Breckinridge Capital Advisors partners with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to increase the number of Black persons who enter asset management and finance. Specifically, Breckinridge is an active partner in the UNCF Lighted Pathways Scholarship & Internship Program. Breckinridge and its employees offer coaching and internship opportunities as well as financial support to UNCF and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Recently, Diego Aviles, UNCF’s vice president, Development, Northeast Division, and Dominica Ribeiro, chief marketing officer at Breckinridge, discussed the partnership.
Dominica Ribeiro: Diego, let’s start with some background about UNCF, HBCUs and Lighted Pathways.
Diego Aviles: Sure. UNCF enables more than 60,000 students of color to attend college each year by awarding more than 10,000 scholarships and internships and helping support its 37-member private historically Black colleges and universities. Data shows that African Americans are severely underrepresented in financial services, especially in asset or investment management. Consider that 88 percent of senior fund managers are white persons. In positions such as analysts and associate managers, 70 percent are white persons. Black women and men represent less than 6 percent of employees in these positions.
Now, think about these two facts. First, asset management is a well-paying industry. Compensation is critical when we think about employment opportunities that can close wealth gaps in our society. Second, asset managers are increasing their efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) but they have a steep climb ahead.
That’s where UNCF’s Asset Management and Finance Lighted Pathways Scholarship & Internship Program comes in. This effort will create an intentional curated pathway for students from HBCUs and other institutions of higher learning who can potentially benefit themselves as well as their communities through entering the asset management and finance professions.
DR: The recent increased focus in the Northeast is a purposeful decision, right?
DA: Definitely it is, Dominica. It is critical that this pilot program be successful as we hope to roll it out in other parts of the country. There is a uniquely concentrated and vibrant Asset Management & Finance sector in Boston, throughout Massachusetts and New England. An intentional goal of the effort is to ensure that more HBCU students consider the New England area as a place to live, work, and thrive. We believe it is critical to establish a cohort model for student support and encouragement through this Lighted Pathways program that ultimately can benefit African American students throughout the country.
That is why Breckinridge and the 30 other companies in the Boston asset management industry that have partnered with Lighted Pathways are absolutely essential to achieving the goal.
Now, let me turn the conversation around and ask you, about Breckinridge’s partnership with Lighted Pathways. How and why did that happen?
DR: As you mention, like others in our industry, Breckinridge is working to meet our company DEI goals. In recent years, programmatic and policy initiatives are moving us to increase representation of women and persons of color in our workforce.
Breckinridge’s co-head of research, Nick Elfner, brought the Lighted Pathways Program to our attention. Our Sustainability Committee and the Executive Committee supported our involvement.
I am a member of both of committees. I can say that the level of interest in UNCF and Lighted Pathways was high among all of the members.
This year we are excited to be hosting an intern who will join us for three-months in our marketing department. Personally, I am excited for our intern to participate in our marketing efforts and, given the opportunity, have the opportunity to mentor her and introduce her to my network.
In addition, Breckinridge is providing scholarship funding.
DA: For 2022, there were 113 summer internship applications submitted across the program.
It is interesting that Breckinridge will have an intern working on financial marketing. People might assume that asset management and finance is looking only for people with math aptitude. There are roles for many talented people. UNCF recruits science, math, and engineering students but we also seek people interested in marketing, human resources, administration, portfolio management, trading, and risk management.
What was the intern selection process like from the employer’s perspective?
DR: Lighted Pathways includes coaching and interviews to match the right students with the right opportunities. From start to finish, it provides an onramp to our industry for those students.
Our employees reviewed applications and participated in the mentorship program to work with students to strengthen their resumes as well as their interview skills and strategies. Interest among our employees in coaching was more than ample to match with the students interested in internships.
UNCF also offers a continuing education program attended by HBCU students who are interested in a career in asset management and finance. Students attend sessions to learn more about working in the industry.
DA: That’s right, and I would add the UNCF’s Student Leadership Conference, which the interns will attend to develop skills to thrive as an intern or early career professional.
Another important component is providing these HBCU students with the essential components of community by hosting monthly “Community Connection Webinars” with African American social, cultural, educational, and faith entities. That includes host monthly “Community Connection Webinars” with essential African American centers of community.
DR: The commitment to success among partners in the Pathways program is significant from a human resources perspective.
There is a financial commitment that the partners make to the program as well.
DA: Yes, the scholarship program is an enabling factor for HBCU students. For many Pathway students, that financial aid is the difference between going to college or not. Scholarships also enable students to continue in a master’s program or embrace entrepreneurship because they are not burdened with servicing enormous student loan debt.
DR: More broadly, do you have any closing thoughts?
DA: I would think of comments from Robert Smith, the philanthropist, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, who said, I am paraphrasing, that UNCF, HBCUs and programs like Pathways are building the infrastructure that provide the bridges to opportunities.
In talking about a culture of inclusivity, we are building systemic solutions that ensure salaries and opportunity sets are equitable. We are moving beyond reducing unconscious bias philosophically to conscious inclusion in workplaces. And we are doing this by offering continuing education that is essential to career building.
It is about life-long learning. As UNCF’s motto says: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in.®” We believe Lighted Pathways, UNCF, and HBCUs are essential elements of that effort, and we are grateful for the investment of Breckinridge and our other partners.
DR: I couldn’t agree more. Thanks, Diego, for taking the time to talk about UNCF’s Lighted Pathways Program today.
The opinions and views expressed are those of Breckinridge Capital Advisors or UNCF. They are current as of the date(s) indicated but are subject to change without notice.