I’ve been a student of the personal financial services industry since I was seven years old. On the weekends, my father dragged me to his office to file statements and company bulletins. Obviously, going paperless wasn’t an option in the early nineties. At 41, he was a budding financial advisor with IDS American Express (AXP), which he joined in 1991. He was attracted to their focus on financial planning and not just selling financial products, although there was plenty of that as well.
I grew up watching my old man (he hates being called that) build a successful financial planning practice by utilizing the standard book-building tools of the day and a ton of hard work. Tapping personal networks, buying quality leads, organizing lunch events, leveraging corporate alliances and even the occasional cold calling were all viable options to bring prospects in the door and—with the help of a solid sales script—convert them into clients.
How nice it must have been to actually win at this classic numbers game. Most still think they can. But how many calls did you receive this month from a certain firm’s new hire asking if you need insurance or if you have time to grab a cup of coffee?
It’s time for the industry wake up. In this post-recession era the prevailing recruitment model—which asks young candidates to raise $10 million in client assets in a few years’ time—doesn’t work anymore. The model hardly worked in the first place, but it’s flat-out broken today and, by my count, it has been for at least a decade. It also appears I’m not the only one who has noticed.
The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, of which I serve as both a CFP® professional and an ambassador, recently launched its Center for Financial Planning to address some of the more concerning trends facing our industry. In addition to diversity issues, one such trend is, of course, the depleted pipeline of talent to replace its aging advisor workforce.
The Board knows its statistics very well. Perhaps most glaring is that there are more CFP® professionals over the age of 70 than under 30. And while The Board—with its Center—moves forward in the right direction, too many of the mainstay financial institutions appear not to be moving at all.
While they master how to work ‘in the business,’ managers or senior advisors then need to show their young talent how to work ‘on the business.’
From my perspective, the problem is clear: I’ve been alone in my professional journey for almost 12 years. Believe me, it’s a very small community of young advisors with veteran-like experience. By simply living through it, I’ve witnessed the industry suffocate itself due to a failed recruitment model. Moreover, this sets us up to be ill-equipped at handling next big wealth transfer from Baby Boomer parents to their Millennial children.
According to InvestmentNews, 66 percent of children fire their parents’ financial advisor after they receive an inheritance. Where I might be perfectly positioned to win, the industry could surely lose.
But I don’t want the industry to lose. I want to see it thrive. The need for talented financial advisors is greater than ever and the value that they can provide is substantial. But in order for that to happen, there clearly needs to be a major change to the way talent is recruited. As someone who had to figure it out for themselves, allow me to share a model that could replicate the success I’ve experienced. While this isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy (and for the purposes of the article it is overly simplified), this should provide a basic understanding of how things will need to happen in order for the industry to repair its talent shortage.
The starting point is for any recruit is to become engrained “in the business.” This means first learning and handling the various administrative and operational functions of an advisory practice or firm. Beginning here, we not only provide advisors-to-be with a solid foundation of how the industry operates from the inside, but, by removing the pressure to raise assets, we also provide an opportunity to provide a steady base salary. Moreover, starting off this way will expose recruits to all aspects of the business and provide a greater perspective when they are ready to service clients of their own in the future.
While they master how to work “in the business,” managers or senior advisors then need to show their young talent how to work “on the business.” This entails developing sales skills, product knowledge and—most importantly—their personal and professional networks, which will be critical to developing client relationships. For me, this meant putting myself through a top business school at night, which allowed me to continue building my practice while also meeting likeminded individuals and future clientele. In some cases, senior advisors can assign their clients to young advisors in an effort to generate their own efficiencies while also providing future advisors a leg up on developing their relationships.
I know all of this is easier said than done, given it would dramatically shift today’s business model—which is likely the reason why mainstay financial institutions aren’t in a hurry to implement changes. But bringing in the so-called “quick money” on the backs of large recruitment classes no longer delivers the sustained topline punch it once did. It’s no longer an effective long-term growth strategy as indicated by the very talent shortage we’ve been discussing. Therefore, a model like I suggest could, over the intermediate to long-term, breathe life back into a suffocating industry. Yes, the upfront costs will be higher, the change disruptive and the risk of losing new talent to something—or someone—else is very real, but the long-term benefits will be greater.
In summary, here’s where we stand: At the very best, personal finance will slowly replenish its ranks by shifting away from its broken recruitment paradigm. The “gather those assets quick” mentality needs to convert to one that adequately invests in the future advisor over a longer period of time. At the very worst, personal finance will be unable to cope with the aging and widening gap in its workforce, experiencing further disruption by advisors like me for years to come.
Now, how about that cup of coffee?
Douglas A. Boneparth is New York City’s Financial Advisor for Millennials, the CFP® Ambassador for New York and a partner at Longwave Financial, LLC, a New York City based wealth management firm. Follow him on Twitter: @dougboneparth.