There’s an ease to receiving advice from someone sitting across the desk from you who knows where you’re coming from. Maybe they grew up in a similar setting to your own; maybe their financial learning curve took the same shape as yours. Maybe you learn all this not in the advisor’s office, but chatting as you leave church on Sunday.
When clients come to expect a feeling of commonality, it would be a shock to the system to leave them in the hands of an unrelatable stranger. As Rondol Davidson, LUTCF, CLU, a 34-year MDRT member from Greensboro, North Carolina, USA, set plans in motion to retire, he wanted what his clients wanted: someone he could relate to. It wasn’t a quick search, but Davidson eventually found a younger advisor who would take over his clients in Nick Miles, a 28-year-old wealth manager (who’s working toward MDRT membership). Like Davidson, Miles grew up in the rural Greensboro area and played high school and college football. And both started at an insurance company before going independent.
Taking the time to find the right replacement was crucial to Davidson, who holds his roots and community close — acknowledging them as the foundation to his success and his reasons for staying self-aware.
“You have to remain humble,” Davidson said. “Sometimes, if people feel like you’re too successful or you don’t really fit the community anymore, they’ll sense that if you flaunt it.
“But yet, quietly, you have that sense of success that just permeates from you. Clients in the community, and also the centers of influence in your community, will welcome you into their world. That’s probably one of the major factors for my successful career.”
Least likely to succeed
Some advisors grow up with a family member in the profession, or they watched their own parents invest and save for the future. Davidson’s childhood, on the other hand, didn’t lend itself to financial literacy. He said his family was “moderately poor” as he grew up, with seven people living in a four-room house without indoor plumbing.
“We’re a tight-knit family, but regarding finances, we were just not taught,” he said. Even after he earned his business degree, Davidson still wasn’t comfortable presenting financial ideas and strategies. “I was rather weak in those areas, because I’d never actually been involved with or been taught, personally. I was not investing myself at the time. All my money just went into a bank. That’s all I knew.”
If Davidson was going to become financially literate, he needed to seek the education that didn’t happen at home. He began investing a small amount per month in a mutual fund. About a year later, he saw the returns were far more than what he was getting by putting money in the bank.
At that time, he was a registered financial advisor, but he hadn’t shared that status with his insurance clients because he wasn’t yet comfortable speaking the language. But now that he’d made investments of his own, he was excited to disclose how clients, too, could benefit.
“Many African American people in our community, who I consider underserved, did not know that you didn’t need to have a lot of money to start an investment,” Davidson said. “I began to teach and help a lot of my life insurance clients to start monthly deposits into mutual funds. As time went on, those contributions increased as more believers picked up — and then I began to get more and more referrals.”
Davidson was soon known around the community for his financial expertise. One longtime client commented on his retirement announcement on LinkedIn that Davidson had “truly set the bar for investing for African Americans.” The former client recalled her mother encouraging her to reach out to Davidson when she just began her career — a recommendation that had come through a senior pastor at her mother’s church.
Finding a successor
After decades of helping his clients plan for the future, it became clear to Davidson that he needed to find a successor and prepare for what came next in his own life.
“I knew that my clients would not appreciate my lack of planning,” Davidson said. He began his search, initially looking for a junior advisor “who would look like me and have really good potential, really sound principles of trust — and preferably one who would be interested in getting their Certified Financial Planner designation, or already have one.” But after searching for three years, Davidson wasn’t having any luck.
He then learned about a broker-dealer with a diversity and inclusion team. Although he wasn’t interested in changing broker-dealers, not wanting to put his clients through a big transition before he retired, he felt the switch would benefit his clients in the end — largely because of the firm’s successor matching program.
Davidson met his successor, Johnny Rutledge, on a golf course. Miles was an advisor with Rutledge's firm in Charlotte, and he had always wanted to open up an office in Greensboro, closer to his roots. Rutledge acquired Davidson's practice, and Miles — a young Black CFP — took over the management of his book. Davidson joined the team as a consultant to aid in the success of the transition, where he has a front-row view of his growing legacy.
Davidson said it was important for him to find a Black successor because about 70% of his clients are Black. He wanted them to continue with an advisor who understands his clients’ financial culture, but he also wanted to help guide a young advisor through the unique market.
“The failure rate of African American advisors is among the highest in the industry,” Davidson said. “Because, first of all, you have to know how to market to our community, and there’s nothing in print or in anyone’s training modules that teach you this. You have to really partner with another successful African American advisor who knows how to market, who understands the culture in our communities.”
According to Davidson, the marketing and education revolves around illustrating his point creatively: He puts numbers aside and tells a story. This is the exact skill he looks to pass on to other Black advisors — and why he continues to work as a consultant and educator, passing on the strategies he created to communicate with prospects.
Davidson’s ability to relate and connect with his community’s unique needs continues to make him an in-demand contact. Since retiring in April, he said he still gets regular referrals.
“I knew that would happen,” Davidson said. “That’s because I believe so much in my legacy.”