In the run-up to the inaugural RIA Intel Awards in September, RIA Intel will publish Q&As and other short features highlighting the accomplishments of this year’s nominees and Rising Stars.
When Liv Gagnon cofounded Choir in January, 2022, she sought to increase diversity in finance through a specific strategy: Elevate the visibility of the many diverse people already working in the industry through the high-profile platforms of conferences and media. So far, more than 300 professionals have already signed the Choir Pledge, promising to only attend conferences that include women and people of color in key roles above specific minimum ratios and percentages. Named a Rising Star in the inaugural RIA Intel awards, Gagnon, 31, spoke with us about her inspiration for Choir and how her background in the music business has complemented her career. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
What is Choir's mission?
Our mission is to make conferences represent the world that we walk around in every day. Our goal is to lift the voices of women, non-binary people and people of color on stages all across financial services. Everywhere from the wealth management industry to banking to fintech, we strongly believe that having more representation on stage, and making it possible for our industry to see different voices and different perspectives, is vitally important to the future of our industry and how we innovate.
Why do you focus on conferences and media, rather than directly target hiring practices?
The finance industry is aware that there's a lack of diversity and representation throughout companies. There's a lack of retention, especially for women and women of color. You often hear about a pipeline problem and, well, we actually think it's not a pipeline problem – it's a listening problem. It's who we are positioning as the voice of leadership and innovation across finance. When you look at the two biggest platforms for those voices – conferences and media – they don't look like the industry we see. They often give you the same perspectives over and over, and that can keep you in a bubble.
The beauty of focusing on conferences and media are that conference speaker lineups are new every year, and journalists can reach out to a different source every day if they have the network in front of them. So it's the quickest way to really change who are presented on those platforms.
What drew you to this career?
Finance was the last industry I wanted to work in. After my first PR agency job in Nashville, I moved to New York and took a job in a financial PR firm just to pay rent. I figured I would only work there a short time, because when I thought about finance, I thought about old white men in suits, and it wasn't interesting to me.
But then I realized that there were so many stories in this industry about folks who are changing people's lives and communities, and I wanted to focus on those stories. So in 2018, I started my own company, Portaga, and worked with impact-driven companies led by women of color in finance who needed help with brand positioning and media positioning.
In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, reporters started asking, "Do you work with Black advisors or people of color that I could talk to?" And I realized just how little I had heard that request before, and how important it is to have those perspectives. So that really inspired the idea for Choir. I mentioned it to someone I admired, Sonya Dreizler, and she loved it. So we founded Choir earlier this year.
What's something about you that most people don't know?
I'm very musical. I went to college for audio engineering and music business. That's why I was in Nashville. And I play a number of instruments. That background helps me identify with a creative community and navigate how to interact with different types of people, and I definitely think that is helpful in my career.
The inaugural RIA Intel Awards is a celebration of financial advisors, wealth management firms, and industry leaders. Winners will be on announced on RIAIntel.com on September 14, 2022 and will be honored in-person at upcoming RIA Institute Forums.
Ron Geraci is a Senior Writer at Institutional Investor Thought Leadership Studio and based in New York City.