Industry Trends

Random Thoughts: Diversity and Inclusion


I once had the opportunity to shadow members of City Year, a volunteer program of AmeriCorps that assists students in high poverty communities. That day, they were working with kids at an elementary school in Boston, and I got witness some of their “secret sauce” in the making. 

Looking at the City Year group, I noticed it was a mix of age, race and gender, but I was curious to know if that was by intent or coincidence. I learned it was very much intentional – City Year firmly believes diversity allows for an inclusive mindset, which will give the kids they work with a more rounded experience.  

While it may not be as apparent as seeing a collection young adults working with kids in a classroom, building a diverse corporate team and establishing an inclusive culture is key to a healthy and successful business environment. To do so, it’s imperative that we build a team of talented individuals that bring a range of thoughts, ideas and experiences to the table.

How can we expect to provide a quality experience for our customer base if our own people are not as diverse as the customers we serve? But diversity is not enough. City Year’s structure allows those diverse voices to be heard, giving people the forum to express their ideas and the support to bring them to life. 

Shirley Engelmeier, CEO and Founder of InclusionINC, so richly stated, "Inclusion means being open to every employee's ideas, knowledge, perspectives, approaches and styles. It's about engaging employees so they become active contributors by feeding the organization with great ideas. Companies that are proactive about intentionally harvesting as many diverse viewpoints as possible can then inherently derive innovation out of inclusion." 

Here are a few simple ideas that may help you build a diverse team and inclusive structure.

Leave your ego behind – Old school hierarchical systems, where one person sets the strategy, makes all the key decisions, and builds a team around him or her to “make it happen,” are the antithesis to diversity of thought. Part of being a strong leader is being open to having people on your team who are smarter than you, and trusting that your experience and wisdom will help shape them and build a better team. Ted Williams, arguably the best hitter of all time, was a terrible manager because at 50 years old, he still thought he was a better hitter than the players he was coaching.

Facilitate, don’t direct – As someone who really enjoys the strategy side of the business, it’s very hard for me not to want to problem solve and present my findings to others. Especially when big change is happening, it’s critical to help others get to the solution at their own pace. Otherwise, it will be hard for them to own it – the solve will always be “Bob’s” instead theirs or ours. A few years ago, my wife Suzanne and I were redoing the kitchen. As a planner, she did most of the work with contactors and one day wanted to show me the options she’d researched for a new kitchen sink. She laid out a number of brochures and was ready to walk me through her pro/con list when I, as the solver, scanned the list of 20 options in 5 seconds, and proclaimed with great certainty, “That one!” When I looked up and saw her face, I knew I screwed up. Next time you’re the most senior person in a planning session, try stepping back to be the facilitator and scribe to see if the rest of the group can take ownership of the session.

Open your door – Whether it’s a physical door or a virtual means of receiving input, make sure your team knows anyone can approach you at any time about anything. At various times, I have carved out specific hours in my week so folks know they can stop by and talk. Other avenues, such as blogs or walking around, can also open the lines of communication. For me, the give and take is the key. If the folks providing the input don’t know you’re listening, then just opening the lines won’t work. I’ve found you don’t have to put every idea or comment into practice. Letting someone know they’ve been heard by providing feedback can be very impactful.

The power of “Why?” – There’s a learning curve in every business. Traditionally, the most senior people in the org have the most knowledge, but I’ve found real value in being the “2 year old kid” asking, “Why?” So much of our key business knowledge lies with members of the team at all levels. Being open to learning from ALL of them, and not just folks at your level or above, can make a great difference in how the people on the team see the value of their roles.

Get out of the office – It’s very easy to get sucked in to coming to the same office every day, talking to the same folks about the same things. I’ve found great value in breaking out of that mode to experience life outside those walls on a regular basis. It may mean just working from home every once in a while or heading to Starbucks for a few hours of quiet time. Spending time with customers is also a great way to make sure the strategies you’re trying to employ will have the desired effect. While not all of our roles afford us the ability to travel, we can all pick up the phone and talk to an advisor or distant colleague bounce around a few ideas. You can also get a taste of other ideas by networking outside our industry, volunteering, or just reading a book or magazine. However you pursue it, putting yourself in the customer’s shoes can help the quality of your decision making.

The Conversational Advisor: You mean I have to talk on social media?


Social media is a communication mecca. Whether you’re introvert or extrovert, it’s is the line drawn in the sand that makes both communication styles equal. For financial advisors, this is both exciting and overwhelming at the same time.

