Growing up, Saki Kurose was taught by her Japanese immigrant parents to work hard in school. With no exposure to wealth management professions, she decided to play the violin professionally.
It wasn’t until several years into that career that Kurose stumbled into the financial planning field and transitioned to becoming a financial advisor.
“I’m hoping that people like me, joining the industry, can bring hope, [so] minority clients feel a little more comfortable reaching out to financial planners,” Kurose said in an interview at the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning’s sixth annual Diversity Summit in Arlington Virginia last month.
Kurose is now the associate financial advisor at woman-owned RIA firm Omega Wealth Management. She experienced a shock though, when she made her career change.
“There weren’t a lot of people who looked like me,” she said. “And if you know anything about classical music, if you go to any orchestra concert, it’s like half Asian women,” she joked. “I was surprised that even being a woman was being diverse in this industry.”
Only 4.1% of all CFPs are Asian or Pacific Islander, according to the CFP Board, although collectively they make up over 7% of the U.S. population. That makes them significantly underrepresented in the planning profession, especially given that AAPIs are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the country and have growing wealth. And Asian Americans in the financial planning industry say they feel unseen even within conversations about advancing diversity, equity and inclusion at work. Many, like Kurose, don’t grow up in households that are aware of financial planners or planning careers.
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Michelle Wong, the founder and CEO at Nifty Advisor Support, said in an interview that it was for this reason she co-founded the Financial Planning Association’s AAPI Knowledge Circle in 2021.
She said the FPA Diversity Committee had previously not addressed AAPI experiences in DEI efforts, reinforcing that lack of recognition. “I think AAPI is really clumped together with white counterparts, so they’re like, ‘Oh, they have it set,’ which is totally incorrect,” she said, referring to the model minority myth and statistics that often show Asian Americans seemingly doing well in America. In reality, AAPIs have the greatest wealth inequality among all U.S. racial or ethnic groups; many live in poverty and face discrimination that affects their opportunities to build wealth, and they suffered a dramatic spike in hate crimes during the pandemic.
“It causes AAPI to feel left out,” Wong said. “When you go to conferences, we see people speaking, when you see AAPI clients, it’s very slim. … What you see in the financial planning industry doesn’t match what you see on the stats, which makes it a bit challenging, even for myself, because it makes everyone feel more invisible.”
The AAPI Knowledge Circle, which Wong runs with financial advisor John Eing, currently has 51 members, including Kurose. It meets quarterly, Wong said, and invites speakers and members to share experiences of being AAPI.
“Even now … I really don’t know that many AAPI planners,” Wong said. “The community is so small,” and even smaller when she’s looking for AAPIs who work in DEI in the industry. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.” Finding speakers is hard, she said, “because there’s very little visibility of AAPI financial planners in the industry.”
One bright spot for AAPI visibility and representation came this year when the FPA elected James Lee, the president of RIA Lee Investment Management, as its leader. Lee, a first-generation Korean American, is the first Asian American FPA president. He has supported the work of the AAPI Knowledge Circle and served as a speaker for it, Wong said.
Inclusion that boosts diversity
Marguerita Cheng, the founder and CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, said in an interview at the event that she had found the AAPI Knowledge Circle “helps us share these experiences” with other identifying planners. “It’s important to be seen and heard, but it’s also really important to be understood and valued,” she said. Cheng has also been on the advisory council for FP’s recent INVEST conference.
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“I think all too often we focus on being diverse, but if we focus on inclusion, by integrating people and focusing on inclusion, we will actually become diverse,” Cheng said, adding that she had personally had to overcome stereotypes of meekness in her work as a professional.