After more than 50 years as a financial advisor, LeCount Davis has helped numerous clients tackle their financial problems. He’s still at it.

“I’ll be talking later today with a client who is 95 years old,” says Davis, 84, who became the first Black certified financial planner in 1978, six years after the first CFPs were minted.

He remains passionate about his clients and the profession, striving to help more Black Americans become financial planners. Davis helped found the Association of African American Financial Advisors in 2001. This week, the CFP Board named a new scholarship program for aspiring Black certified financial planners after him. 

The program, which is the board’s latest effort to boost CFP diversity, will award up to $5,000 per student. It’s an important step in a profession that sorely lacks racial diversity. Less than 2% of the nation’s 92,000 CFPs are Black. 

Davis, who was born in Washington, D.C., graduated high school in 1954, the same year when the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools unconstitutional. He started his own firm in 1970, specializing in tax planning, small business management, and financial planning. Barron’s Advisor caught up with Davis, who reflected on his career, his profession, and the financial planning tips he’s picked up during his decades-long career.

Barron’s: You earned the CFP designation when the financial planning profession was still in its infancy. What motivated you to become a CFP?

LeCount Davis: I came from an impoverished neighborhood. People didn’t know about investing, but they knew they had to pay their taxes. So I went into accounting. That was kind of my entry. I wanted to help people. [Later,] I was doing research on personal finance, and that turned me to new possibilities … and how to do it in a more professional way.

When I got into financial planning, I knew I didn’t want to be a salesman. I’m a fee-only financial advisor. I don’t sell products. That’s not what I wanted to do. Our profession is one of trust, confidence, and performance. People can have trust in an advisor when they see them putting clients first.

You’re still an active financial planner today, right?

Yes, I still have a few clients. They’ve been with me for 40 years or more. Trust is very important, especially when you are dealing with first generation wealth. Some of them are elderly clients. I’ll be talking later today with a client who is 95 years old. These clients have been with me for a long time, and they’ve done well. I work with some of their children and grandchildren.

But I’m really in the process of bringing up my successor in my business. I’m not taking on new clients.

LeCount Davis

What have you learned from your decades of experience?

If you are going to help any group of people, you need to reach them before you can help them. You need to be able to relate to them. And you can’t buy that with money. You have to invest the time, and you have to be genuine. People can see that. 

I wish we could have a financial planning ministry. Not in the religious sense. But the average person does not know how to keep up with the changes that are taking place. Take inflation. People know they are having trouble paying their bills, for gas, for groceries. Financial planning wouldn’t eliminate the problem, but it would help them cope with it and deal with it when it happens again. It’s about preparing you for whatever situation you might deal with.

If you could give Americans one piece of financial advice, what would it be?

As far as investing is concerned, I would say that no one should invest in anything without a plan. And a plan has to be implemented. Without implementation, it’s nothing but paper. 

There are people who make a lot of money, but when it comes to [the decumulation phase of life], they don’t have a plan. They lose some of the money that they’ve accumulated, and when it comes to leaving some for the next generation, there’s nothing left. 

Financial planning can help you, but you have got to start early.

Last thing I’ll tell you: You don’t bet on the horse, you bet on the jockey. Good jockeys don’t ride bad horses. So if you pick a good financial planner, you don’t have to be concerned about the implementation of the plan. They’ll make sure of it.

What do you think about the new CFP Board scholarship? 

This is a big deal. I know the importance of seeing people that look like you; you can see a road that can be traveled. My mission is to prepare the next generation of African American advisors. This fits right in with it.

What can the industry do better to encourage Black talent to join the profession?

One of the things they can do, and it’s part of my campaign, is that every time you see a negative statement, you need something positive to offset the negative. You also need to understand the people and the culture of the people you are trying to reach. Too often, those of us in the industry talk like ourselves rather than those that we are trying to reach. We have to meet people where they are, emotionally as well as physically. 

Is part of the solution also making young people more aware of what financial planning is?

Exactly. And let them know how it can benefit them. If you mention financial planning to people, they think it’s just investing or insurance. It’s all that but more. It’s what I call the big three: goals and objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance. Everything fits into those three.

What advice do you have for young financial planners today?

When I first started I would tell clients that investing is a long-term proposition. You have to do certain things, certain ways in order to have success. It’s the same for financial planners.

They go from getting their degree to starting work, and they want to be the biggest earners in the industry because they see it when they go to the office where someone [more senior] may be making hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But you have to realize that this is a long term investment. You have to learn the ropes. You’re not going to have the same income as someone making half a million or a million per year. And if you don’t set yourself goals and a plan, you can feel like a failure.

What are your retirement plans, if any?

My wife and I are thrifty people. We try to live the type of life I tell my clients to live. We have positive cash flow, an emergency fund, and I’m fortunate to be in a position where I don’t have financial problems. We have a budget, even in retirement, or semi-retirement for me. If it takes years to buy something that isn’t a house or a car, then you can’t afford it and you can do without it.

I have a successor for my practice, a younger woman who is a CPA and CFP, and I’ve started introducing her to my clients. If they feel comfortable, I am transferring some of the work to her, especially the tax planning. I have two other people that I refer some clients to as well.

In your autobiography, you write that you grew up in a community that was “spiritually rich, but financially poor.” What did you mean by that?

It took me a while to appreciate that, but that’s the way my neighborhood was. Few people had graduated from high school. They lived by their faith. They believed that God would take care of them, see them through dark days. But when it came to the basics of life–housing, food, and forget about medical care, that didn’t even exist. We didn’t have any money and sometimes we couldn’t take care of things like food. We had a grocery store, not a supermarket, which would give my father credit to buy food. He was a day laborer.

[But] we respected the elderly. Ministers were important in the community. Same with school. Parents wanted to make sure their kids took advantage of it. When I graduated high school, they were so enamored with how I was improving myself. I had to succeed because I was not just representing myself, I was representing my family and the whole neighborhood.

It sounds like you were really supported by your community growing up.

You’ve heard that it takes a village? It’s true in my case. I was lucky that I had a lot of people who looked out for me. My teachers were really important. When I was in the third grade, I almost died because a kid hit me in the head with a rock. I almost bled to death. The hospital near the school wasn’t taking Blacks. But my teacher, who had brought me, insisted. So they patched me up, and then sent me to another hospital that took Blacks. The doctor there said if I had arrived 20 minutes later, I would’ve bled to death.

If you don’t mind my asking, you have an unusual first name. What was its origin?

I’m named after the doctor who delivered me. My grandmother never accepted the name. She never once called me LeCount. She called me Hezekiah. It’s a biblical name. I think she thought I’d be something special.

Thanks LeCount.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Write to Andrew Welsch at andrew.welsch@barrons.com

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