Franco La Marca, Chase Vedrode, and Rick Sherwood, with Cecilia Brunetti 
From left, panelists at William Blair Pride Alliance – Out in Finance event Franco La Marca, Chase Vedrode, and Rick Sherwood, with moderator Cecilia Brunetti, a senior manager with William Blair. Not pictured, panelist Maria Zacapa-Reaves, who attended virtually.

William Blair hosted a discussion for financial professionals on how the finance industry can better serve LGBTQ+ clients and colleagues in partnership with Out in Finance, a network of LGBTQ+ professionals working in the Chicago financial services industry, on October 13.

In recognition of LGBTQ+ History Month, the event was held at William Blair headquarters and streamed live to virtual attendees. It featured a conversation with four expert wealth advisors who are Out in Finance members, sharing their wisdom in working with the LGBTQ+ community.

Panelists underscored the value of listening, being authentic, and learning more about the community’s history as key to developing successful client relationships.

“Our role is about listening, understanding what makes clients tick,” Franco La Marca, vice president and wealth advisor with Bernstein Private Wealth Management, told the group. “I think that’s the same if they are LGBTQ+ or if they are straight.”

But he emphasized that in working with the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important to recognize how societal laws and experiences impact their financial planning. For example, before the legalization of same-sex marriage there was a tremendous amount of estate planning needed to protect couples. Today, many of those couples are seeking financial planning around building families.

Investment Philosophy

Maria Zacapa-Reaves, associate vice president with Morgan Stanley, agreed with La Marca’s comments, emphasizing that the community is not monolithic. Each client has different goals, affluence, responsibilities, and concerns. Typically, clients discuss opening a donor-advised fund, starting a foundation, or making sure their children are taken care of. But she always asks each client: “What is your investment philosophy?”

“I want to get to what their values are,” Zacapa-Reaves said. “The one thing you don’t want to do is come in with your assumptions to the table.”

In addition to marriage equality, other historic events such as the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City have had a huge impact on the community.

“Sometimes I take for granted that living as an LGBT person I know about the AIDS epidemic, Stonewall, marriage equality because that’s my life; but if you aren’t part of the community you don’t,” said Rick Sherwood, client management leader at Willis Towers Watson. “Understanding some of those monumental things about the community and what drives your clients is an educational stance of how you’re listening.”

Chase Vedrode, a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual, added: “At the end of the day I think it’s just making somebody feel safe enough to tell you how they feel: ‘I like this or dislike that.’ That is the foundation of a healthy relationship and a healthy engagement with a client.”

Out in Finance Founded 2019

Panelists also shared their experiences of being members of the LGBTQ+ community while working in the financial services industry for a decade or more. All were encouraged by the growing acceptance of LGBTQ+s within the finance industry and business community.

This year also marked the two-year anniversary of Out in Finance, formed by finance professionals to unite individuals and drive LGBTQ+ inclusion and equality initiatives in the workplace and communities. William Blair’s Pride Alliance business resource group was founded in 2017 for LGBTQ+ colleagues and supporters to cultivate a supportive culture and elevate the firm’s profile with external stakeholders, clients, and prospective talent.

“I love the fact that people are feeling very strong about the fact that they want to be their whole self in their work, in their community and they’re not afraid anymore,” said La Marca. “They are taking a very strong stance and saying look—if you don’t want to do business with me because I’m gay, that’s OK.

“I think that sends a very strong message to the next generation that says look you can be a business leader, you can be in financial services, and also be out and proud at the same time.”