Leading the Future of America’s Financial Growth

In this episode of SIFMA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Podcast Series, SIFMA’s Amena Ross sits down with Cetera’s Chantalle Couba to explore the journey to excellence in business, sharing insights on the courage and grit it takes to create a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Business Initiatives

Join SIFMA’s Amena Ross, Managing Director of Advocacy as she interviews Cetera Financial Group’s Chantalle Couba, Co-Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer & Chief of Staff to the CEO, in this edition of SIFMA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) podcast series.

As they explore the journey to excellence in business, they share insights on the courage and grit it takes to create a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion. They spotlight how the financial services industry can harness existing resources through partnerships, cooperation, and collaboration while taking a deeper dive into the tactics of fostering talent from within and building profitable, inclusive pipelines. They bring uncommon wisdom to the cascade of benefits that flow from the commitment to D&I and serving America’s increasingly diverse client base with its potential for developing the next generation of wealth.

For more information on fostering and expanding workforce, client, and supplier diversity equity and inclusion, please visit www.sifma.org/diversity.


Edited for clarity

Amena Ross: Thank you for joining us for another episode of SIFMA’s D&I Podcast Series. I’m Amena Ross, Managing Director of Advocacy at SIFMA. I’m here today to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion in the financial services industry, the opportunities and challenges we face, and some of the innovative work currently being done at our member firms.

I’m pleased to be joined today by Chantalle Couba, Co-Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer and Chief of Staff to the CEO at Cetera Financial Group. Chantalle has served as an executive-level advisor with substantial experience serving in financial services across strategy, risk, and human resources verticals.

And she is recognized for implementing winning, organic, and inorganic growth strategies. She leads qualitative research on women in senior leadership roles, and her delivery portfolio includes antiracist and inclusion learning for nonprofit boards. Welcome, Chantalle.

Chantalle Couba: Thank you so much, Amena. I appreciate it.

Amena: So let’s get started. Within the industry the commitment has been made to diversity, equity, inclusion. Goals include greater diversity and recruitment, training programs, and in leadership roles. When formulating a long-term strategy for successful diversity, equity and inclusion, what does a firm need to first address?

Chantalle: That’s a great question. I think it’s most important for any firm, whether it’s Cetera or anyone else in our space, to say what do we need as a firm and as a culture and a company out of this strategy to better serve our clients, of course, if you have fiduciary responsibilities, and, ultimately, what type of culture.

How you address diversity and inclusion really is, if you’re a gardener, from the ground up. It’s about what the soil is in your organization. What type of culture do we build that’s one that grows inclusion?

As we know, and I’m sure we’ll talk about, diversity and inclusion in themselves are not just about hiring or getting people on board, but rather building a space and a place where everyone can thrive and grow and identify with the pieces and parts of themselves that, ultimately, bring their unique value to the organization and to the clients that we serve in this industry.

Amena: Yeah. I love the metaphor of soil and growing because the entire industry is kind of on this journey of DEI. And so I’d like to focus on how the events of last year, the social justice and George Floyd protests, how that has affected and sustained the efforts and momentum within your organization and the industry as you drive towards success.

Chantalle: First, I think all of us, just as humanity, we’re so deeply impacted. And I’ll speak for myself as a professional woman of color, and likely you identify this way, as well. Racism is not new to any of us, whether we’re of color or of the majority. Whereas, horrific as those events were, I’m hopeful that as a country and as a society that we’re more ready to have open conversations, courageous conversations. And more willing to unapologetically put a stake in the ground around building and growing an antiracist society. And that byproduct is a more inclusive society.

And so to answer your question specifically for Cetera, I think we saw similar things at Cetera that I’m guessing most of our listeners saw within their organizations, both professional organizations, as well as their jobs. It’s people wanted to do something. And people were just struggling with, “Well, where do I start? This is such an enormous problem.” Right?

And the opportunity of that is, now this is great. Everybody come on in, get on board. There is a space and a place and a platform for everybody who wants to be an advocate. And I want to just say how big I am and I try to preach this at Cetera, and I’m preaching it everywhere I go. You don’t have to be of color. You don’t have to be black American. You don’t have to be in Afghanistan to be an advocate for the next person. Right?

Just you standing up and speaking out and representing your lack of tolerance for inequality and, ultimately, abuse of other human beings is part of being an advocate. And so I think that regardless of whether we do that at Cetera or at the next organization, I think, ultimately, that’s what we’re all wanting to do.

And now we are looking at formal ways to set that up and structure that and build goals and strategies and, of course, tactics and metrics for business people. At the end of the day we can help ourselves to come back to that. And I’m happy to talk about some of the mechanics of that.

