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An-Lap Vo-Dignard has personally witnessed the impact recognition can have in a community.Kalen Huxham/The Globe and Mail

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Advisors on The Globe and Mail and SHOOK Research’s second annual Canada’s Top Wealth Advisors ranking who are visible minorities believe the industry needs to improve initiatives to attract more people of colour to the business.

As a start, that means ensuring minorities are invited to speak at industry panels about diversity, says An-Lap Vo-Dignard, senior wealth manager and portfolio manager with the Vo-Dignard Provost Wealth Management Group at National Bank Financial Wealth Management in Montreal. That’s because sometimes, the panellists chosen for these discussions have no personal or direct perspective on why diversity matters.

“It’s important to feature someone there who has lived and felt the experience,” he says.

Mr. Vo-Dignard also says firms need to start promoting their successful advisors of all ethnicities actively in their advertising efforts. He notices that some firms use models or new employees who have yet to accomplish much in the business, which is a big mistake.

“While those ads featuring models are better than nothing, they just don’t inspire people of colour to enter our industry,” says Mr. Vo-Dignard, who is of Vietnamese and French-Canadian descent.

“Whenever companies have examples of success, they should really make those people of colour visible. Seeing those examples makes us dream, be inspired and believe that it will be worth going through all the adversities and challenges it takes to succeed.”

He has also personally witnessed the impact recognition can have in a community. When his mother was conducting business at another financial institution, her banker of Asian descent got excited when he learned that her son was Mr. Vo-Dignard.

“He told her how much he was impressed by my career and that it was an inspiration to him,” he says. “It was very humbling for me.”

‘Earned the right to be respected’

Seeing ethnic representation can help advisors who are part of minority groups to keep going in the business.

When Maili Wong, senior portfolio manager and senior wealth advisor with The Wong Group at Wellington-Altus Private Wealth Inc. in Vancouver, started in the business more than two decades ago, she says she stood out as one of the only advisors of Chinese descent at industry conferences and functions. It left her with a certain uneasiness at the time.

“I had to make a choice of whether to feel like I was different or just dig in and work really hard,” she says. “I ultimately chose the second path. I needed to prove myself and do what I control, and that was my own work ethic. I earned the right to be respected and included in conversations.”

She also joined a firm known for its inclusivity – both for women and minorities – and boasts a client base of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

That’s not to say these advisors didn’t experience issues concerning race. Mr. Vo-Dignard says these are “isolated incidents” but, as an example, he recalls a person mispronouncing his name not as a genuine mistake, but rather to be demeaning and put him down. The person would continue doing so even when corrected.

That said, Mr. Vo-Dignard finds the indignity to be the exception rather than the rule. He encourages upcoming advisors to not get discouraged and keep progressing in their work.

“I was able to rise above this behaviour by facing it head-on,” he says. “There will be tough things you go through but remembering your clients choose to work with you reminds you of why you’re an advisor. Ninety per cent of people will be open to you but then you have the [other] 10 per cent.”

His advice: Don’t waste time thinking about that other 10 per cent and keep a positive light.

Showing the beauty of Vietnamese culture to his clients was one of his proudest moments. When hosting a client appreciation event, he chose a Vietnamese caterer, introducing clients to his different food delicacies and giving them a chance to learn about a new culture.

‘Make that change, step forward’

Sophia Ito, senior financial advisor and client relationship manager at Nicola Wealth Management Ltd. in Vancouver, has noticed an increase in Asian advisors in Vancouver, a natural reflection of the fact that around 42 per cent of the city’s population is of Asian descent.

She says Vancouver’s diverse mix of people is also reflected in her client base and is proud that her firm is also representative of her city.

“We’re seeing a lot of those clients come directly to us,” says Ms. Ito, who is Korean-Canadian. “Having diversity and inclusivity at our firm is important.”

She points to finding a mentor, someone who is inspiring and can serve as a sounding board for ideas.

“For me, that was a game changer of how I mapped out my own career,” Ms. Ito says, noting that her mentor encouraged her to find out what she did best, find synergies among co-workers, and see how those synergies can be brought together.

She also encourages young advisors of colour to join organizations and associations.

“Make that change, step forward,” she says. “If we don’t, then things will stay the same.”

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