Using the spotlight for good

Jon CohenAdvisor Jon Cohen has made an impact on his clients’ lives for over 35 years, helping them work toward their financial goals and their dreams. Now he’s setting his sights on making an impact as a Pride Financial Advisors Network councilperson as an ally, supporter and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.

We spoke with him about his inspiration to become the first ally to serve on the network’s leadership council – and what being an ally means to him.

Why were you interested in serving on the network council?

I’ve been a longtime ally. It started in childhood because I grew up with a gay uncle and a gay aunt. I spent a lot of formative years with them. They were outspoken advocates for the cause in the ‘70s, marching in the streets, before it was accepted. When I spent time with them, I would say, “They’re the same as everyone else. Why don’t people accept them?” They were in loving relationships, had great friends. They were artistic, creative and smart. I’ve always paid attention to the community because I had them in my life.

When it hit even closer to home was when my child, born a daughter, came to me and my wife saying she needed to tell us something very important. What she told us was that she is a nonbinary, trans male. This was quite shocking. The term nonbinary was not even something I ever heard or was aware of. I immediately Googled it. She was born Gabriella, and they are now Ian. They are a drummer in a band and all their friends call them they. So, for me, as a parent, being an ally is very important. It’s about helping the community thrive and be inclusive. And the parents have an impact, which is why I’ve become passionate about a charity that helps children who don’t have that support.

Tell us more about your charitable efforts.

One of the charities I work with is the Ali Forney Center in New York; I proudly serve on the board. It helps LGBTQ+ homeless youth by offering transitional housing for about 2,000 kids annually. These are kids, primarily between the ages of 16 and 25, who were kicked out of their houses for coming out to their parents. The Ali Forney Center gives them a place to stay, feeds them, gives them a community of support and love. They also have an education program that aims to prepare these children for being part of the workforce. Incredibly, this program has a 75% success rate of graduating from the program and beginning their own independent lives (versus an average of 25% success rate from homeless shelters).

How do you think the Pride Financial Advisors Network will be affected by having an ally as a councilmember?

This is an all-inclusive group, so me being on the council as an ally shows that allies matter. Being an ally, it’s not for me to tell them how to run their community. But speaking from an ally point of view, I want to have a lot of allies supporting the community. I still hear things from people outside the community that are discriminatory. And I might observe things differently than those who are part of the community. My goal is to have the majority of people in our firm publicly displaying that they are allies.

What are some ways allies can show their support?

In my email signature, it says Pride Financial Advisor Network with the flag. I tell clients and prospects that I’m a supporter, that I have a family member who’s part of the community and it’s important for me to show them support. By adding that to your signature line, it signals to the community that you understand them and their needs. I’m aware of how advising a client in a same-sex relationship might be distinct. Especially the trans community, many are afraid to go to doctors because they fear judgment. I think that same thing applies as a financial advisor. There may be clients who are reluctant to share that they are in the LGBTQ+ community for fear of being judged.

Why is it important for companies to help lead the way?

I’m going to give you my personal story. When I was in college, I thought I was going to work on Capitol Hill or be a professional baseball player. I watched the movie “Wall Street” and said, “Wow, I want to go work on Wall Street and make a lot of money.” But you realize pretty quickly that if you are in this business just for the purpose of making money, your career is going to be very short. You take notice that all the high-performing advisors across the firm aim to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Our opportunity to do that is financially, but it’s not about us making money. It’s about trying to help clients live their dreams, accomplish their goals and support their families. It boils down to doing the right thing.

The natural extension of this for the firm is doing the right thing for advisors and employees, which is creating an environment where people can thrive, live their best life possible and achieve their dreams – unfettered by discrimination. I think it’s important because it helps us do our jobs, knowing that there is a very strong backing by the firm. The top of the firm supports inclusion. I love working here because it says a lot about the people. If people are open-minded, inclusive and supportive of everybody living up to their potential and not afraid of expressing who they are, then we’re going to recruit the best people on the planet. All successful people in this business think that way; they think about improving others’ lives, not just the ones that look like you and talk like you.

“It’s about trying to help clients live their dreams, accomplish their goals and support their families. It boils down to doing the right thing.”

This piece was featured in Pride Perspectives, an annual newsletter from the Pride Financial Advisors Network. View the latest.

Follow along on social media with #RJPFAN.