year-old staff member at an investment firm in New York, she had what many women say is a rare experience in the industry: O’Neal reported a senior male executive’s inappropriate behavior, and he was fired.
Then she found out from a close friend at the company that several other women had already reported the chief compliance officer’s uncomfortable questions and comments when he stopped by their desks and called them to his office for unnecessary meetings, she recalled.
“I was relieved that he would no longer be a colleague, but I was shocked and disappointed that a company would keep on someone in such a position with many reports of misconduct,” O’Neal, a partner with Raleigh, North Carolina-based AIM Advisors who’s affiliated with the Advisor Group-owned independent brokerage Triad Advisors, said in an email.
“That was my first eye-opening experience with what my life as a female in finance would likely look like, and I promised myself that I would always speak up for myself and other women for the rest of my career,” O’Neal said. “I have kept to that promise and unfortunately have had to act on it more times than I can count.”
The typical lack of consequences for allegations of sexual harassment or even abuse in the industry often causes women to give up on a career in wealth management altogether, according to O’Neal. Even with some signs of progress and a few milestone CEO hirings, the share of financial planners who are women remains below 25%. And, as the data rankings below compiled through Financial Planning‘s annual IBD Elite study make clear, very few independent brokerages reach that mark.
Some firms do stand out from their peers, though, and two of the firms with the most female advisors are owned by women: Fort Worth, Texas-based Bley Investment Group and Conway, Arkansas-based Trutoro. Bley CEO Page Pierce serves on FINRA’s Board of Governors, where she and two other female executives led the way earlier this year in extending the industry’s “grace period” to five years from two. That shift will give FINRA-registered brokers more time to be able to keep their credentials through continuing education while out of the industry. Hopefully, the flexibility will enable more women to stay in the business.
Other independent wealth managers and advisors are taking action as well. Many of the largest firms already have created annual events, employee resource groups and other support for women, minority advisors and veterans among their workforces. Now, some midsize firms are stepping up. Tax-focused wealth manager Avantax is launching its Women’s Advisor Forum this week, led by the firm’s vice president of business development, Laurie Stack.
O’Neal created the Female Advisor Network three years ago to build “a community of women to try to begin to solve for some of the industry’s gender inequality and to share common ground,” she said. The group now spans more than 120 women from across the industry with a range of experience and assets under management.
“It is a very diverse group of women who share a common narrative of hard work, passion and grit from having to put up with a lot of unfortunate biases and situations that our male counterparts have not,” O’Neal said.
The industry faces an uphill climb to approach the same representation of women as the U.S. population. Many firms would first need to take the basic step of disclosing their demographics, which 25 out of 47 participants in this year’s IBD Elite declined to do. That group includes some of the largest firms in the industry such as LPL Financial, Cetera Financial Group and Ameriprise. Without knowing the share of female advisors at the giants, it won’t be possible to know whether industry pledges to boost diversity are resulting in actual change.
For the firms that have disclosed their data, the figures offer a stark reminder of how far there is to go. Scroll down the slideshow to see which companies disclosed the largest share of women among their ranks of advisors.
To see which companies are the biggest in terms of annual revenue, click here. To read the IBD Elite cover story, “Brokerages are morphing, not going away,” click here. And to view last year’s list of the independent brokerages with the highest percentage of female advisors, follow this link.
Notes: The companies are ranked below by the percentage of financial advisors who are women as of year-end 2021, as reported by the companies themselves. FP relies on each firm to state their metrics accurately. The industry term “producing registered representative” refers to each firm’s most accurate count of financial advisors using the firm as their brokerage or RIA. “Registered representative” refers to a usually larger group of all licensed professionals.
Despite the slow pace of change on the representation of women, there are some standout independent wealth managers and some signs of progress.
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