It's been a year of milestones for Kamila Elliott, and by extension the wealth industry where she is a leader in many communities.
As the first ever Black CFP Board chair, she is also a full-time financial advisor who launched her own RIA this year , Collective Wealth Partners, where she is CEO.
Elliott spent her early career at Vanguard, where she advised ultrahigh net worth individuals, as well as endowments and foundations. She also worked at Dimensional Fund Advisors, a Texas-based asset management firm, and Black-owned wealth firms Rutledge Financial Partners — which affiliates with LPL Financial — and Grid 202 Partners. She became a certified financial planner in 2013 . Elliott also sits on the Investment Committee for Women Against Abuse and is a member of the Association of African American Financial Advisors.
In an interview with Financial Planning in January , when her term as chair began, Elliott said her goals as the CFP Board chair included improving the industry's lackluster diversity record , communicating the appeal of financial planning careers to more young people and conducting research to show if working with certified financial planners can improve someone's finances.
FP spoke with Elliott again recently about her historic year as the CFP Board chair, her progress toward those goals and what she sees in the future of the financial planning profession.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
FP : How's your year been going?
Kamila Elliott: It's been very busy. (Laughs) As the first Black chair, and being a woman, too, I didn't realize initially how big of a deal it was. And then particularly, with the heightened focus in getting more communities of color and women engaged in the financial planning profession, in terms of advisors and as clients, there's just so much work that needs to be done to make this profession more inclusive. I think we've done a really good job in planting the seeds.
One of my big areas of focus was having more access to diverse financial advisors or CFP professionals, and creating a pipeline of talent into the profession. And that was through working with historically Black universities, getting in front of more people of color, sharing with them about the profession. We've done a great job of that.
One of the other focus areas is pro bono. We think pro bono always has to be one-on-one financial planning. Which it can be, but it's hard to solve an issue when there's so many people that need help. So one thing we're working on is, how do we help facilitate group sessions or webinars. Advisors getting out into communities and doing more webinars with people of color.
And then the other — we just had an update on this (recently), actually — is the longitudinal empirical research study. Where we're able to track, are your financial outcomes better if you're self-directed versus if you were using a CFP professional? We have some university partners already identified. We're seeing some progress there. So I'm really excited about that, too.
FP: What surprised you most as you embarked on doing all these projects?
KE: How many interested parties it takes to get these things accomplished. (Laughs) It's a wonderful financial planning ecosystem, but there's a lot of moving parts and partners. As CFP Board, we're only a group so big. We only have this many volunteers. But if we want to make a really good, meaningful impact on the profession, it requires us to go outside of the CFP Board and go to other nonprofit organizations and to other advocacy groups and get their support. So one thing I didn't fully embrace is how large our ecosystem is.
And then one other thing, too. I've been to so many conferences this year, and events. I'm probably at one or two events a week at this point. I saw there were a lot of brown and Black faces already in this profession that people could look to. But it's been really great this year to see how many people have reached out to me and said, seeing that you're a CFP professional, you're an owner of a firm, you're in a leadership position, this gives me so much more hope in the profession. And that's been very rewarding. But it was also humbling, in a way. It's 2022. I thought, in my mind, oh we're there. This next generation is like, no, we don't really don't see any people who look like you owning firms, in leadership roles. And so it gives them hope that there are structural things in place to help advance people of color in the profession.
FP : They still need to get that hope. They can't take for granted that their role model is going to be out there for them to look at.
KE: Absolutely. We don't think about it. Even in the media. Outside of Ozark, there are no TV shows about financial advisors. There's shows about restaurant owners, real estate agents, doctors, lawyers. In the media, there are so many images and portrayals of all these other professions, but not much on the financial planning profession at all.
FP: How do you think that the profession can engage more with putting its own image out there?
KE: One thing is, people make an assumption that all we do is sit with numbers all day long and manage portfolios, but that's really that's a smaller percentage of what we do. Most of my meetings with clients, we're talking about their financial goals. What does retirement look like for them? Do they want to buy their first house? How they want to fund their children's college education. How they want to help support ailing parents. A lot of my conversations are around that. We do spend time on investments. But I think if people realize how relational this profession was, and it's just really having good conversations and helping in taking those conversations and building a plan, they will be more excited and attracted to this profession.
FP: When you look forward into 2023, what do you see for the profession?
KE: Focusing on increasing the workforce. Our goal is to continue to encourage universities to offer financial planning programs. This is a growing profession. We expect 5% annual growth from now until 2030. So if you're a university and you want to have high job-placement figures, which is a meaningful statistic for people evaluating universities, you should definitely be thinking about financial planning as a major and as a program.
And then continuing going into communities and getting more people of color engaged, and then continuing to find opportunities to offer more pro bono planning. Because unfortunately, you're not going to make money working with someone who has less than, let's say, $10,000. But that person probably really needs your help with budgeting and debt management and those things. And the way our industry is structured, it's hard to charge for that. So when we want to reach all socio-economic levels, to work with someone who's at that level, it's really pro bono. How do we structure programs to get the right CFP professionals in those seats? But also, how do we have the right programs and have the right impact and outreach to engage the community?
One of the things, too, I want to say is, and this was an epiphany for me — one of the things I feel very passionate about now is, how do we increase the number of diverse firms?
I spoke with someone the other day, and it's a shame that I could rattle off pretty much most of the Black-owned RIA firms in the country. And I just felt, oh, here are the like, 15. Why are there only 15? There should be more. A lot of it is the economic aspects. We tend to serve Black households. Black households or Hispanic households typically don't have the same wealth as white households. We're already not in a position of strength. So how do we help diverse firms get the right technology and scale to be able to serve diverse communities in a more formal way?
And I think that's one thing that's lacking right now in this profession. How are we lifting up these diverse firms? I own a diverse firm. There's firms like 2050 Wealth Partners, Zenith Wealth Partners and Urban Wealth Management, great firms that do such good work. And if they just had access to capital, they could do even more work and really help more people.
FP: What do you think leaders in the industry can do to grow the number of Black and brown-owned firms, and encourage serving diverse communities more and growing the pipeline?
KE: People talk about impact investing. I think impact investing is a Black RIA firm. We're directly working to close the racial wealth gap for both Black and Hispanic communities. Our coaching helps get people to create budgets, and get out of debt, and save, and build that generational wealth. So if you're someone who has a vision of wealth inequity in the United States, there's great programs, but I think you should work with firms or directly work with people one on one to close that gap. And there are people who are certified and have the knowledge to do so. And so I think that's an opportunity.
My goal and hope is that these communities, as they become more educated, get higher-paying jobs, get the right advice, their wealth will increase. For financial planning firms, we're basically building a pipeline of clients for you in the next 50 to 70 years. Because this country is going to be more diverse. It is getting more diverse. And so if a majority of the U.S. population is falling behind financially, are Black and brown people who typically have less wealth, what are you going to do to build your clients of the future as they become a larger part of the U.S. demographic?