Tony Barrett has no illusions about the challenge of improving the financial advice industry’s diversity.

Barrett, co-founder of the Raymond James Black Financial Advisors Network (BFAN), can recall the long history of failed attempts at wirehouses and others to build larger networks of minority advisors.

“I haven’t seen models anywhere that have done it really well,” said Barrett, the Delaware Valley (Philadelphia) complex manager for Raymond James & Associates, the firm’s employee channel.

“I’ve seen different models where [firms] got pieces of it correct … but not a sustained commitment,” he said. “One mistake firms make is to believe they can throw money and attention [at diversity initiatives] for a few years and see significant change.”

That won’t happen. Minorities “just don’t believe it’s a business where you’re necessarily welcome,” Barrett said. “It’s very much looked at as a country club industry, so if you don’t come from wealth, there’s no place for you.”

Barrett and fellow BFAN co-founders Joel Burstein, a Miami-based RJA branch manager, and Kaon Nelson, a financial advisor in Rockville, Md., hope to ensure that Raymond James is seen as welcoming—and hopefully the rest of the industry as well.

The group held its second annual meeting in February (timed to Black History Month) in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Raymond James is based, attracting 48 attendees along with top Raymond James executives.

Barrett thinks firms need to think in terms of a decade or more to see meaningful results from diversity initiatives.

“It’s generational,” he said of the pace of change, and it is not just a challenge for Wall Street.

Look at the National Football League, Barrett said, where the majority of players are black. While African-American players have made progress at the quarterback position, black coaches are still a novelty.

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