It’s been eight months since we last shared about our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) work, and we wanted to update our valued community on the steps Abacus continues to take towards equality and inclusivity in the financial services community. Our initial statement in June of 2020 was a welcome catalyst for reflection and change and has prompted much work on our part in the past 17 months.
You can find our previous updates here: June 2020, August 2020, and February 2021. Our goal with these updates is to demonstrate accountability in making progress, share our learnings, and to spark conversation around these important issues. Since our last update, these are the highlights of Abacus’s continuing journey.
We recently completed the BLX Internship Program, led by Chief of Innovation, J.D. Bruce. The BLX Internship is an initiative to provide paid internship opportunities for aspiring Black and Latinx financial planners to find out what financial planning is all about. Abacus invited six incredibly talented interns to engage with all aspects of our company’s inner workings, from financial planning and marketing to innovation and pro bono work. The interns gained valuable experience and perspective regarding the financial services community, and Abacus gained valuable insight through the eyes of the interns on where their voices can be amplified. It was an enormously positive experience for all involved and will no doubt lead to new connections, innovation, and pro bono work in the future.
Abacus CEO Brent Kessel, Kamila Elliott, who is President of GRID 202 Partners and Chair-elect of the CFP Board of Directors, and Yale student Ako Ndefo-Haven, partnered together to launch a major research paper on the sobering persistence of the racial wealth gap in America. Their paper explores in depth the history of the racial wealth gap, the far too many areas it still affects in daily lives, and practical steps the financial services community can take to help increase equity. Brent and Kamila will be speaking at the CFP® board’s Diversity Summit in November, and the paper will be featured as the cover story for the November issue of The Journal of Financial Planning.
Abacus completed a nearly ten-month consulting engagement with Frontline Solutions, a leading Black-owned consulting firm dedicated to making the world more just for all. Frontline conducted an anonymous, all-staff intersectional equity survey along with one-on-one confidential interviews with over a dozen staff members, culminating in a findings memo that pulled out key themes. Throughout this process, we learned some hard and necessary truths about our organizational culture and where we need to focus our efforts to create an ecosystem that equity can thrive in. We also realized we’ve been doing this work in a transactional way rather than a transformative one. One key goal to emerge from this review was prioritizing equity in a manner that makes it a core value of our company instead of merely something to be checked off a list.
As part of that prioritization, through hiring and recruiting efforts Abacus has increased the percentage of non-White employees from 25% in March 2020 to 30% as of October 2021. Our percentage of non-White advisors has increased from 15% in March of 2020 to 18% in October of 2021. Our employees mean far more to us than just the color of their skin or how they identify; diverse experiences, backgrounds, and diverse professionals create a richer experience for our workers and clients alike.
Advisor & Partner John Eing, has been leading the Financial Planning Associations’ Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Knowledge Circle, which meets on a quarterly basis and officially started as Co-Chair of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA)’s DEI committee on September 1, 2021.
Abacus CEO Brent Kessel is also now serving on Charles Schwab’s Advisor Services DEI board. Brent notes, “So far we’ve interviewed and helped select recipients of their 2021 RIA Talent Advantage Scholarship and I’m mentoring one of the winners. We are also discussing the best practices we’re each employing in our firms.”
Finally, this past June, we celebrated our pride by delivering 14 pro bono, one-on-one financial planning sessions to the LGBTQ+ community. This was in addition to the standard 7 pro bono sessions we hold each month. Our LGBTQ+ committee hosted two internal Lunch & Learns, one for interacting and planning with the transgender community, and one for LGBTQ+ estate planning. To top it all off, we celebrated members of our committee across Abacus Instagram.
We remain proud of our employees’ dedicated efforts and appreciative of the overwhelming support we’ve received from our clients. We will continue to provide relevant updates as they arise, evolve, and engage with the financial services community.