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Legendary investor John Rogers Jr. wants you to have this money conversation with your kids

March 7, 2021, 5:00 PM UTC

Before John W. Rogers Jr., the founder of Ariel Investments, was one of country’s preeminent investors and a pioneer in the Black business community, he was a preteen living in Hyde Park, on the South Side of Chicago. His dad, a former Tuskegee Airman turned Cook County judge, one day got into a conversation with a white lawyer. “Why doesn’t the African American community invest more in the stock market?” the lawyer wanted to know. “Your 12-year-old should know as much about investing as my 12-year-old.”

From that moment, the conversations around Rogers’ dinner table changed. Instead of toys, Rogers received stock certificates at holidays. He invested in the local utility company and General Motors, poring over the research newsletters his dad subscribed to. Their conversations veered toward portfolios and research and financial metrics. The best part: Rogers got to keep the dividends from his stock portfolio as spending money.

Rogers took a similar path with his own daughter and is on a mission to get more Black families involved in creating wealth through investing, as well as doing something far more basic: talking.

This week Ariel, in partnership with Schwab, released their annual survey of the financial habits of Black Americans. The findings, while showing glimmers of hope, reinforce how much of an investing disparity remains. “The deep-rooted gap in participation between the groups persists, with 55% of Black Americans and 71% of white Americans reporting stock market investments. This disparity, compounded over time, means that middle-class Black Americans will have less money saved for retirement and less wealth to pass on to the next generation than their white peers,” according to the survey.

Indeed, in 2020 Black investors reported their lowest overall participation rate in the stock market in the 20 years that Schwab and Ariel have been conducting this research. There were encouraging signs, however, among younger Black investors. Sixty-three percent of respondents under the age of 40 now are participating in the stock market, equal to their white counterparts. “The closing of this gap among younger investors is being driven by new investors,” the report shows, as “three times as many Black investors as white investors (15% vs. 5%) report having invested in the market for the first time in 2020.”

When it comes to 401(k) plans, just over half of Black and white survey respondents invest through one, but “white 401(k) plan participants invest 26% more per month toward their retirement accounts than Black 401(k) plan participants ($291 vs. $231).” This is one more trickle-down effect of the well-documented racial pay gap.

In a release, Ariel’s co-CEO and president Mellody Hobson added, “These differences are not new. Black Americans are disadvantaged from the outset when it comes to building wealth,” noting that 23% of Black Americans say they have inherited wealth versus 51% of white Americans. This stems from a legacy of discriminatory practices when it comes to housing, lending, and pay, many of which persist to this day. My colleague at Fortune, McKenna Moore, recently talked to Emily Flitter of the New York Times, who is working on a book about financial discrimination.

For Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, whose father, Charles Schwab, founded the namesake firm, the survey underscores how much work financial firms must do to build trust with the Black community and encourage financial literacy. When asked whether financial service providers were “trustworthy,” more than 70% of white and Black respondents said they were. But only 35% of Black investors feel they are treated with respect by financial institutions, versus 62% of white investors. “We as an industry have to build more trust with people who have not felt welcomed by financial institutions,” she says.

Both Ariel and Schwab have long invested in programs that encourage financial literacy among young people, something Schwab-Pomerantz believes that could be a “great equalizer” in our society. And Rogers is cheered by one statistic: While only 10% of Black Americans report talking about the stock market growing up, 37% do so now. It’s a lesson he hopes more parents will impart to their kids: Toys may be fun to unwrap, but dividends keep on giving.