But I really think that’s what we were, hopefully, trying to do. And I’m really excited to join with others like yourself and other people in the industry to do such.

Amena: You know our industry is all about the metrics. So if inclusion initiatives are successful at Cetera and throughout the industry, what are the measurements and goals that reflect the milestones of the progress you hope to see?

Chantalle: Quite simply our goals at Cetera are around the percentage of representation of women-plus and historically underserved groups. And that also for us is a broader definition, which includes physical and cognitive abilities, as well as sexual orientation and other racial and ethnic definitions. But, quite frankly, it’s around our representation goal within our top three leadership levels over the next three years.

Seeing that goal achieved for us would be kind of our primary metric. And then I can’t help myself being a SIFMA professional, [at points] our secondary metric would be — and I want to be very open about this — is to not have the unintended consequence of alienating any other group.

So I speak very openly about this is not at the expense of not hiring white men, or altering the number of white men being leadership. But, rather, to lift others up and to accelerate them into those leadership positions and team and manager leader positions more quickly. And we would see that as success. And the secondary metric is it’s not at the expense of anyone else’s wellbeing.

Amena: So SIFMA has talked about best practices in terms of diversity and inclusion. And one of the things that we’ve discussed with our member firms is the idea that we want to adequately prepare the leaders of our industry, despite race or ethnicity, to lead organizations that will be diverse and for diverse clients.

So to your point, it’s very important that folks understand that this is not specifically at the detriment to one race, or one gender or another. But making sure that the leaders that come up in the industry are adequately prepared to lead any type of organization, especially a diverse one.

So what is particularly challenging about implementing inclusion in financial services, particularly in the independent broker-dealer sector? But I think it would be really interesting to hear from a lot of different aspects of the sector, since you have such broad experience in the industry. And how is Cetera taking action to create a more inclusive environment?

Chantalle: Thank you. I’ll try to answer all parts of that. I think what is difficult in my perspective as a practitioner, as an executive, as a professional who has both formally worked on D&I practices, as well as just being an advocate and supporter and leader of them from within my day job, is, quite frankly, our fear of offending others at the expense of accelerating those who are, again, historically underrepresented in our field. I really believe it’s our fear that holds us back.

Ultimately, I think it’s quite simple to solve for the inclusion equation. We can simply hire and develop more people into the roles that we want if they’re coming from outside of our company. And then within our own company, your best talent source are the people that are inside of your own company that very likely are overlooked for a promotion, for development, for acceleration opportunities.

So I think if you put those two together with the third piece that is creating and sustaining an inclusive culture, you have the equation solved for. Now we can talk about nuances in industries such as mine, and the independent broker-dealer space, or in private equity, or in finance.

There are segments and sectors of our field where the number of available talent, which is what I think all of us will see as the red thread, you would say, across all institutions, is how do we accelerate both general talent and diverse talent that’s ready to come into our field.

We can’t deny that some roles and jobs in our field require specific skills and training and degrees and certifications. Great. Let’s make sure that we always keep that pipeline robust. And we do that through internships and fellowships and apprenticeships and all the tactical things that we all are committed to doing collectively. And then bringing those people.

And then the second phase is keeping those people. Developing those people into the leaders. Helping them grow into their leadership presence and style that we want in our organizations. And then, ultimately, taking that action and promoting them. As we know, when we all have hired someone, or chosen to develop or invest in something, there’s no perfect, there’s no absolute.

Grow that person who is right there. Grow that person who has interest. Give that person a chance who didn’t come from the Ivy League B school, but still is talented and hungry and wants to serve your clients. So this combination of both grit, to reference an Angela Duckworth term, but also intentional action, I think is really how we both move through the challenge that we know we have and, hopefully, take action to create a more inclusive environment.

And just to [cover off] on your last question, specifically, you asked me what some of the things are Cetera is doing to create a more inclusive environment. Both from a learning and dialogue perspective we are openly across all levels of our organization having learning and conversations around how to have courageous conversations about race, about inequity, about challenges.

How to have a culture where we can talk about mistakes, we can talk about rebounding, we can talk about learnings freely. And then we’re doing that again through also being more transparent about what our representation numbers look like. We have recently made a leadership management committee commitment to publish both our open jobs and what our diverse pipeline looks like to fill those jobs, and the days to fill those jobs every quarter, so that all of our top 50 leaders are aware.

For example, if you had four roles open, we move so fast unintentionally, oftentimes I wouldn’t know if I work in another division that you had four roles open. So maybe that’s a miss on I have some great talent I could present to you, or share with you, or through extended networks that we all belong to. Through our different affinities really start to grow and increase an inclusive pipeline.