It tickles me when advisors ask, “You mean I have to talk on social media?”  The mere definition of the word “advisor” is centered around education. Advisors are educators who are responsible for advising their students (clients) on financial matters. This is done through communication, and guess what? Yep, that means you have to talk.

Advisors have already been exposed to the informational part of social media. Many know they can research their clients on LinkedIn, connect with them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter even, but then there is the talking part. Paralysis sets in for lots of assumed and sometimes unverified reasons:

  • “Compliance said I can’t do social media.” (Maybe … more often it’s how you talk and what you talk about, not that you’re actually talking.)
  • “This social media stuff is so overwhelming. I just can’t do it.” (It can be … I have a solution for this.)
  • “Why on Earth would a client want to tweet me? I have nothing interesting to say.” (Possibly … I can show you how to fix this, too.)

What clients want is a conversational advisor, but they want you to talk to them in a genuine, human way. They are hungry for us to be real, not the guy in the suit spouting off life insurance stats or the gal behind the desk reminding them to buy a disability income policy for paycheck protection. Contrary to what we believe, in the financial services community (this includes me – I’m in the boat with ya) nobody really wants to talk about financial services at all. I know, it’s a real buzz-kill.

So why do some advisors do so well in social media, and others are OK at best? In a world of complicated financial jargon, the conversational advisors break it all down and talk to a client just like they would in their office or at a client meeting. Conversational advisors talk about things like:

  • The recent volunteer work their employees did in the community
  • The local university’s football team and the awesome game they played over the weekend
  • Their client’s upcoming vacation or their child who recently graduated from high school

The conversational advisor is engaging, empowered with unsolicited data received during client communications and is quickly becoming the thought-leader in their targeted audience group. It’s all from one simple marketing strategy: talking. Activity begets activity in the social space. Reach out and talk to someone!

Like you, I’m a financial advisor, too. I don’t have time in my crazy schedule to receive a checklist of the top five things I can do on LinkedIn or the seven ways I can use Twitter. Tell me one thing, today, that will change the way I reach customers. Being an advisor means I’m an educator, so I leave every article with one thing any advisor can do right now to be a better version of themselves. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you get out and start connecting with your audience.

Actionable Education: What one article/topic/update will you be communicating to your clients this week to be a conversational advisor?



Psoriasis Awareness: What you need to know for underwriting


Every August, the National Psoriasis Foundation sponsors National Psoriasis Awareness Month.  

We’ve certainly come a long way from the ignorance of biblical times, when the condition resulted in social isolation and indignant treatment options, such as urine or pine tar. Today, awareness has considerably improved with advancements in treatment options and increased social acceptance by understanding that the condition is NOT contagious. 

Psoriasis is a disease of the immune system that manifests itself with patches of rough and reddened skin. Even though there are multiple types of psoriasis, people typically have only one type at a time. It can be described as mild when less than 3 percent of the body is affected, moderate for 3 percent to 10 percent and severe when greater than 10 percent is affected. If you have psoriasis, it’s possible someone in your family may have had it as well, as there does appear to be a genetic link. There are also certain environmental factors that can trigger the disease, including stress, infection or injury to the skin, or certain medications. 

Approximately one-third of people diagnosed with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory arthritis that targets the joints, resulting in painful swelling and stiffness which may lead to generalized fatigue. The prognosis is often better for psoriatic arthritis then for rheumatoid arthritis. Early diagnosis and treatment of mild forms help reduce the potential for long-term damage.  

Ultimately, there’s no cure for psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, making the focus on controlling symptoms and inflammation critical. Treatment options typically include one of three categories, depending on severity. Topical treatments are least invasive. Phototherapy (or light therapy) uses special lamps that shine UV rays onto your affected areas. Systemic treatment options can be taken orally or by injection. Finally, there is Biologics. This is an advanced treatment taken by injection or infusion that targets and helps to block specific parts of the immune system. 

Underwriting psoriasis for life insurance is relatively simple – you need to consider:  

  • Duration of diagnosis
  • Severity of condition, with consideration for any current or past associated arthropathy (psoriatic arthritis)
  • Type of treatment/medication(s), length of treatment
  • Stability, impact on daily living (if any) 

Many times, clients with psoriasis and even psoriatic arthritis can be considered for as good as a preferred rating if their condition is mild, localized and treated only topically. Even individuals being treated for moderate to severe psoriasis are still insurable. Your Ash underwriting team is happy to help you through the process!



Psoriasis underwriting