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The DEI Initiative in NAPFA’s History 

By Susan Weiner

NAPFA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiative started in May 2017. The group’s vision is to create a more inclusive membership by becoming a beacon for diversity within the financial planning profession by building and strengthening relationships between financial planning professionals and the diverse populations they serve. The NAPFA Advisor interviewed founders Cameo Roberson and Daphne Jordan via email. Learn more about the DEI Initiative, and join its members on Facebook.

Roberson: I had no idea how the NAPFA 2016 Spring Conference in Phoenix would change my path. But that’s how life is sometimes. You’re given an opportunity, and you walk forward with confidence and hope for the best.

By the time of the conference’s closing session, a social conversation among colleagues and NAPFA’s leadership raised an important question: Where are the communities of color? I reflected on the diversity and inclusion panel—a panel that included no women or individuals from diverse racial backgrounds—that I’d attended earlier. I found myself chiming in with: “What is NAPFA doing about the lack of diversity within its membership?”

Geof Brown, who was then NAPFA’s CEO, replied, “NAPFA is very interested in improving diversity and inclusion within the organization. We need someone to lead the charge. How about you?”

I took up the challenge, and Daphne joined me as co-leader.

What’s the group’s accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Roberson: I’m proud of our commitment to support DEI back in 2017, when it wasn’t very popular to do so within financial services. This happened at a time when many organizations only gave lip service to DEI. NAPFA put immediate action behind the desire to make a change. At that time, our mission— to create a more inclusive membership by becoming a beacon for diversity within the financial planning profession—was activated in both words and deeds.

Jordan: I am most proud of the DEI Toolkit. It provides actionable ways that individuals and firms can make meaningful changes. It was created after conducting a number of advisor listening sessions across the country. This allowed us to get our ear to the ground to hear about pain points, concerns, questions, and successes. As a supplement, we invited four industry thought leaders to weigh in on four components: Culture, People, Inclusion, and Hiring Practices.

The current chairs, John Eing and Mindy Neira, have knocked the ball out of the park with their projects, and we celebrate their accomplishments. For example, they’ve created an award-winning certificate program. They now carry the vision.

How has NAPFA supported your group?

Roberson: We had the full support of Geof Brown. I’m proud to have been part of a team to bring DEI to the forefront and to help lay the foundation for the current committee leaders, John and Mindy, to thrive. Being a Black woman in financial services is challenging in many ways, and I always wanted to be able to give back to diverse professionals coming behind me by providing a platform where our collective voices could be heard to effect change. The DEI Initiative allowed me to do that, and I’m grateful.

Jordan: NAPFA has been extremely supportive of the entire endeavor. Geof Brown realized that this was a gap in NAPFA’s fabric. Cameo and I were willing to step in and lead. NAPFA provided a staff member—Nikki Palluzzi—and a national board liaison to serve as a bridge for us as volunteers. The organization also helped us recruit the initial steering committee of outstanding advisor advocates in our Fee-Only community. Most importantly, we were provided a budget to fund our projects. 

As NAPFA celebrates its 40th anniversary, what would you like to see NAPFA accomplish next?

Roberson: I’d like to see more honest and real conversations happen, in addition to continued education around the importance of DEI. The more we talk about it, the more we’ll start to normalize the conversation. Additionally, I want to continue to see programs and services to support diverse professionals expanded within NAPFA, along with outreach to students of diverse backgrounds on careers in financial services.

Jordan: My hope is that the DEI Initiative endures and that DEI efforts become commonplace. Some underrepresented groups wonder if current diversity efforts are a fad. Let’s not allow that to happen. The U.S. was built on the backs of Indigenous people, settlers, immigrants, and enslaved people. We will always be a diverse nation. The sooner that we learn how to incorporate others who look different from us and work together as harmoniously as possible, the stronger our profession will become. Embracing diversity will allow us to become a beacon and to properly and successfully advise all Americans on their finances.

Susan Weiner, CFA, is the editor of the NAPFA Advisor. Send her your ideas for articles and authors for the magazine.