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Thank you, Ken Fisher?

Ruckus over adviser's remarks brings the issue of sexism and exclusion in financial services into the light

Oct 11, 2019 @ 12:31 pm

By Gavin Spitzner

Thank you, Ken Fisher, for shining a light on critically important issues.

Mr. Fisher, founder and chairman of Fisher Investments, has been called out loudly for offensive comments he made at the Tiburon CEO Summit this week in San Francisco.

Alex Chalekian, CEO of Lake Avenue Financial, ignited the firestorm with a two-minute video on Twitter that has been viewed more than 134,000 times as of Friday morning. It set off an amazing amount of dialogue on social media and has been picked up by national news media.

Fellow Tiburon CEO Summit attendees Sonja Dreizler, a consultant, and Rachel Robasciotti of Robasciotti & Philipson confirmed Alex Chalekian's observations. Chip Roame, managing director of Tiburon Strategic Advisors, has since denounced Mr. Fisher's remarks and announced that he would not be invited back to the conference.

I was not there, so I cannot comment on any of the specifics, but they've been widely reported. His poor attempts at humor were offensive, made numerous people uncomfortable and, by many accounts, are in line with past remarks he's made at other events. Mr. Fisher later apologized for using language that "has no place in our industry."

While I applaud Mr. Chalekian for speaking out and calling attention to this specific incident, courageously violating the conference's media policy, I don't want to make this about vilifying Mr. Fisher.

In fact, I want to thank Mr. Fisher.

His comments have called attention to pervasive issues of sexism and exclusion that continue to plague the financial services industry, making women and minorities feel uncomfortable and ultimately denying us the diversity we need to thrive.

[More: Outcry over Ken Fisher comments could mark turning point for industry conferences]

For me, this issue is personal on several levels. I have a daughter who is about to enter the workforce, and I think about her attending industry conferences and whether they would make her feel comfortable and included, or marginalized and objectified.

I have a number of friends in the business who are turned off by long-standing industry conferences that still pack agendas with people who don't look or act like them. And this issue clearly goes beyond conferences and extends to our recruiting efforts, talent management and work environments.

My personal motivation at this point in my career is to be a positive force that helps grow the advice business and ensures we have enough advisers to help more people achieve financial wellness. There is a dramatic shortage of advisers in the U.S., barely able to keep up with the demand from traditional segments, let alone the millions not receiving any advice at all. The only way to fill that gap is to build a tent big and make it welcoming enough that we attract a diverse group of new advisers.

While we've made tremendous progress and I see many conference organizers working hard to create diverse speaker rosters, we still have a long, long way to go. Diversity isn't enough. We need to actively promote inclusion, think carefully about our words and actions, and recognize that humor that might have been condoned or tolerated in the past just doesn't cut it anymore.

[Recommended video: What advice industry needs to do as nation's diversity evolves]

We must work to ensure that in our words and actions we are creating a safe, welcoming environment for anyone and everyone, and go out of our way to actively seek out a diversity of opinions and input.

So thank you, Mr. Fisher, for shining a light on these critically important issues. The overwhelming amount of attention this has received gives me hope that we are at a turning point.

Gavin Spitzner is president of Wealth Consulting Partners.

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