When Wesley Burns started his career at Northwestern Mutual a dozen years ago, he arrived at work each day with his face clean shaven, wearing a suit and tie.
It wasn’t simply a style choice. As a young, black financial planner (he earned his CFP when he was only 22), Burns recalls he was “hypersensitive” about the possibility of clients, prospects or colleagues finding any reason not to work with him.
“My white counterparts didn't always wear a suit,” he says. “[But] they wouldn't get looked down upon, and it wasn't always in their heads that there was that potential.”
Burns, along with and former college roommate Antoine Toussaint, left Northwestern in December after building a practice with $180 million in client assets. They credit the firm for its support network of fellow black financial professionals and allies as they broke into the field.
Now, the founders of Burns, Toussaint & Associates have set an even more ambitious goal of topping $1 billion in client assets over the next decade. To help them on their way, the Seattle-based practice switched their broker-dealer LPL Financial and a growing OSJ, The Financial Services Network, the No. 1 IBD said earlier this month.
Burns and Toussaint attended Seattle University together and later began combining their businesses in 2014. The practice has “a road ahead of us” now, Toussaint says. “We are still young. That was part of the reason we felt comfortable doing our own thing, because we know we're going to work hard.”
If the old friends, now partners, do crack $1 billion in client assets by their 40s, it will defy the industry’s stark racial disparities. Early career growth at that level just “doesn't happen in our demographic,” says Toussaint. Only 3.5% of CFPs are Hispanic or black, according to the CFP Board’s Center for Financial Planning.
Burns says he’s also eager for the opportunity to pass the business on to his kids someday, if they become interested in the profession.
“For me it goes back to legacy,” he says. “I want to leave a legacy, and to do that — being large and leaving something behind — it guides us. It's our North Star.”
Since September, The Financial Services Network has recruited three other teams with a combined $560 million in client assets. LPL’s headcount also expanded by a net 188 advisors to reach 16,349 in the third quarter, when it recruited practices with $8.7 billion in client assets.
Burns and Toussaint say the resources leveraged by LPL and the Sacramento, California-based OSJ — along with the ability to gain full ownership of their practice — set them apart from other suitors. Services like consulting on acquisitions, technology and other operational needs will help them boost their size “the right way” by freeing them up for clients, Toussaint says.
“What got us to $150 million, $200 million isn't going to get us to $1 billion,” he says. “We're going to put our heads down and continue doing what we know.”
Burns and Toussaint praise Northwestern as their entry point into the industry and for the valuable experiences with former colleagues they describe as being like family.
Northwestern spokeswoman Betsy Hoylman issued a statement confirming their departure. The firm “remains committed to recruiting, developing and retaining advisors interested in comprehensive planning that helps clients achieve financial security through insurance and investments,” Hoylman said.
The practice also includes Joleen Powell, a CFP who is director of planning and client servicing, and executive assistant Dajeanne Washington. The team switched affiliations to LPL and its corporate RIA on Dec. 9, according to FINRA BrokerCheck.
The two advisors cite additional goals of someday purchasing the building they operate out of and becoming the largest black-owned wealth management firm in their area.
With more than 300 advisors, their new OSJ is one of LPL’s largest enterprises. Financial Services Network also added an advisor with $160 million in client assets from Bank of Hawaii’s Bankoh Investment Services in December, an Avantax Wealth Management team with $200 million in October and a Royal Alliance Associates team with another $200 million in September.
“The Network is delighted to partner with Wesley and Antoine,” managing partner Daxs Stadjuhar said in a statement. “In addition to the valued services and advice they provide their clients, they have formally mentored and trained a community of young financial professionals coming into the industry to help develop the next generation of advisors.”