“My school was a predominantly white institution,” Bradley said. “I looked at my classmates and thought, ‘OK, you’re not smarter than me. So why am I on the bus and you all drive Maseratis? Then I realised: Ah! This is because their parents had wealth.
So she began to learn on her own what it would take to close the individual wealth gap between her and her peers. It started with library books. This led her to study finance at Georgetown and then to a master’s program at American University. After working as the Obama administration’s director of strategy at the Corporation for National and Community Service, she focused on entrepreneurship.
“But that was out of my own personal resolve,” Bradley said. “There was nothing magical or mystical about my peer group that was wealthy. They weren’t smarter, they weren’t better, they weren’t faster. It was access to information and access to social capital. And I was like, oh, if this is it, then I have this.
It also spurred her drive to make sure other people of color get it too. She founded 1863 Ventures, a Washington, D.C.-based accelerator program that aims to generate $100 billion in new wealth by and for black and brown entrepreneurs — what it calls the “New Majority.” She is also co-founder of Ureeka, which aims to give small and medium-sized businesses the tools they need to grow.
The need Bradley is striving to fill is real. Of the roughly $69 trillion in professionally managed wealth in the United States, 98.7% is managed by white male-owned businesses. You read that right: businesses owned by women and people of color control just 1.3% of that pie.
The reasons for this are complex and varied, but it starts with barriers to entry.
“It’s extremely expensive to start these businesses,” said Willian Huston, founder and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based wealth management and financial planning firm Bay Street Capital Holdings. Huston said that if he hadn’t been an entrepreneur who had already successfully started an offshore call center business, his venture capital firm “would have run out of money during the first one or two years. This can be prohibitively expensive.”
Even investors of color who enter the wealth management field face ongoing obstacles that prevent them from rising through the ranks.
“Even if you have a very competitive person of color or woman, she’s not able to grow that business because she’s not affected by big institutions,” Huston said.
The result is that the people at the table giving investment advice, from Fortune 500 companies to public sector agencies, are almost uniformly white males, and only they can compete and build those relationships. All others are locked out.
And that doesn’t just impede the advancement of black and brown investors and wealth managers. This makes it much less likely that existing investors will be able to help fund black and brown businesses and help them grow.
Bradley and Huston are among those trying to buck the tide by expanding the field of BIPOC (Black and Indigenous Peoples of Color) wealth managers — a move that would also help more entrepreneurs, organizations, community groups and other minority stakeholders to succeed.
This objective is “compatible with the fiduciary responsibility of our organizations”, according to Due Diligence 2.0. statement signed by dozens of companies in the investment management industry, including Huston’s.
The group has created a comprehensive list of recommendations that can get a bigger slice of the wealth pie into the hands of black and brown investors. For example, it may be more difficult for minority-led businesses to demonstrate a minimum history to manage large funds if they have had fewer opportunities to do so. Considering other factors — such as the amount of time individual investment managers have spent working collaboratively to assess a company’s stability — can help them attract investment and demonstrate their ability to succeed.
Like many solutions to the racial wealth gap, helping black and brown investors will help everyone else. Bradley sees this as the way forward.
“If people want to stay relevant as the majority of people in the population become people of color, for their own survival they have to make adjustments around race,” Bradley said. “As more and more people of color gain wealth, there is also a financial argument for businesses as to why they need to break some of these barriers.”