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Diversity & Inclusion at HoyleCohen

by Mark Delfino

At HoyleCohen, we have a passion for service and strive to bring our collective best to our clients.  Delivering on this passion requires an environment in which each employee feels valued, included and empowered to share their voice and do their best work.  Our individual identities shape and influence our experiences and perspectives, and diversity and inclusion have always been at the core of who we are.  We strive to embrace uniqueness, promote equality, and practice inclusivity across various dimensions of gender, social, and cultural identities in the spirit of delivering trusted advice and excellent client service.

Recent events have caused us to take a deeper look at this ethos and how we apply it, beginning with a formal diversity and inclusion initiative to help us assess how we’re doing, and to help us advance further.  While we’ve made progress, there’s more work to do.  We are early in the process but some valuable observations and lessons have emerged that I would like to share.

Emerging Lessons

We have become a more diverse and inclusive place.  Going beneath the surface, two important observations have become clearer to me:

  • More Diversity & Inclusion = More Value. Becoming a more diverse and inclusive firm has had a big positive impact on our culture, our ability to attract talent and on the value we provide to clients and each other in more ways than I realized.
  • Meaningful Progress Requires Purposeful Intention. We have made the most meaningful progress when our efforts were purposeful, intentional and closely aligned with the firm’s mission and core values.


More Diversity & Inclusion = More Value

Embracing our diversity and striving for greater inclusion is helping us grow in more ways than I realized.  It is enabling a culture of constructive collaboration and teamwork among our staff and advisory teams. It encourages each staff member to offer and accept myriad views that expand our perspective while still allowing us to be decisive.  It makes it safe, and even encourages everyone – regardless of age, gender, race or role – to speak up with a valuable insight or unconventional view.  Simply put, it turns out we are at our best when every member of our team feels valued and empowered to share their voices and talents.

Placing a focus on diversity of thought and experience has also helped us attract extremely talented, like-minded people, some of whom may not otherwise have joined our profession or found our firm.  In some cases, these people have sought us out or been referred to us.  Collectively, their energy, perspective, expertise and wisdom have helped make us better trusted advisors and have enabled us to be a better home for even more clients.

Meaningful Progress Requires Purposeful Intention

We have always thought of ourselves as an open and accepting place to be.  However, the reality is that we looked a lot like a typical firm in our industry when I joined in 2007.  80% of our Advisors were men and 90% of our staff were white.  Although 60% of our staff were women, they primarily held support positions.  Soon after I became a part of HC, the founders and I decided to take an active step toward changing these statistics.  We agreed on the value of adding people with different perspectives and life experiences to our team, and specifically to our partnership.  This important but seemingly small step led us to Elisabeth Cullington, and thus put on a different trajectory with regard to our expertise in serving women clientele at HoyleCohen.  Many years later, I’m pleased to report that while our industry does not look much different than it did in 2007, we certainly do.

Our Focus on Women

To be clear, the experience of women has played a formative role at HoyleCohen since its inception.  As I said, 60% of our staff were women when I joined.  However, our progress began to accelerate after Elisabeth – a female business owner who had her own advisory firm at the time – joined us in 2008.  Soon after, Elisabeth caught the attention Janet Acheatel, a seasoned investment professional and recent Women of Valor recipient.  They subsequently launched a specialty practice within the firm focusing on the under served population of women professionals and women in transition. Elisabeth’s visible role also helped attract, among others, Vanessa Wieliczko to the firm.  Vanessa would advance to become our Director of Investments and the current San Diego CFA Society President.

As word got out and we continued to grow, we attracted more talented women to the firm.  Two female advisors looking to expand their practices in San Diego were referred to us by other financial advisory firms.  Another sought us out after working for years at another firm professing opportunity for her that never materialized.  In 2017, we acquired and merged with Libbie Agran Financial Services, an advisory firm based in Santa Monica founded by a woman with a professional history similar to Elisabeth.  Not surprisingly, 50% of the Libbie staff were women.

Fast Forward to Today

As of June 30, 2020, 60% of our staff are still women, but now nearly half of our advisors (47%) are women.  This compares to an average of only 15-20% of all financial advisors across our industry.  Half of our management team are women, including many department heads.  Most of our longest standing employees are women.  The net result is that we have closed the gender gap in pay.  This makes sense: women in our firm are now well represented, experienced, and play valuable roles in all aspects of the firm.  They had an opportunity to succeed and made the most of it.

Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Our female staff are not the only beneficiaries of the changing landscape of our firm.  They have helped advance our capabilities in ways that we would not have developed had we remained a more homogeneous firm.  Women in our firm have been large contributors to the firm’s overall growth, attracting a more diverse clientele and talent pool.  The end result is a virtuous cycle that indirectly benefits our staff and clients alike.  Despite our progress, we recognize there are still gaps.  But our biggest takeaway is that diversity of thought and experience means better results for everyone.

More Work to Do Elsewhere

Our progress with regards to racial diversity is in earlier stages.  Currently, those who identify as non-white make up 26% of our firm. This number is up from 10% in 2007 and 16% just five years ago.  This is higher than our industry’s average, but lower than the demographic mix of the communities where we are located. While our recent hires have increased the racial diversity in our firm, progress to date is less visible in our advisory and management ranks.  I expect this to change over time.

Staying Focused and Intentional

We recently launched a Diversity and Inclusion Committee (D&I).  The D&I will help ensure that we stay focused and intentional in our mission. It will help us educate our staff and hold us accountable for our results.    It’s early days but great ideas are flowing, some of which we’ve already implemented.  You can read the D&I’s draft charter here.  Feel free to offer your thoughts to our inaugural co-chairs, Robert Lopez and Kathy Siriwan, or to me directly.  We welcome your input.

* * * * * * * * *

I believe that we would still be a vibrant a firm today if we had chosen to stay on a more traditional path, consistent with many of our industry peers.  I am so glad we did not.  In 2008, we chose to take those first few steps out of our comfort zone and pointed ourselves a slightly different direction.  At that time, we had no idea this would start us on a journey that would eventually reshape our culture and firm.

I am proud of the firm we’ve become and am equally excited about the next phases of our journey.  As in 2008, I do not have a crystal ball and cannot predict where it will lead.  I am confident, however, that our firm will thrive and our clients will be best served by staff who spend their days in a diverse, inclusive environment that honors their varied voices and experiences. This commitment will allow us to attract the best talent, integrate a range of perspectives, encourage innovation, and ultimately, serve you better.

Embodying diversity and inclusion is much more than just the right thing to do.  As we are learning, when it’s done well, everybody wins.

Mark Delfino

CEO & Senior Managing Director


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