To honor Black adviser pioneers, keep growing their ranks

February being Black History Month, this is an appropriate time to acknowledge notable African American financial advisers of the past. Before the late 1960s, when hiring discrimination on Wall Street was an open secret, the fact there were any African Americans who succeeded in running the gauntlet is amazing. But there were several pioneers who made their mark in the years after World War II, as Gregory S. Bell notes in his book “In the Black: A History of African Americans on Wall Street.”

In 1949, Thorvald McGregor and Lawrence Lewis became the nation’s first African American registered representatives. Three years later, in Cleveland, Norman McGhee formed McGhee & Co., the first African American securities firm to be licensed by the National Association of Securities Dealers. In 1953, Lilla St. John of Wisconsin became the first African American woman to be licensed by the New York Stock Exchange, which at the time regulated the employees of its member firms. 

Eleven years later, Bell writes, June Middleton became the only African American woman working as a stockbroker at an NYSE member firm, and in 1965, Harvey Thomas, Forrest Tomlinson and George King became the first African American brokers hired by Merrill Lynch — out of a salesforce of 2,550. Some years later, in 1978, LeCount Davis — who received the InvestmentNews inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for Diversity and Inclusion in 2018 — became the first African American to become a certified financial planner.


In many ways, the industry has traveled a great distance since the 1960s and 1970s in its commitment to fairer hiring and greater inclusion. The number of Black certified financial planners, for instance, is now 1,652 — up 13.8% over 2020. And this year, for the first time, the CFP Board is being led by Kamila Elliott, the first Black person to serve as the group’s chair. 

Much remains to be done to build on the pioneering efforts of those early Black advisers.

Firms also are working to attract more Black talent to the business. Morgan Stanley, along with about two dozen wealth and asset management firms including Goldman Sachs, Bank of New York Mellon, Pimco and Prudential, has formed the Equity Collective. The group focuses on increasing the pool of interested and qualified people who are considering a career in financial services. It’s working with Boys & Girls Clubs of America with the aim of reaching teens, as well as joining Team IMPACT to reach college athletes and supporting the virtual recruiting platform HIVE Diversity through internships and entry-level placement opportunities.


But there’s no getting around the fact that much remains to be done to build on the pioneering efforts of those early Black advisers. For starters, IN senior columnist Bruce Kelly noted in a column last year, the financial services industry needs hard numbers that reveal just where we are. As he succinctly put it, without data on the industry’s composition, “there is no clear, standard picture showing whether [it] is succeeding in its much-ballyhooed effort to hire more women and minorities over the past five, 10 or 20 years.”

The CFP Board, which is working diligently on diversity and inclusion efforts and makes its numbers available, reports that despite recent gains, those 1,652 Black CFPs make up just 1.8% of the nation’s 92,055 certified financial planners. 

Let’s honor Thorvald McGregor, Lilla St. John and other Black pioneers by encouraging and supporting their contemporary counterparts.

The post To honor Black adviser pioneers, keep growing their ranks appeared first on InvestmentNews.

Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.

Andrew Vincent
Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He's also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.
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