Last year, after the protests around racial justice triggered by the George Floyd murder, businesses of all sizes took a hard look at their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices. That certainly included plenty of financial advisory firms. So they turned to Lazetta Rainey Braxton, an influential registered investment advisor (RIA) and co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, in droves.
Braxton, also president of the board of the AAAA Foundation and chair of the Association of African American Financial Advisors (AAAFA), seemed the obvious person who could help. Only, she didn’t have a dedicated consulting firm with which she could do that.
What did Braxton do? She decided to launch Lazetta & Associates, her own consultancy, to work with financial advisory firms wrestling with DEI issues. “These firms were caught like deer in the headlights,” she says. Last year, she quietly went about a soft launch. Recently, she publicly opened for business.
Braxton typically starts with what she calls a “vision-casting questionnaire”, to help her see where clients are on the DEI spectrum. Do they, for example, have a DEI Council? Who’s on it? What training have they done? Have they created a mission and vision statement that’s integrated with the firm’s mission and vison?
Then she finds out where clients need help and determines the best way to provide that. Some firms may need to work on getting their team to buy into their DEI efforts. Solution: executive coaching. Others may have the pieces in place, but need an industry-savvy person to talk to employees. Solution: talking to the firm’s advisors to help them understand why it’s all important. Or clients may be struggling to recruit enough Black advisors. So Braxton will help with recruitment, training and plan implementation.
For those who are at square one, Braxton will conduct what she calls a “cultural audit”, a comprehensive survey and analysis of DEI practices, along with the root causes of any problems. Sometimes there are racial issues, she says, sometimes it’s more a matter of, say, communication practices.
Her system, she says, mirrors the typical financial planning process: pinpointing goals, assessing the areas—anything from talent pipeline to performance measurement—that need to be worked on, as well what should be the first focus area.
One client, for example, has a DEI policy, but the CEO hasn’t really been fully committed to it. “He doesn’t own it,” she says. She’s now in the process of interviewing employees working with the executive to determine how to move forward.
In other situations, clients make surprising discoveries. One firm had plenty of women in the firm, but they weren’t being heard. The leadership hired Braxton to address issues of racial diversity. But she realized that the matter of gender diversity had to be addressed first. “That was a hard pill to swallow,” she says.
Picking Up Steam
Braxton had worked on DEI issues with major financial institutions as part of her involvement with the CFP Board and the Financial Planning Association, as well as AAAA and others. And she often talked about the topic of how to stay relevant in an increasingly diverse environment. Still, “It didn’t pick up steam,” she says. “Then George Floyd happened.” With a dearth of consultants able to meet the demand for help, Braxton found herself deluged with requests.
But when she decided to start a consulting firm, she knew, “I wanted to be with my people.” That meant independent RIAs and serious financial planners with CFPs, a widely sought-after designation. (Her tag line: Transforming human capital into equitable, social and financial capital). She quickly built a team of specialists through her network.
Her long-time focus has been on what she calls “DEIB”. The B is for “belonging”, which, she says, “has been left out.” Also, she tends to work only with clients committed to sticking with the plan and making the necessary changes. After she creates a blueprint, she leaves it up to the client as to whether they want her to put it into action.
Braxton formed 2050 Wealth Partners in Feb. 2020, when she merged her firm Financial Fountains with Rianka R. Dorsainvil’s Your Greatest Contribution, another RIA. “It was a busy year,” she says.