If I had a nickel for every time someone has asked me how I got into the financial services industry, I’d be signing up for a pricey yoga retreat in Tulum next month. I’m asked a LOT. To be fair, the question usually comes from a person who has been in the field for a while and who is genuinely curious about how a millennial woman arrived at the table — it is still relatively infrequent to see someone like me in the room. They ask the question as if finance is a secret society: How did I know it existed? Who taught me the secret knock? I’ve asked friends in other industries whether they get the same question and the answer across the board has been: Never, that is so strange.
It’s an easy question for me to answer, and mine is a common response — I knew someone. My father is a longstanding member of the industry, and he opened the door for me, pushed me through that door, told me it was an incredible business that I would be lucky to build a career in. My experience is not unique — most millennials I know who are working in financial services also had someone they know open a door for them. But millennials in this profession are few and far between.
The lack of millennials in our industry is a huge problem. Top executives in financial services say their most pressing concern is competition over global talent. Not only attracting the top talent but keeping it. When you narrow in on my generation, it is no surprise that top business talents land at the Googles and Amazons of the world, but it may surprise you to find out that, of the millennials our profession has been able to attract, only 10 percent currently plan to stay in the field long-term.1
I asked Jim Seuffert why this is. Jim is director of Envestnet’s Institute on Campus, a scholarship program geared toward students pursuing careers in wealth management. He speaks with more millennials on this topic than anyone I know, and he told me there are two major reasons why we aren’t attracting them. First, there is still a major misconception that our industry is not doing the right thing. I have said this many times, but it is critical to reiterate: The ’08 crisis (and the hyperbolic Hollywood films that followed it) shaped our mindset about finance and left a bad taste in our mouths. Second, Jim says, is that millennials are unaware of what jobs in finance actually look like. What are the differences between investment banking, wealth management, insurance, fintech, securities trading? Our profession has done a fabulous job keeping the roadmap to a career in financial services the best kept secret out there. Couple this with the impression among college and university leadership that the only jobs in our space are commission sales, and the pipeline shrinks even further. These misperceptions and complexities are not attractive. Period. If you can’t understand the basic landscape, why would it ever pique your interest? It wouldn’t.
Several other firms and organizations have similar initiatives that are aiming to attract not only millennials but also more women and minorities, such as the Money Management Institute’s Gateway to Leadership program and the CFP Board’s Women’s Initiative (WIN). If more firms were to sponsor or join such efforts, word would spread quickly that, Hey, believe it or not, this profession isn’t only available to you, it needs you.
What else can financial services firms do to attract millennials? Be a company that we can feel proud to work for. Create a culture that inspires us and makes us feel as if we’re part of something big. I laugh as I write that because, as an insider, I know that the influence our industry has on the world is massive and that there’s perhaps no better profession to join to be part of something big and influential; but the scandal-du-jour reputation is casting a dark shadow on the good that we do.
The companies that are winning at attracting millennials are nailing it on culture and values. My own career path is a perfect example of this. I left a large mutual fund company in Boston to join a sustainable investing firm in New Hampshire because its focus on investing for both performance and impact resonated with me personally. At Impax, we have above-average representation of millennials on staff and on leadership teams, and that is a direct reflection of the fact that my generation wants to succeed at something we believe in. We are, after all, the generation obsessed with making a positive impact on the world around us. And hard on our heels is Gen Z, whose members are just beginning to enter the workforce and who share the millennial zeal for doing good. Firms that are authentically promoting their commitment to being good corporate citizens and fair employers are seeing the greatest levels of interest from talented candidates of both generations.
We know the financial services sector — especially sustainable investing — does a lot of good in the world. I feel privileged to have had a door opened for me, and it is a personal mission of mine to clue the rest of my generation in about how rewarding an investment career can be. We all need to make this a mission, from wherever we sit within the business, whether seasoned veteran or just out of college, Gen X, Gen Y or baby boomer. We all need to help change the reputation, kick the door open and welcome in the next generation of talented professionals — before they settle in elsewhere.
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 edition of Green Money Journal.
1 PWC, “Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace in Financial Services,” 2012
Kelly Coyne is a registered representative of ALPS Distributors, Inc.