Literacy

Narrowing The Black - White Wealth Gap

A Philadelphia Story

The net worth of a typical White family in the U.S. is $171,000, but it is only $17,150 for a typical Black family, according to a February 2020 report from the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

That nearly 10-fold chasm between Black and White wealth has long been evident to James Veal, president and CEO of JRV Wealth Management Group of Philadelphia, whose niche is providing financial advice geared toward the African American community.

James R Veal Headshot 1 Copy Copy copy removebg preview“I came up from humble beginnings, raised in a Philadelphia housing project,” Veal told Advisors Magazine in a recent interview. “I knew education was the way out, so I studied hard and went to college.”

He excelled at math and started out as an engineering major, but Veal ultimately decided on finance because he enjoyed business, collaborating with others, and had an entrepreneurial flair. He worked for several years as a Wall Street stockbroker, and in the predominantly White world of investment banking.

“A lot of people I had worked with didn’t look like me,” Veal recalled. “I was using my skills to make rich people become richer. So, I thought, African Americans need to know this stuff because we’re poor.”

Veal decided to leave Wall Street and returned to Philadelphia. Aiming to help others in the community, he initially worked at a bank. But his entrepreneurial spirit kept tugging at him and in 2008 – at a time of the worst economic environment since the Great Depression – he started his own financial practice.

Initially, Veal admits to taking on any client who had money to build the business. But he knew he needed a niche and made the decision to specialize in primarily serving African Americans.

Even more specifically, employees of the City of Philadelphia between the ages of 50 and 65, gravitated toward Veal. When he worked at the bank, he realized that this precise demographic needed the most financial help. Some didn’t even know how to write a check.

The firm’s mission, which still stands today, is to elevate financial literacy. Veal teaches his clients the power of money, and how to invest.

Financial education is the foundation, according to Veal. In fact, a person can glean a lot of knowledge just by visiting his website. Among the statistics shared there:

• Only one in 10 African Americans work with a financial advisor.
• The average 401(k) balance for African Americans is just $23,000.
• Less than 42% of African Americans own their homes compared to 73% of White families.

“Unfortunately, most people in America lack a lot of money management skills, but especially African Americans,” Veal said. “We’re last on every financial data poll that’s out there because of the lack of education.”

To address that challenge, some 20 years ago Veal launched a six-week adult learning course at Temple University. It’s called: “Sick and Tired of Being Broke.” It’s a class that starts with the basics, and also emphasizes the importance of saving.

“The Black community spends over $1.5 trillion, and a lot of it is going to junk, they’re not buying assets,” Veal said. “This is a problem in America as a whole, but the Black community is really in trouble. I see this every day.”

templ uniThe message from Veal is clear: Save or struggle in poverty. “You have to save,” he stresses. “That’s what we stress in our seminars: you’re going to retire in poverty or you’re going retire comfortably. If you don’t do these certain things, then you are at risk.”

For his existing clients, such as those employed by the City of Philadelphia and others, Veal recommends that each year they increase their retirement plan contribution by at least 1 percent. “It’s so important, but we have to push them to do this – and the only way to do that is to stop buying crap.”

Veal acknowledges that it’s a tough situation for many people, but he’s also upbeat and encouraged.

“The greatest skill in this business is helping people change their financial lives,” he said. And that doesn’t only apply to clients. People will spot Veal around town, stop him and tell him that he changed their life.

“I’ll ask them how, and they say it’s because of that class, ‘Sick and Tired of Being Broke.’ And that’s a beautiful thing,” Veal smiled.

Building off that course, Veal recently launched a new subscription service for younger people (under 50) who want ongoing advice. It helps keep them informed and to stay on track, after the initial six-week class, which went virtual during the pandemic.

It also represents a new revenue stream for JRV Wealth Management Group. Veal charges subscribers a certain amount each month to help them navigate or learn investments. Most recently the service has been conducted via Zoom calls, and Veal sees it as a strong growth opportunity.

For more information on JRV Wealth Management Group, visit: http://jrvwealth.com

 

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