Kamila Elliott becomes the first black person to lead the CFP Board of Standards

Kamila Elliott

Thanks to: Kamila Elliott

When Kamila Elliott started her career in financial services, she felt like an outsider. That feeling hasn’t changed much.

Elliott, 44, joined Vanguard in 2000 in participant shifts and recalls being the only black woman in her workforce.

“Even then I understood the lack of diversity in our profession,” she said.

She would go on to work with high net worth clients and endowments at the wealth management firm, and today is the president of Grid 202 Partners, a consulting firm based in Washington, DC. In 2013, Elliott earned her certified financial planner designation.

Yet by 2022, less than 2% of CFPs in the US will be black.

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Elliott hopes that will change now that she has been tapped as the board chair of the Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards, making her the first black person to lead the nonprofit.

Serving the public by promoting professional standards in personal financial planning, the CFP board establishes and enforces the standards for the CFP designation coveted by advisors.

While the CFP board chairman role is only a one-year term, Elliott plans to make lasting changes in the field by attracting more people of color, and expanding the pool of those who can afford it. get professional help with their money.

Slice Mag spoke to Elliott this month about those aspirations and her historic position.

Editor’s Note: The interview has been abbreviated and edited for clarity.)

Annie Nova: I’d love to hear about how you grew up.

Kamila Elliott: I am originally from Philadelphia. My mother is an accountant. And it’s funny, I never wanted to be an accountant. I was like, ‘Mom, I don’t want to do anything you do.’ Now I support clients with tax planning, which is ironic. My mother jokes, “You’ve probably chosen the closest profession to being an accountant, which is financial advisor.” And my father was in the army. He traveled the world, so he was away a lot.

AN: How did you become interested in becoming a financial advisor?

KE: In college, I worked at PNC Bank. Down the street was American Express Financial Advisors. The boys would come in and cash their checks. And I was about 18, right? They wore nice cars and nice suits, their hair was sharp. So I started asking what they were doing and learned a little more, and I started to get more interested in money and investing. When I graduated from college, Vanguard hired someone. I met someone and the next day they called me for an interview. The rest is history.

AN: What was it like to be one of the few black people in the field?

KE: I hate to say it, but when one of us isn’t doing well, the pressure we often feel is that we’re hesitant to hire the next black woman. I have felt a lot of pressure.

Some people think I’m only here because I’m a black woman, not because, you know, I got my bachelor’s degree, I got my MBA, I got licenses, and I got my CFP designation.

Kamila Elliott

CFB board chairman

AN: Were you treated differently?

KE: I was once with two colleagues who were white males at an event, and an older white woman comes up to me, points me out, and says, “How did you get this job?” When you’re the only black person, you feel like you’re different. Some people think I’m only here because I’m a black woman, not because, you know, I got my bachelor’s degree, I got my MBA, I got licenses, and I got my CFP designation.

AN: How does it feel to be the first black person to lead the CFP board?

KE: I’m really excited about it. I just met the first Black CFP professional. He got his points in 1978. So I had lunch with him and he was so proud. It took 43 years to go from the first Black CFP to the first Black CFP board chair. It is wonderful to serve in this role and be the face of this organization. I want to do everything I can to improve access to the profession and increase diversity.

EN: How do you plan to do that?

KE: We go to high schools and colleges to promote this profession. I meet a colleague of mine who is a black financial advisor who went to an HBCU [historically black colleges and universities]† I talk to him about how we get into the HBCUs and talk to the students.

AN: Why is it so important to have more diversity in the consulting field?

KE: Most of my clients are around my age. Most of my clients come from cities. Most of my clients did not come from wealth. So when we talk about their goals and their history with money, they know I can relate to them. There is a tendency for people to want to work with someone like them.

AN: Been there reports of consumers seeking CFPs who cannot see when certain professionals with the designation have been fined by regulators. As the head of the CFP board, what will you do to ensure that consumers can entrust their money to the CFP?

KE: We now have over 92,000 CFP professionals and just needed to scale our process better to ensure we can identify and investigate any impropriety. We no longer rely solely on self-disclosure. The CFP board has established an enforcement department. Significant investment has also been made in technology, working with organizations such as FINRA (The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) and other reporting agencies to quickly identify ethical concerns. And then, every year, every CFP professional who recertifies gets a background check.

AN: What enforcement actions can the board take against a problematic advisor?

KE: We have multiple ways we can deal with impropriety from a CFP Professional, including suspension.

Join Slice Mag for a special LinkedIn Live event on February 24 with Sharon Epperson and trailblazing finance leaders. For more information and to register, go to cnbc.com/facesofchange