Manhattan West Asset Management is an extremely diverse firm 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 a mix of African American employees that hold executive roles, Latino American partners, and a list of high ranking women.
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 client group. I came to the United States as an immigrant from Canada. My family moved from Jamaica to Canada before I was born in search of more opportunity. I won’t go too far into my personal life, but my background contributes to how unusual it is for me to be in my current role. My mother had me at a young age and we moved from apartment to apartment, city to city, before finally settling in Los Angeles when I was 11 years old.
I worked hard and was accepted at the University of Southern California. I financed my education through financial aid and the revenue earned from the youth sports organization I founded at the age of 18, which I still operate today. After about a dozen internships, I graduated and took a position as an advisor at Morgan Stanley. With no family connections, financing or an existing Rolodex, it was an uphill battle to build a client base. Fast forward 5 years and I am now at Manhattan West Asset Management holding a leadership role and realizing the abundant opportunities available when you’re willing to go after what you want in life.
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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