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  • Writer's pictureAndre Watson

Minority-owned financial advisory looks to triple AUM, close wealth gap for people of color

A minority-owned Philadelphia financial planning company is in rapid growth mode, looking to triple its assets under management in the next year as part of its mission to help close the wealth gap for people of color.

Zenith Wealth Partners has amassed almost $35 million in assets under management since launching four years ago and expects to surpass $100 million in the second half of 2024.

Zenith was founded by Jason Ray in 2019 with a goal of catering to women and people of color, populations that are historically underrepresented in finance and are most impacted by the wealth gap.

Ray, a Princeton University alum, got his start in the industry at Radnor-headquartered Lincoln Financial Group before going on to work at Philadelphia-based FS Investments and later Carnegie Wealth Management, where he worked with families with net worths of up to $10 million. Ray chose to set up Zenith in Philadelphia because of the city's large minority population. As of last July, Philadelphia had a nearly even split between white and Black or African American individuals, who comprised 44.6% and 43% of the population, respectively, according to census data.

"Founding Zenith in Philadelphia allows us to strategically position ourselves to serve diverse communities, leverage the city's economic potential, align with its commitment to diversity and inclusion, and fulfill a critical need for specialized wealth management services for women and people of color," Ray said.

Notably, Philadelphia has the sixth-highest income inequality in the country, according to 2020 data from the Economy League, with households of color making up a disproportionate segment of low-income brackets.

Chelsea Ransom-Cooper of Zenith Wealth Partners

In 2020, Ray brought on business partner Chelsea Ransom-Cooper to expand Zenith. A graduate of Syracuse University, Ransom-Cooper also has extensive industry experience. A certified financial planner, she worked in the wealth advisory space at New York firm BakerAvenue prior to Zenith.The two met while working in the ultra-high-net-worth space and didn't see many women or people of color among industry professionals or their clientele.

“We went to lunch together and we asked ourselves, do you have any women or people of color as clients? At the time I had a handful and Jason had the same, and we said, 'Well, how can we be more intentional about who we're giving advice to and how we're helping the next generation of wealth accumulators?'” Ransom-Cooper said.

Just 1.9% of certified financial planners in the U.S. are Black, 2.9% are Hispanic and 6.7% are Asian American or Pacific Islanders, according to data from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. The disparity isn't quite so bad for gender, but is still heavily skewed.

The board's data shows that just 23.4% of U.S. financial advisors are women.

As such, women and minorities who want to work with people of the samebackground struggle to find individuals that look like them. “[Potential clients] were looking for people that could understand and empathize with where they were coming from and potentially some of the financial traumas that they were having as well," said Ransom-Cooper.

Ray and Ransom-Cooper are trying to fill that gap with Zenith, which is headquartered at 2400 Market St. in Center City. The firm has eight employees and more than 200 clients, the majority of which are women and minorities.

The Zenith Wealth Partners team.

Building up its client base has required an intentional strategy since some people of color are apprehensive about investing. To build trust, over the past few years, leadership at Zenith has connected with Philadelphia-area institutions like Mom Your Business, which is focused on helping mothers grow their businesses, and Women’s Way, a nonprofit dedicated to gender and racial equity. Amid the height of the pandemic, Zenith also hosted workshops on investing and wealth building strategies and worked with local organizations to be part of their employee resource groups to provide relevant information.

Zenith also has a business arm that focuses on minority-owned companies. Zenith offers a range of services for business clients that include mapping out company finances, including revenue, cash flow and profits; financial projections; creating and implementing a business plan; general advisory; and investor sourcing. The latter fits with the company's overall wealth planning strategies, helping connect potential investors with businesses in need of financing.

“There's a growing population of investors and charitable organizations that want to invest alongside their values. And we've been able to really create a consortium of people that are hopefully going to move more in tandem as we continue to grow," Ray said.

The company currently works with clients across the U.S., with the majority concentrated locally.

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