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Edward Jones Overhauls Program to Support Women Advisors

The brokerage believes the future of the business depends on gender equilibrium with the client base, and will begin benchmarking success (and failure) across regions to achieve it.

Like almost all other firms, Edward Jones executives think the future of the company will be dependent on an advisory workforce that mirrors the demographic diversity of its clients, and have put in place programs to help make that a priority. Unlike many other firms, these executives are willing to admit when their efforts have fallen short, and have come up with a concrete plan to improve.

The WINGS (Women’s Initiative for New Growth Strategies) program at Edward Jones was started in 2009 and gave a name to advisors who volunteered to help attract new women advisors and support those already employed by the brokerage. But participation was too low, it lacked necessary home-office support, and failed to dramatically increase the number of women advisors at the firm as much as anticipated (though the number of women advisors did grow).

To turn it around, the company announced Tuesday the creation of a new firmwide network of its women advisors and the reintroduction of WINGS.

Like other internal goals related to business growth, Edward Jones and managers in the advisor network will now be tracking data on both new and veteran women advisors joining the firm, and comparing progress between their regions with others within the company. It’s a level of accountability and responsibility related to diversity that was previously absent from the good-intentioned effort a few years ago, said Monica Giuseffi, the principal of inclusion and diversity at Edward Jones.

More than a quarter of all new advisor recruits at Edward Jones are women, but that number should be higher, according to Giuseffi, who said that it should really be 50 percent to reflect the country’s population. Women currently control 51 percent of personal wealth, according to the BMO Wealth Institute, but comprise just 19 percent of financial advisors in the U.S., according to SIFMA.

For several months, Giuseffi has been meeting with Edward Jones advisors and management to create a strategy to achieve the diversification viewed internally as a necessity.

“There is no grey here,” Giuseffi said on the message coming from senior management down. “Achieving the firm’s vision will require diversity.”

Suzy Burke-Myers, an Edward Jones advisor in Seattle, has been with the company for more than 15 years and was involved in the WINGS program at its launch in 2009. As a nonwhite woman, she described a notable difference in awareness even at a smaller, local level.

Years ago, she and colleagues would plan events intended to engage women and attract them to the industry, but there was little direct support from the company. No framework to plan events or engage diverse individuals was available, and getting funding to support an event wasn’t a straightforward process.

As part of the new initiative and revamped WINGS program, Giuseffi described a “playbook” created to provide support and unify a message to the network of Edward Jones’ more than 14,000 advisors. The brokerage is also holding in-person summits across the country where local company leaders educate area advisors and improve engagement in the initiative. Their success, or lack thereof, will be visible to the groups in other areas and regions they are compared with via a digital dashboard.

As an advisor and one of Edward Jones’ regional inclusion specialists, Alyssa Jennings said enthusiasm for the changes that have been rolling out in recent months has been “hugely impactful.” The breadth and frequency with which that issue is discussed at the company is nothing like she’s experienced since joining in 2012.

“It’s been traditionally a male-dominated field, and we’re trying to break the model,” Jennings said.

She took the voluntary role as an inclusion specialist to work with prospective women advisors and current ones with Edward Jones because she thinks wealth management is a career more women should be considering. Jennings cited the impact she’s had on the lives of clients, and spending a fulfilling amount of time with her family, as reasons she wanted to help other women advisors.

“One reason a lot of women are looking to Edward Jones is that they still want to have a work-life balance, even though it is a tough industry,” Burke-Myers said. “They want to be coming into a company that is going to support all different kinds of people.”

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