This summer I started writing weekly profiles on niche advisory practices to explore the trend in wealth management of narrowing the potential market and client services to the level of concentrated specialization.
Across the eight profiles I’ve written so far, the patterns starting to emerge show that developing a niche is often more art than science, but it also exposes the true passion and personality of the individual adviser like nothing I’ve seen before.
Whether the target niche is professional bass fishermen, divorced women, minority doctors and lawyers, or socialists in need of tax management strategies, it’s clear a successful niche requires a full commitment that often envelopes the adviser’s own lifestyle.
While I cannot personally relate to every niche I’ve written about, I love discovering how each strategy is unearthed and developed.
But through the candor of the normal interview and research process, I’ve also recognized some of the requirements for creating a successful niche practice, which often includes more than a little bit of exclusion.
While some of the advisers I’ve written about still embrace a general live-and-let-live attitude toward potential clients who might want to work with them despite being outside the target niche, most say they are not actively pursuing those clients. And some advisers admit they refer non-niche clients to other advisers or just turn them away.
The consultants and other experts on niche advisory services say that’s how a niche practice is supposed to operate. Find a tight and tidy niche and stick to it.
This brings us, in an admittedly awkward transition, to the story of Eileen Cure, the Nederland, Texas-based owner of Cure and Associates, who might not have ever considered her advisory practice as a niche in the traditional sense. But maybe it is.
Cure, who did not respond to my requests for an interview, found herself in the middle of a social media inferno recently when a screenshot of her hiring preferences found its way to TikTok, where a would-be influencer sought to expose the adviser as the “Racist of the Day.”
According to a screenshot allegedly taken from a virtual meeting hosted by Cure, the adviser appears to be chastising employees for setting up a job interview with a Black applicant.
The screenshot, which Eileen Cure has stated was taken out of context, appears to remind those on the video call that “I specifically said no blacks … I’m not a prejudice [sic] person, but our clients are 90% white and I need to cater to them.”
As one might imagine, the TikTok clip took off like a rocket and much of the trade press gave the story a few days of hardy chewing, including reports of Cure losing her affiliation with LPL the day after the news of the screenshot broke.
Even in the context of the most generous notion of a niche practice, it would be difficult to defend Cure’s alleged hiring policies.
As is on full display in the most recent issue of InvestmentNews’ Diversity, Equity & Inclusion coverage, Cure’s alleged statements and philosophy go against the grain of where the wealth management industry at least professes to be heading.
On both a personal and professional level, I feel I’ve witnessed enough of the benefits of diversity to appreciate any realistic efforts along those lines. And how Eileen Cure could miss that message — which is as big as any theme in financial services these days — is a mystery.
Or maybe she didn’t miss it, and from a pure dollars and cents perspective Cure sees it exactly as she allegedly presented it to her employees.
This is where the conversation can get chaotic and even conflicted.
I can fully appreciate the idea of a pendulum having swung so far in one direction that even some things that might appear to be an overcorrection at this point are deemed acceptable.
We know the wealth management industry is mostly white and mostly male, and quite possibly a perfect reflection of Cure’s client base.
I can only assume what the reaction might be if an adviser said her clients are 90% Black and that she needs to cater to them by only hiring Black people, or if an Asian adviser refused to hire a Hispanic for the same reasons.
Maybe this situation with Eileen Cure seems so outrageous because it was documented for everyone to read, comment on, and repost.
In my writing about niche advisers, I’ve heard and seen plenty of disparagement toward the standard “old white guys” who still make up most of the people working in wealth management.
I’m also getting used to hearing the financial services industry being described as “male, pale and stale.” Most curious is that those statements usually come from people who would blow a gasket if similar slights were made against any other group.
I hope I don’t need to repeat that I’m in no way defending Cure’s alleged comments or her hiring practices. And I’m not saying any of this because whenever I look in the mirror, I see an old white guy looking back at me.
I have no way of knowing what is in Eileen Cure’s head or in her heart, but I imagine she will be a lot more careful going forward in the way she gets her point across. Considering the state of everything, and in a world engulfed by social media platforms starving for clicks, we could all exercise a little more respect for one another, and a little more discretion and decorum.
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Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.