A Lesser-Known Conference Advancing the Wealth Management Industry

The University of Akron’s Diversitas can fix wealth management’s talent funnel.

Akron, Ohio. (Bigstock photo)

Akron, Ohio.

(Bigstock photo)

Organizers of a lesser-known wealth management conference taking place next week have extended its registration window through Friday. A record number of people have already registered for the virtual gathering. But it’s important that every college student and financial advisor have a chance to attend if they want to as one could argue a better future for the wealth management industry is at stake.

The fourth annual Diversitas, a free symposium focused on growing and diversifying the industry, is happening Oct. 27. The three-hour event, which includes discussion panels and smaller breakout sessions, is organized by the Financial Planning Program in The University of Akron’s College of Business Administration.

Unlike most other industry conferences, it doesn’t cater to the customers or prospective ones of service providers, or members of a professional organization.

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Diversitas was created to bring together students, professors, working professionals, and others who influence career choices, with different backgrounds in hopes of encouraging more people to pursue careers in financial planning and wealth management.

Over the next decade, more than 111,500 financial advisors — representing one-third of the workforce and assets under management — are expected to retire. Not enough people want to fill their shoes as the need for professional financial advice is undeniably increasing.

Diversitas is a step toward fixing the wealth management industry’s talent funnel, Barry Mulholland, the director of the Financial Planning Program at The University of Akron, told RIA Intel.

More public and private partnerships are needed to create sustainable academic programs like the one at The University of Akron. But better education about wealth management, and inclusion by the profession, must also happen. Too many people — including parents, high school guidance counselors, and college advisors — still believe financial advisors are largely salespeople. They relay that characterization to students, many who never give the profession a thought.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced Diversitas, normally an in-person gathering, to be exclusively virtual this year. But more than 250 people have registered, and Mulholland expects more will this week. College students often wait until the last minute to do things, the professor joked.

If as many people tune in next week as expected, a virtual experience could remain a part of Diversitas in the future. The more participants, the better.

A symposium focused on inclusion and diversity is especially timely this year, after the death of George Floyd and others led to public protests and calls for companies to address their own inequality. But Diversitas must exist and continue beyond 2020 to achieve its goals, Mulholland said.

“We have been viewing this as a long-term type program. This is not a short-term conversation. The industry is going to take time to change as we see a generational change.”

Ensuring there are enough advisors from diverse backgrounds to help the growing need for financial advice will also help remedy poor financial literacy in the U.S., too. “When people don’t know what they don’t know, they don’t know when to ask for help,” Mulholland said.

Michael Thrasher (@Mike_Thrasher) is a reporter at RIA Intel based in New York City.

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