Some focus their practices on ethnic groups that have been underserved.

Shashin G. Shah, of Financial Design Group in Dallas, has had a specialty in serving the Indian community since he started as an advisor ten years ago. As the son of immigrant Indian parents himself, Shah says it was a natural progression. His initial clients were family friends and relatives. Others soon followed through word-of-mouth referrals.

Shah says the relationships he has with his Indian clients are especially strong. So strong, in fact, that he expects to be the advisor to the majority of his Indian clients' children.

It's not just a matter of his clients looking for someone with an Indian surname. Some of his Indian clients have trusting relationships with non-Indian professionals as well. Yet in a field where personal relationships are a key factor, Shah says his familiarity with his Indian clients' language and culture are undeniably important.

He cites, for example, a client who came to him a few years ago looking to spend $750,000 on his daughter's wedding. While other planners might have fallen off their chair, Shah, aware of Indian family values and how the culture views matrimony, immediately started helping the client decide from where to take the money.

"What differentiates me is they understand I know the culture. I'm not shocked when they want to pull out 10% of their net worth for their daughter's wedding," he says. "The trust is there. They like knowing I've been back to India six times and I know a lot of the same places they do back home."

Many of the small but growing number of minority financial advisors are finding themselves in a similar position: making a specialty out of serving their ethnic communities. In many cases, as with Shah, the specialty comes through a natural progression-growing out of a shared language, culture and values. It is also true that by focusing on their ethnic communities, some of these advisors are bringing their service to communities that have been historically underserved by the larger financial services companies.

The lack of financial planning services in minority communities is partly due to the fact that minorities are under-represented in the financial planning field itself. Surveys last year by the CFP Board of Standards, for example, show that about 94.75% of CFP certificants are white. Asian-Americans represent 2.36% of certificants, Hispanics 1.08% and African-Americans 0.99%.

Some financial institutions are starting to fill the void with new sales initiatives. Safeco Life & Investments, for example, recently opened sales centers in minority communities in Seattle and Decatur, Ga. "This gives us a strong presence within those communities," says Pat McCormick, Safeco's senior vice president of sales and distribution.

The company has also set a goal of adding 153 agencies owned by women and minorities, and had added 59 as of the first quarter, says McCormick.

Mindy Ying, a San Marino, Calif., advisor who has been providing wealth management services to the Asian-American community the past ten years, says brokerage houses have been beefing up their marketing efforts in the community in recent years. "A friend of mine is teaching a branch manager in Chinese," she says. "From the brokerage side, everybody is jumping into this community. But on the fee-based side, it is still underserved."

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