Manhattan West Asset Management is one of the most diverse funds in the wealth management sector, existing in a world that is overwhelmingly white and male-dominated. The firm is made up of high character, highly-educated financial advisers with incredible backgrounds that previously reflect leadership roles at Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan among others. It currently has four African American employees, three of which are executive directors, two Latino American partners, and seven women who also hold an ownership stake in the company.
Although extremely impressive, this is not the norm. Stats that include this type of makeup are extremely low. According to the Center for Financial Planning Board (CFP), less than 3.5% of all the 80,000 certified financial planners in the United States are black or Latino. So what is going on?
BLACK ENTERPRISE caught up with executive Justin McCurdy to find out what got him involved in wealth management and the importance of African American wealth management advisers as a career option for people of color.
Black Enterprise: How did you break into Wealth Management?
Justin McCurdy: I do not have the typical background of most wealth management professionals, but I believe that is why I am able to serve such a diverse group. I came to the United States as an immigrant from Canada. My family moved from Jamaica to Canada in search of more opportunity. I won’t go too far into a sob story because there are many who had it much worse than me, but my background contributes to how unusual it is for me to be in my current role. I was mostly raised by a single mother who had me at 17. Sprinkle in a stepfather and a grandmother for parts of that journey. We moved from apartment to apartment, city to city, before moving to New York when I was 10 and then Los Angeles when I was 11.
I worked hard and was able to get into USC, which I financed through financial aid and the revenue from the youth sports organization I founded at 18, ProSkills Basketball. I still operate ProSkills from a distance. The organization serves me as a passive source of passion and income. After about a dozen internships, I graduated and took a position as an advisor at Morgan Stanley. With no family, money to start with or “low hanging fruit” it was an uphill battle to build a client base but I made it work. Fast forward 5 years and I am now at Manhattan West doing really well.
What attracted you to wealth management?
My passion in educating those who did not come from backgrounds that gave them the skillset to properly manage wealth is what initially attracted me to the industry. I came from a traditional working-class family and although supportive, I was not exposed to wealth accumulation or preservation concepts. I worked extremely hard to educate myself and with the help of mentors I met through sports was able to develop a strong understanding of finance. Ultimately, I want to use my knowledge to educate and empower those around me, with a special focus on those that might have encountered the same roadblocks as me along the way.
What types of clients do you advise?
My clients stem from all walks of life but I have a special emphasis on professional athletes and entertainers.
Why do you think there is such a drastic shortage of African-American Advisors?
It’s simply a matter of exposure. African American kids do not often see Financial Advisors of color, making it hard for them to envision themselves taking that career path.
Why is it beneficial for African-Americans to be involved in a career like this?
It’s my belief that the more African-American advisors there are, the more educated the black community will be about finance. This will only lead to more wealth accumulation and preservation within the community. Living in such a unique time where people from all demographics/walks of life are acquiring wealth at sometimes rapid paces leads me to believe that professionals servicing them need to evolve and represent this newfound diversity as well.
Many African-American children have not had the opportunity to see successful Financial Advisors of color and that needs to change. I want the upcoming generation to see wealth management as a viable career opportunity that embraces those willing to work hard for their clients. Class, background or socio-economic status should not be a factor.
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