Diversity on my mind

March 31, 2021 Bernard J. Clark
Bernie Clark, head of Schwab Advisor Services, shares his perspective on the Advisor Services scholarship program as the application process opens up to candidates.

I’ve had the privilege of working alongside growing independent investment advisory firms for many years now, and it is incredible. Creating the future is my favorite part of what we do together in this profession. One thing I believe strongly is that RIAs feel the same weight of the responsibility that I do, and that’s leaving this industry better than each of us found it.

It’s no secret, diversity is the future. Not in one area of our work, or one part of our business – not to say we did, or to check a box. Because we owe it to our collective future. And because it’s the right thing to do. We must take responsibility to shepherd in the change we want to see. There’s an argument about diversity being good for business, and it is. Clients are diverse, and workforces should match. Industry growth has created a fiercely competitive environment for talent. Firms with diverse teams and workplaces will ultimately be the winners. But we know supporting and working hard to do what’s right for the future of this profession is bigger than the business.

Early in my work life, someone told me to make sure I picked a place that was “worthy of my career.” It struck me then and has stuck with me all these years. I am so grateful to work for a company that values diversity and that continues to make strides.

When Chuck founded Schwab, he did so on the belief that the investment industry needed to be more inclusive, that more people from Main Street should be able to enjoy the same benefits as those on Wall Street. That spirit of inclusiveness has been a guiding principle ever since, and we are dedicated to building and maintaining a culture that values and reflects the strengths of every employee.  

Diversity brings with it a wider range of perspectives and experiences. Schwab’s “Through Clients’ Eyes” strategy includes the eyes of the independent advisors we serve who are incredibly motivated to make this profession even better.

RIAs know diversity is critical, but firms need help. Our recent Independent Advisor Outlook Study told us that two out of five firms don't have a formal diversity and inclusion strategy and that one in three say it is difficult to attract diverse talent. However, approximately half of RIA firms made changes to their diversity and inclusion approach last year.1 They are actively supporting staff through community events, participating in educational webinars, updating marketing materials, and hosting listening sessions for employees and clients.


We have a strong commitment to helping cultivate diverse next-generation talent in the RIA profession. We have been working for more than 10 years to increase racial, generational, and gender diversity in the industry, but like any worthwhile endeavor that can shape the future, there is always more to do.

- Bernie Clark, head of Schwab Advisor Services

I’m excited about the progress we’ve made this year:

  • The application period for our new RIA Talent Advantage Scholarship Program is now open. Since we first announced it, we doubled our investment so that twelve students will be selected annually to each receive $10,000. Half of these scholarships will be awarded to students from underrepresented groups. We also created an IMPACT scholarship to provide grants to universities so that students can attend RIA industry conferences.  
  • We are bringing together a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Advocacy Board to help advisors connect with each other and with Schwab leaders to share their perspectives and devise solutions. The Board will help us with judging the scholarship applications, and once the winners are chosen, each advisor will be matched with a student mentee.  
  • Through our longstanding University Grant program in partnership with the Charles Schwab Foundation, we funded a grant to support a new financial planning concentration at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Our funding will support expanded efforts to attract diverse talent to the RIA industry. Specifically, targeted coursework will prepare students to sit for the Security Industry Essentials exam and Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification exam. The program will work with nearby firms to provide internship opportunities for students to prepare them for a career in financial planning. We also funded a multi-year grant to create the Charles Schwab Foundation Finance Learning Center and expand the financial planning offerings at Grand Canyon University’s Colangelo College of Business. The new center will serve as a resource center for students and help raise awareness about the RIA industry. This grant will also help GCU develop new financial planning degree programs and provide academically qualified students with scholarship funding.
  • Our national advertising campaign that educates high-net-worth investors about the benefits of working with an RIA is back on TV. We also run digital and print ads year-round, driving millions of investors to www.FindYourIndependentAdvisor.com. For years, we have proudly shared the stories of women- and minority-led firms through the campaign.

Seeing is believing. Storytelling is a big part of that, and it is important that the industry link arms here and share the diversity success stories we are so proud to tell.

Diversity is about sharing our own personal story and inviting others to do the same. So, I encourage you to lean into your story, share it with others, and celebrate the stories of those around you. I am bullish on what’s to come, because even though we have a long way to go, we’re going there . . . one beautiful story at a time.