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Learning to Walk the Talk

Learning To Walk The Talk

In 2004, Abacus had eight employees, four of them male and four of them female. All of the males were financial advisors, and all of the females were client service or support. There was something wrong with this picture.

I was raised by a single mother who valued equal opportunity and pay for women, and bristled at paternalism and male chauvinism in all its forms. I first met our co-founder, Spencer, at a 1999 training on the psychology of money at which we were the only male attendees. We thought of ourselves as among the most ardent supporters of women’s rights, especially in the workplace, and yet here we found ourselves having birthed a company where men had all the governing power, and the lion’s share of the income. Something had to change.

Without disfavoring men, we created a strong intention to attract incredible women to Abacus. We recruited women from a variety of backgrounds, from education to software engineering, who we thought would make great advisors. We invested in our operations team to provide growth and leadership opportunities to all employees. In 2008, we became a founding B-corporation. As of January 1, 2018, Abacus now has 11 female CFPs® and 12 male CFPs®, and 40% of our Partners are women. This is extremely rare in our industry, where only 23% of CFPs® are women.

Recent research suggests that we might be onto something – it turns out this sort of gender diversity is also very good for business:

  • An MSCI report finds that companies with strong female leadership earned a much higher return on equity than those without it. The Thirty Percent Coalition, which seeks to have America’s boardrooms reflect the gender, racial and ethnic diversity of the US, has more research supporting these observations.
  • Credit Suisse finds that companies with gender-diverse boards outperform those with no women in terms of share price performance during times of crisis or volatility.

According to a 2015 study, women controlled 51% of US household wealth for the first time ever. This is a growing group that has some unique needs, some of which may include:

  • A preference to work with a female advisor.
  • A different approach to education and investing than the stock-picking ways of their parents’ generation.
  • A longer life expectancy and a need to plan and invest accordingly (women live an average of 7 years longer than men).
  • A focus on planning needs that go far beyond stocks and bonds, spending ample time on subjects like insurance, education funding and taking care of younger and older dependents.

I believe we’re a larger and better firm today than we were in the past, in large part due to our greater inclusion of female talent. The idealist in me is happy that we’ve made strides towards a more gender-balanced firm, and the social entrepreneur in me is thrilled we’re able to expand what’s possible with money for many women that may have shied away from the male-dominated firm we were in 2004.

To learn more about how we support the women of Abacus, check out our new women’s initiative, Abacus Sisterhood.

Brent Kessel

Brent Kessel is the founder and CEO of Abacus Wealth Partners.

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