Recent reports find that the racial wealth gap in America is widening. Research indicates that 40% of Americans don’t have $400 for an emergency and 25% of Americans don’t have any money saved for their retirement. For Blacks and Hispanics, the aftermath of a financial crisis could have more deleterious effects. Whites are more likely than Blacks and Hispanics to own a home and have other assets, which can be liquidated in the event of a financial emergency. For Black Americans in particular, the residual effects of slavery and discriminatory practices such as redlining, have made it more difficult to accumulate wealth. Dana L. Wilson is a New York City-based investment advisor who has worked on Wall Street and at firms like Merrill Lynch, State Farm and SunTrust Bank. With her over 10 years of industry experience, Dana has developed a unique understanding of the finance industry and the challenges that it faces. With these challenges in mind, Dana created CHIP. CHIP was developed with the purpose to “ensure the visibility of financial professionals of color.” Dana sat down with Forbes to discuss why she created CHIP, how she expects CHIP to transform diversity and inclusion in the industry and how the platform is unlike anything else on the market today.
Janice Gassam: Could you share with the readers a little bit about CHIP, what it is and how it works?
Dana Wilson: Sure. CHIP is an online platform and it stands for Changing How Individuals Prosper…right now it’s a platform that’s functioning as a database of Black and brown financial advisors and certified financial planners. So, really right now, we’re building out our professional database so we’re looking to get as many financial advisors and certified financial planners of color on the platform. Once we get to our goal number, we will release it to the public and they’ll be able to go to our site, download the app, and really search for any advisor that they’re looking to work with…they’ll be able to tell what city and state the person is located in, whether or not they are a fee-only advisor, which really just means that they’re only charging a set fee for their services…it’ll show you a lot of information based on your needs and what you might be looking for as an individual. We also walk you through, on the app, what different titles mean because I think sometimes there might be a lot of confusion…and a lack of understanding regarding what all the terminology is within the industry when it comes to different types of professionals.
Gassam: Why did you feel a platform like this was necessary?
Wilson: I felt that this was important, just based on my overall experience within the industry. I’ve been in the financial industry for over 10 years now…over my time in the industry I feel like the same problems still exist when it comes to when it comes to the recruitment and retention of Black and brown professionals and the way that we’re serviced in the financial industry…it’s really hard to be able to build out a business when you don’t have the support, when you don’t see people that look like you sitting in those seats, sitting in those senior management positions…it becomes even more difficult when you’re trying to make your goals and deadlines…so for myself it’s been definitely a journey to sit in a place where I’ve been the only woman of color—unfortunately in some situations I’ve kind of gotten used to that and I felt that CHIP was extremely important not just for the industry as far as visibility but then also allowing the end user, if that person happens to be a person of color, letting them know that we are here and we do exist and I think that sometimes in corporate and even in the independent space that I’m in, we don’t see a lot of that…sometimes you don’t necessarily find the person that might fit your needs…or you might even be intimidated by the person that you start talking to…sometimes being able to take those layers away and make people feel comfortable and know that there are people out there that look like you…I know a lot of instances where people may feel like ‘oh, I don’t have enough money to work with an advisor,’ or ‘I’ve tried to do that before and they didn’t really pay attention to me because I didn’t have this large sum of money.’ CHIP is the place to say even if you’re not necessarily ready, this is the place to know that you do have people to help and that are willing to educate you…developing this sense of visibility within the industry to kind of change a lot of what’s broken in the financial system when it comes to ensuring that we’re [doing] a really good job to recruit and retain but then also creating really well designed, strategic and intentional shift of generational wealth when it comes to the communities that we want to serve.
Gassam: Is there anything like CHIP on the market already?
Wilson: There’s things similar to CHIP on the market, there’s definitely other sites where you can go and search for advisors…but CHIP is different in the fact that we don’t just focus on independent advisors, we also focus on financial professionals in the more corporate, larger and institutional space and the reason being is that it’s sometimes hard for Black and brown professionals to get a seat at the table…it’s important that we showcase the fact that we’re able to be at the forefront…we’re the only ones really focused on the corporate space as opposed to just independent and just fiduciary. Sometimes people don’t even get to get on that side of being independent, which is just running your own practice and running your own business…before starting their career within the corporate space. It’s important that we focus on both of those because the numbers are unfortunately low on both sides…if we’re only focusing on one particular segment, which is just independent advisors, we’re not helping the problem and the issue, so I think it’s important to focus on both.
Gassam: If I am a financial advisor and I identify as a person of color and I want to be on the website, what would the process be?
Wilson: Right now, it’s a very simple process. You can go to the website…there are several different buttons that show advisors how to apply now, they can fill out a 2-3 minute questionnaire, that questionnaire gets filtered back towards us, and that automatically creates a profile on the app…we do our own quick background check…just to make sure everyone on the platform…is sticking our mission for CHIP.
Gassam: What do you envision the impact of CHIP being on the finance industry?
Wilson: So high-level, I really see CHIP being that bridge between the general public and professionals of color when it comes to the financial industry and really breaking down those walls…also just bringing that visibility to helping people understand that you can do more and you can find success in this business. I think that anyone who has a desire to be in the financial industry, sometimes it’s tough when you don’t necessarily see other people, you don’t have the opportunity to network, you can become really siloed within your division or your corporate sector. But when you have that support system outside, it really makes a difference, especially when it comes to succession planning, when it comes to generational wealth, when it comes to the idea of ‘hey, maybe I want to be able to sell my classes to someone who looks like me’ and we’re able to be very intentional about that. From a business perspective I see a lot of financial professionals able to really find revenue-generating opportunities from this…I think sky’s the limit. I think one of the biggest things within finance is just the education and not just the education but also understanding the industry and understanding the different types of players within the financial industry…CHIP is the place to do that and also giving financial professionals a voice. I haven’t really seen a place where we really have a voice and we’re able to communicate our journeys, our thoughts, our ideas and talk to the people that need us the most. I really see CHIP having a huge shift in generational wealth and education…this is a place where there are experienced, knowledgeable, professionals and there’s a perfect place to be able to recruit, to share, to learn, to hear our stories.
Gassam: For someone reading this who doesn’t really understand what a financial advisor is, could you share a little bit about the profile of a person who needs a financial advisor? There is a perception that you have to be…maybe making a certain amount and have a bunch of assets before you really need a financial advisor.
Wilson: Anyone who is really open and willing to…that perception and that myth really is not doing us justice…[we think] it’s going to cost us a couple thousand to even sit down and have a consultation…and that’s really not the case. You can start out with what you have and if what you have is $25, $50 those are things that you can start out with…even if you’re just working with someone and maybe they’re just helping you to save, that’s a starting point in itself. A lot of advisors, they do more than just help their clients invest…we work with our clients on budgeting, on cash flow management…even if you feel like you’re…at the point where, ‘I want to build up my emergency fund,’ that’s fine…there are people who are willing to work with you to help you do that…you don’t have to have a couple hundred to a couple thousand saved up. You don’t have to have a large six-figure salary to sit down and talk to someone…it really is a lot about education…it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making, it’s about what you’re educating them to do with it.
If you’d like to learn more about CHIP, click here.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Author’s note: The author has had a partnership with the interviewee in the past.