So we are taking some very intentional actions inside of our space to help close this gap as quickly as we can.

Amena: Yeah. So we’ve talked a little bit about what our firms are doing and what Cetera is doing internally to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. But let’s shift a little bit to the advisor/client relationship. So the results of all our work in financial services largely takes place within the advisor/client relationship as we help families and individuals save and plan for their financial futures. What positive impact do we create from intentionally focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion?

Chantalle: Well, first and foremost, I’m unapologetic and fearless about saying inclusion and diversity is a business initiative. I think we very often feel compelled to start with the social. But the truth of the matter is, this is a business initiative. And without citing one reference we know the demographics of this nation.

The last census told us that there are more people of mixed race and ethnic origin, slightly more, than of white origin. We know that the number of new millionaires in this country are of ethnic origin. They’re likely Indian or some form of Asian descent. And so we have the statistics to tell us wealth is no longer just white in America.

And preparing your workforce, which for us is our financial advisor. And, ultimately, preparing them to serve their clients is a business imperative. Making sure that they can respond to the planning needs and considerations of any client that texts them, messages them, emails them, comes into their office, whatever form you’re doing business in this environment. It’s, I think, our number one objective.

And then when we look, again, at another part of the equation, the number of assets that will be in motion in the next 10 years as baby boomers transfer wealth to their children and to their beneficiaries, there’s not enough available talent today in the field, regardless of gender or race or ethnicity, to serve those assets. And that’s what I’m so excited about, is preparing the next generation to come into the field and help clients capture this wealth transfer.

And then growing the people who are here today to be able to serve the needs of those people more distinctly and with great experience and credentialing. I just think there’s such a tremendous opportunity. I really see it as an inflection point, where market demand and our current customer base needs this field to respond this way now.

Amena: So, Chantalle, you’re a thought leader in the industry and an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion. And you recently moderated two enlightening interview programs for Cetera’s Financial Advisor Key Annual Conference that incorporated an array of experts and perspectives on inclusion and equity. Can you share with us some of your key learnings and insights from those programs?

Chantalle: Absolutely. I think most importantly — and I touched on this a bit earlier — is that perseverance and passion piece. As Angela Duckworth has coined it, grit. She was one of the people we interviewed and spoke with. I think that is so important to any life goal, particularly in diversity and inclusion work. This is not an overnight solution, but a journey.

And having that ability to see it as such and knowing that the impacts that we make, sometimes we’re seeding them. And we may not see them. I may not see them in this role. Or you may not see them in your space within the day-to-day of your role. But I do think that we all are contributing to the change. And that’s really exciting.

And the second thing I would also call out as learnings — and we’re an example — as much as we have public and private and not-for-profit, and nonprofit cooperation, I think those four entities have all of the resources that we need to solve for inclusion and diversity and American financial wellness and overall wellbeing. And as much as we can look to partner and cooperate and support each other, I think that we can solve for this in our career’s lifetime.

Amena: So before we wrap up, I’d like to look at the future in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion in the financial services industry. You talked a little about the demographic changes in terms of wealth in the United States. How can we set up goals and initiatives that can meet those differences and those changes? How can we do a better job of addressing that? What should we be most focused on?

Chantalle: I think having a very clear goal; one, about the representation of your workforce. And if you have a dual workforce, such as we do, your workforce and your advisor, or salesforce, I think that’s most important. And then segmenting that goal into developing new talent versus developing experienced talent should be the second part of that goal.

And I think start there. And I think the second goal that I’d put forth for all organizations to consider is now what do you do once you have those people in place? How do you develop them? How do you retain them? How do you treat them? How do you mention them? How do you expose them? How do you create advocacy with them, not for them? There’s nothing wrong with them. But rather, how do you create advocacy with them?

And I think that companies will find that this is a conversation that just becomes a part of the fiber of their organization and their culture and how you do business, and how you grow employees.

Amena: Okay. With that, thanks so much again, Chantalle, for joining me today. It was a real pleasure chatting with you. To learn more about SIFMA and our work to promote diversity and inclusion, please visit us at https://www.sifma.org/explore-issues/diversity-and-inclusion/. And to learn more about Cetera Financial Group’s amazing work in this space, please visit www.cetera.com.

Amena RossAmena Ross is the Head of Policy at Cash App. Ms. Ross was previously Managing Director, Advocacy at SIFMA. At SIFMA, she was responsible for leading SIFMA’s federal government relations.

Chantelle CoubaChantalle Couba is the co-Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer and Chief of Staff to the CEO at Cetera Financial Group.