Closing the wealth gap among a diverse workforce

A Q&A with Kai Walker, head of Inclusion Transformation, Bank of America

Photo of Kai Walker
Kai Walker

While the coronavirus has caused financial insecurity and hardship for millions of Americans, minority families have been hit especially hard. Among those who lost jobs, hours or income, more than 50% of Black adults and nearly 60% of Latino adults reported that their families used up most of their savings, pulled funds out of long-term savings accounts or increased their credit card debt.1

To help better understand the range of financial experiences and needs of the diverse communities in which we live and work, Workplace Insights™ sat down with Kai Walker, head of Inclusion Transformation at Bank of America. In this Q&A, Kai helps us take a closer look at financial wellness in the workplace through the lens of diversity and inclusion (D&I), and how we can work together to help improve financial outcomes for all.

Workplace Insights (WI): Many employees rely on the benefits provided by their employers to help them on their financial journeys and prepare for retirement. What should plan sponsors consider when delivering these benefits to a diverse workforce?

Kai Walker (KW): Participation in an employer-sponsored retirement plan is perhaps one of the most important things people can do to help secure enough money to live well in retirement. But even when people have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, there are different levels of participation across a diverse employee population. About 60% of White and 54% of other employees participate in a retirement plan—compared to 45% of Black and 34% of Hispanic employees.2

Many of our clients recognize this disparity and are committed to helping close the retirement wealth gap. In fact, collaborating with our clients to achieve this goal is a focus of the inclusion transformation work I am now leading at Bank of America.

WI: Can you elaborate on what that you mean by “inclusion transformation” and what this work entails?

KW: Diversity and inclusion are certainly not new at Bank of America. It is one of the core values of our company, and we continue to actively encourage and support diversity and inclusion across our organization and within our communities. And, by creating a new leadership focus for inclusion transformation within our Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions organization, we are working to expand our understanding of the financial experiences and needs of our diverse communities and then strategically applying those insights to improve our workplace products and services as well as how we deliver them to employees.

Essentially, our work is driven by three primary goals:

  • Drive internal culture of inclusiveness. Not only is continuing to cultivate an internal culture of inclusiveness a priority for our organization, but it can also help us bring a common perspective and understanding to our work as we strive to assist our clients in engaging with diverse employee segments in a more relevant and meaningful way.
  • Inform workplace programs. This work will help guide the development and enhancement of our products and services with a deep set of insights and data that uncovers how gender, race, sexual identity and cultural heritage shape financial experiences and priorities. We’ll use these insights to better equip our clients in generating better financial outcomes.
  • Collaborate and integrate initiatives. We’re coordinating efforts across our enterprise and collaborating with plan sponsors and other industry partners to collectively deliver on behalf of our diverse clients and communities.

WI: How are plan sponsors involved?

KW: We are working with many of our clients to advance our mutual goals and to learn more about the needs of today’s diverse workplace and tailor programs to meet them. In addition, they have expressed interest in taking a more granular look at their own benefits programs to assess needs across employee segments in terms of ability to work toward financial wellness and plan for retirement. While we are still exploring how we can dig deeper into data at the plan level, there are other things plan sponsors can do. For example:

  • Review available research on diversity and inclusion to help inform workplace programs, such as Everybody Counts! Diversity & Inclusion Primer.
  • Evaluate the composition of their administrative committees toward providing a broader lens by which to examine their benefits programs.
  • Use targeted communications to help build the financial acumen of employees based on their needs, from day-to-day to more advanced knowledge and skills.

WI: While you have an ambitious agenda, can you point to any early successes?

KW: Yes, we have some big issues to tackle, but we have already made progress through valuable insights gained through some recent studies, and by taking inventory of our cultural communications to assess any gaps. Most of all, it’s been wonderful to see the outpouring of support and commitment from so many inside and outside our organization. Numerous volunteers across our organization are contributing beyond their normal job functions, thought leaders and professionals across the enterprise and industry are weighing in to help solve important issues, and our clients are engaged and active. It’s incumbent on all of us to try to help close the retirement wealth gap and everyone seems to be passionate about the success of this work.

Key takeaways

Watch a replay of our recent webcast, Workplace benefits: The importance of diversity and inclusion.

Read How diversity and inclusion contribute to success in the workplace for an overview of the benefits of D&I and actionable next steps.

Reach out to Kai to share insights regarding diversity and inclusion, your experiences and goals.

1 Source: “The Health Reform Monitoring Survey” for the first quarter of 2020. The survey was conducted between March 25 and April 10, and 74.5% of respondents completed the survey by March 31.

2 Source: “Disparities in Wealth by Race and Ethnicity in the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances,” FEDS Notes. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, September 28, 2020.