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McKenzie Robinson | SBJ

A Conversation With ... Peter Lai

Financial Adviser, Edward Jones

Posted online

This fall, you attended Edward Jones’ inaugural diversity, equity and inclusion conference. That came on the heels of the financial firm announcing a five-point plan to address racism and boost employee and leadership diversity in part through equity training and evaluating hiring and pay policies. What are those goals and reasoning behind them?
The firm, just like all businesses, is very focused and driven by serving not only our clients, our colleagues, but ultimately our community. The five-point plan is really making sure that they create a place of belonging. The DEI centers around the focus of how do we make sure that we are making the lives of our colleagues better. When I attended the conference, the biggest sort of “aha” moment for me, personally, was I’ve been living in Missouri for the past 38-plus years and that I found myself over this period of time really assimilated with the people surrounding me. When I interact with my clients, my colleagues and then people here in the community, I certainly feel a sense of belonging. Springfield literally is my home. But when I attended the conference, I now have the opportunity to see what the firm is trying to do bringing together colleagues from around the country. I get to meet and listen to people from East Coast, West Coast, with all kinds of different backgrounds, and listening to things that they’re doing, clients that they’re serving, it makes me realize I have to make sure that I continue to always be curious.

Edwards Jones has set a goal to increase financial advisers who are women and people of color. By 2025, the goal is to increase people of color by seven percentage points to 15% of all advisers and increase women by nine percentage points to 30% of advisers. Why is diversity important in financial advising?
To be as successful as you can be, it’s about collaborating with ideas; it’s about working together. I’ve been doing this for so long and I have lived here for so long, oftentimes I tend to, and I think all the business leaders and business owners are the same way, you get so used to doing things that you’re used to and you don’t hear a diversity of thoughts or diversity of ideas, you often miss great opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted more end-of-life conversations. An Edwards Jones poll found a third of U.S. adults surveyed had these conversations, many for the first time. Have you seen health and financial planning grow in your practice?
That awareness that people have certainly has risen. Even though the interesting thing is everyone’s personal life situation is so unique and different, at the end of the day, there are some major pillars that we all have commonality on. Edward Jones did a study on retirement and identified four pillars. Health is always a very important component. Family is No. 2, purpose is No. 3, and then finance is actually No. 4. When I help clients, I really try to make sure that we focus on having those type of discussions about what is important to you. During the pandemic, that only emphasized the importance of what is important to all of us. Money is part of it. The finance piece does allow all of us to do the things we want, but not understanding the reasoning behind it, it really could cloud the purpose of investing, just chasing after returns. The pandemic allowed me to have those deeper-level conversations.

What’s the biggest trend you’re tracking?
We get a lot of questions about computers replacing what we do and that people can download an app and buy it and have access to the market. The equity market, for example, is very accessible. That human element and the focus on the client aspect, though, will never change. We’re taking advantage of the technology enhancement. We could easily save money by putting all of our advisers under one roof like our competitors do, but we are willing to focus on our client experience. You’re not an account number with us. Technology is only an enhancement.

Peter Lai can be reached at peter.lai@edwardjones.com

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