Evan Harp is sitting down with the Exchange Advisor Council members. His goal is to learn their backstories, what they plan to bring to Exchange, and to unpack some of their market views. This week he spoke to Re-Envision Wealth’s Anna N’Jie-Konte, MBA, CFP®.
Evan Harp: Tell us a little bit about how you got where you are now.
Anna N’Jie-Konte: I come from a non-traditional background or a non-traditional profile of someone who ends up being a financial adviser and working in wealth management. I’m a first-generation American, my parents are immigrants to this country and while they are educated, candidly, they did not have much disposable income for investing. They also did not have the sophistication or the knowledge to feel really comfortable with investing.
I went to college thinking I was going to save the world and end up working in a nonprofit. What ended up happening though is I got a call from a recruiter about a job at Bernstein Global Wealth Management a wealth management firm and they thought I would be a good fit. I went for the interview; it sounded like something I would love. And here I am, 14 years later.
Anna N’Jie-Konte on Joining the EAC
Harp: Amazing. What inspired you to join the Exchange Advisor Council?
N’Jie-Konte: I spent 10 years in traditional wealth management. That was an amazing experience of learning the basics of personal finance, investing, and obviously more advanced strategies. But I went from no knowledge at all to being able to advise ultra-high net worth individuals on efficient transfer of assets and tax planning over that 10 year span.
At the end of my career in corporate, I felt very disillusioned with the fact that there was a lack of diversity. There was a very limited career trajectory for anyone who wanted to have an alternate role that was not a sales-related role, or wanting to just do planning. It felt — because of the universe I was in and the circle I was moving in within the industry — it felt very limiting.
I left because I felt very restricted in a way that was not going to be conducive for my own growth and my own fulfillment in terms of my career. So, I stepped out into this RIA world, which was amazing and eye-opening for me.
But I found that there were still a lot of limitations. I still find that, amongst the numerical majority of advisors,they’re so used to what the industry tells us we can and should do with our businesses that they are limiting themselves in terms of their own creativity and satisfaction with their business. They are limiting themselves in terms of how they’re serving their clients or potential clients.
My goal has always been to push the industry forward in terms of doing better, creating more access to financial advice, and also just deepening client relationships. All of these are things I’m very passionate about. I thought this was a great opportunity to have an influence on the agenda for such a large event that was going to touch lots of financial advisors. Even if just five advisors from this whole multi-thousands person conference implement and make some impactful changes, then I view that as a ripple effect that could be really positive.
At the end of the day, I’m really motivated by the clients. I think so many people have a dysfunctional relationship with money, have a lot of money stress, and we as advisors can provide a lot of value to them.
However, if we’re not talking to them, and we’re not pushing ourselves to operate in a different fashion, then we can’t help them. So, by me trying to push the conference to have more content that will help that advisor be a better advisor or run their practice better and be more efficient, that allows more people to be touched and helped. And that’s my ultimate goal.
Looking at the Market
Harp: As an advisor, what market trend or stories do you feel are going under the radar right now?
N’Jie-Konte: I think there’s always been a great disconnect, at least in my 14 years in this industry, between what the investor feels and what the advisor feels in terms of the economic and market conditions.
I find that right now is a very stressful time for many investors. They are seeing the stock market go up, but there are all of these pressures in their day-to-day life. When we think about interest rates being very high, that means they’re stuck in their house, or even tapping into equity or buying a new house is going to be extremely expensive. Their student loan payments are restarting, and we’ve been out of that mode for three and a half years. Even if it’s not impacting the clients directly but hitting their children, they’re worried about their children and their grandchildren potentially having to restart those payments. Inflation is extremely high and folks are feeling the pressure while wage growth is not keeping up.
I think that while this year has been much easier from an advisory standpoint because the market has been overall doing better, domestic markets have been doing better, the truth is that I think that’s blinded for a lot of individuals and how they’re feeling in their day to day lives.
As advisors, it’s very important for us to bridge that gap, have those conversations and assuage some of folks fears. Investing is a huge part of what we do as advisors, and it’s the growth that makes the financial plans run, but I think this is a great time to revisit financial plans for folks because many people are feeling very apprehensive.
If you consider, a person who’s nearing retirement right now or is in retirement. They might feel a little bit better in terms of their portfolio return, but they might be concerned about their fixed income allocation and an inverted yield curve. “What does that mean for my retirement? I’ve always heard I need to have more bonds in retirement and maybe I need to have longer-term bonds.”
It’s very important for us as advisors to have those more human conversations because everything is not just smooth sailing at the moment.
The Unique Challenges Facing Black Business Owners
Harp: I really appreciate all of your thoughtfulness on this. August is National Black Business Month. Can you talk about some of the unique challenges facing black business owners and how you personally have navigated them?
N’Jie-Konte: I’ll speak specifically to black RIAs or financial advisors right now, then I can speak to general business challenges too.
The truth is there is a very small but growing number of black advisors and black CFP®s that are working in this industry. Obviously, there’s a big push by the CFP® Board and different larger players in the industry to increase those numbers, but it’s less than two and a half percent, if I recall, based on the last CFP® Board report. I think it was even less than 2%, if I recall correctly.
So, there’s a very small number of folks that are in this industry. As black advisors, we have the choice of, working with our community, who we have a heart for and want to help or working k with a traditional wealth management client, which is usually overwhelmingly white?
A lot of us that want to work with our community and feel passionately about serving our community will make the decision to leave and start our own firm. Some of the challenges that come with that are, firstly, I think there’s a lack of awareness of the availability of financial advice for folks who are not wealthy already.
If I’m a 45-year-old, and maybe I’ve been earning well, saved a couple hundred thousand dollars and built a portfolio. I still might not feel wealthy, because I have kids, I have a house mortgage payment, and I have student loans. But with the right coaching, I could get there. But I likely will not think that I can have access to a financial advisor, and I won’t pursue that. There’s a lot of education that needs to happen.
And I think, frankly, hitting the ground and just beating the pavement on getting the word out and finding those clients is important. There’s also just traditional barriers that a lot general black business owners face. Access to capital is one. We don’t usually come from money. If I wanted to, I couldn’t ask my parents for money. There’s not anybody who’s going to write me a check to say “Here you go! Go spend a few years not making money or treading water, and we got you.” That was never my reality.
I know that’s not the reality for most black founders or black entrepreneurs. It’s bootstrapped and it involves being very scrappy and very resourceful.
Looking at Exchange’s Historic Strengths
Harp: Terrific answer. Can you take a moment to speak to what you feel Exchange has historically done well?
N’Jie-Konte: I’ve only been to Exchange once. I think that there was a great effort to have a very engaging conference. Exchange has done a great job of making a more engaging event that you actually want to go to. Because, to be frank, going to multiple three-day conferences in a year as an attendee can get a little bit tedious and boring. I think Exchange does a really good job of bringing quality content that is engaging, while also having good networking or opportunities for folks on a more social level to connect.
Anna N’Jie-Konte on What She Will Advocate for at Exchange
Harp: What positive changes to exchange are you most looking forward to advocating for?
N’Jie-Konte: Diversity of thought and background is the most important thing for me always. I’m someone who didn’t come from the traditional background of many advisors. And so I see the gaping holes in terms of the way that folks are thinking about money, their practices and their clients’ investments.
Obviously, I’m only one person. I don’t have a whole breadth of life experience. But I know that if we have multiple people from different backgrounds that are able to provide their perspectives, that’s going to add so much value for the participants.