When financial adviser Nina O’Neill was a 23-year-old employee at an investment firm in New York, she had what many women say is a rare experience in the industry: O’Neill reported inappropriate behavior to a senior executive and was fired.
Then she learned from a close friend at the company that several other women had already reported the compliance director’s uncomfortable questions and comments as he dropped by their desks and called them into his office for unnecessary meetings, she recalls.
“I was relieved that he would no longer be a colleague, but I was shocked and disappointed that the company would keep someone in this position with so many reports of misconduct,” said O’Neill, a partner in Raleigh, North Carolina. AIM Advisors, which is affiliated with Triad Advisors, an independent brokerage owned by Advisor Group, said in an email.
“It was my first experience that opened my eyes to what my life as a woman in finance could look like, and I promised myself that I would always advocate for myself and other women for the rest of my career,” Oh said. ‘Neil. “I have kept that promise and unfortunately had to keep it more times than I can count.”
The typical lack of consequence for accusations of sexual harassment or even abuse in the industry often causes women to give up a career in wealth management in general, according to O’Neill. Even with some signs of progress and a several important CEO hires, the proportion of women engaged in financial planning remains below 25%. And as the rating data below is compiled through Financial planningIBD Elite’s annual research shows that very few independent brokerages reach this mark.
However, some firms stand out among their peers, and the two firms with the most female advisors are owned by women: Bley Investment Group of Fort Worth, Texas, and Trutoro, of Conway, Arkansas. CEO Bly Paige Pierce joins FINRA’s Board of Governors, where she and two other female executives served earlier this year expansion in the industry, the “grace period” is up to five years out of two. This shift will give FINRA-registered brokers more time to be able to maintain their credentials through continuing education while outside the industry. Hopefully, the flexibility will allow more women to stay in business.
Other independent managers and consultants are also taking action. Many of the largest firms have already created annual events, employee resource groups, and other support for women, minority advisors, and veterans among their workforces. Now some medium-sized firms are stepping up. This week, tax-focused Avantax is launching the Women’s Advisor Forum, led by the company’s vice president of business development, Laura Stack.
O’Neill created a network of female advisors three years ago to build “a community of women to try to address some of the gender inequality in the industry and share a common language,” she said. The group currently comprises over 120 women from across the industry with a wide range of experience and assets under management.
“It’s a very diverse group of women who share a common narrative of hard work, passion and resilience from having to put up with a lot of unfortunate biases and situations that our male counterparts don’t,” O’Neill said.
The industry is struggling to achieve the same representation of women as the US population. Many firms would first have to take the basic step of disclosing their demographic information, which 25 of the 47 participants in this year’s IBD Elite refused to do. This group includes some of the largest firms in the industry, such as LPL Financial, Cetera Financial Group and Ameriprise. Without knowing the proportion of female consultants at giants it will be impossible to know whether the industry promises to increase diversity lead to real change.
For firms that have disclosed their data, the numbers are a stark reminder of how far they still have to go. Scroll down the slideshow to see which companies disclosed the highest proportion of women among their advisors.
To see which companies are the largest in terms of annual revenue, Click here. To read IBD Elite’s cover story, “Brokerage Firms Are Transforming, Not Going Away” Click here. And to view last year’s list of independent brokerages with the highest percentage of female advisors, follow this link.
Notes: As of the end of 2021, companies ranked below the percentage of financial advisors who are women, as reported by the companies. FP expects each firm to accurately report its performance. The industry term “registered producing representative” refers to the most accurate number of each firm’s financial advisors who use the firm as a brokerage or RIA. “Registered representative” refers to a generally larger group of all licensed professionals.