Shaking up Wall Street from within, featuring Dana Wilson
Dana Wilson’s conviction in the power of her dreams and her talents has seen her break countless barriers. Now, she’s helping others do the same.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right.” And Dana Wilson knows she can.
Her vibrant confidence has carried her through every stage in her life, propelling her toward fresh challenges and inspiring her to reap opportunities along the way. Just one month before she graduated with her bachelor’s in marketing, for instance, she accepted a job at SunTrust doing “everything there was to do” in a bank. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t studied finance. She knew she could succeed if she set her mind to it, and succeed she did.
Fourteen years later, when Wilson was ready to become a full-time entrepreneur, she founded CHIP (Changing How Individuals Prosper), an online platform that allows clients to find a wide selection of Black and Latinx advising professionals – from traditional financial advisors to tax professionals, insurance experts and estate attorneys.
And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit around two months after CHIP launched, Wilson embraced the benefits of an increasingly remote world, determined to apply her financial expertise and her passion for marketing to champion CHIP.
Wilson’s ability to find opportunity in difficulty has made her a force to be reckoned with. One that’s shaking up Wall Street and opening doors for others like her.
Planting CHIP’s seeds
The seeds for what would eventually become CHIP were planted long before its 2020 launch.
It all started when Wilson left the banking side of SunTrust for its investment sector, where she helped manage a team of about 30 advisors.
“I think there was only one Caucasian woman on my team and I just thought, ‘Geez, where are the women and where are the people of color?’ I didn’t understand.
“I had also graduated from an HBCU (historically black college or university). So to not see myself reflected in that corporate environment was somewhat of a shock.”
Yearning to expand her horizons, Wilson left her role and joined forces with a State Farm agent seeking to launch a startup.
“We built out the business literally from the ground up. We were in a building with no heat, making cold calls. And that spark of entrepreneurship just stuck with me.”
Two years later, she waved goodbye to North Carolina, where she had attended college and started her career, for the bright lights of the New York metropolitan area to work as a financial advisor at larger wealth management firms.
By then, she was well-acquainted with the industry’s diversity deficit.
“I noticed how Black and brown clients always had these unicorn moments when they met me – a Black woman who was an advisor. For the first time, they felt like someone saw them and someone heard them. To me, that just spoke volumes.”
Bringing a dream to fruition
Wilson spent a number of years as an independent advisor, once again cultivating her entrepreneurial experience, before deciding to pour herself into CHIP. She announced the launch of her platform on Christmas Day 2019.
By March 2020, the world had been transformed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But rather than see the pandemic as a reason to postpone her dream, Wilson saw an opportunity.
“I think the pandemic gave us all time to refocus and shift to the things that matter to us, and to learn more about ourselves,” she said.
The pandemic also meant people, unable to connect in person, were spending more time online.
“Everyone was paying more attention to social media – Facebook, LinkedIn. So when we started sharing information about CHIP and reaching out to professionals, we began growing organically without needing to spend any money on marketing.”
Wilson’s determination to advocate for Black and brown communities through CHIP deepened even further following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 and the resulting social unrest.
“In that moment, I knew it was time to propel things forward.
“I felt I had to do this. I want to create something that allowed us to be seen as more than just the color of our skin and who the world has told us we are,” Wilson said, referencing stereotypes that claim people of color “don’t have any money” and how women – not just women of color – are continuously underrepresented in the financial realm, both professionally and as clients.
A catalyst for good
CHIP has allowed Wilson to use the lack of representation she experienced time and again as a catalyst for meaningful change. Change she hopes will ripple across the financial field.
“We’re moving toward a very global world,” she said. “I want CHIP to provide a safe place to learn about and change the conversation surrounding underrepresented individuals in this industry. Not just Black and Latinx, everyone – LGBTQ+, Asian-Pacific Islanders. There are so many cultures that are not seen and not heard.”
Wilson also hopes more financial firms start taking deliberate steps to diversify their workforce and open new doors for minorities.
“I’m hoping to see more companies go to HBCUs, go to two-year colleges, and talk to people there. It doesn’t always have to be the big name schools you hear about all the time.
“The goal is to get out of our own way and make a proactive effort to meet people where they are. As we’re doing that, we have to help them feel comfortable at the table or create a table for them.”
The key, Wilson said, is to make diversity and inclusion a collaborative effort that’s reflected from the associates of an institution to its leadership.
“We don’t just want to see representation within the advisor population, we also want to see it in the C-suite.
“If you want people to come into this industry and stay in this industry, they need to know there’s upward mobility. And how are you showing that if they can’t see themselves moving forward into those roles, and being those decision-makers who pave the way for more and more people?”
Two questions worth asking
As a successful entrepreneur, Wilson is well-versed in shrugging off self-doubt. She prefers to set her sights on the big picture.
“Sometimes, when you let the ball drop, the dream dies, and then the goal dies,” she said, emphasizing the importance of putting ambition over fears.
“I think it’s a skill to be able to put yourself and your vision and your dreams into the world regardless of whether they work out. Because whether or not they work out is not what matters most.
What matters most is you doing the thing that keeps you up at night – doing the thing that makes you happy.”
And on those tough days when stresses or growing pains seem to mount, there are two questions Wilson continuously comes back to: If you don’t do this, who will? And who’s going to do it the way you can?
This piece was featured in Aspire Magazine, a biannual publication from the Women Financial Advisors Network. View the latest.
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