Learning to Be an Adviser

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Industry-wide, financial planning practices are making the shift from tenured advisers to the next generation. With that transition comes the need to train next-gen advisers, but that can be daunting. It’s hard to get someone up to speed, especially when the experienced advisers doing the training barely remember what the process was like.

Everything seems to have changed since then. Back in the day, cold calling was the norm, and now it’s not. The industry is transforming. And the learning process (including the availability of technology-based learning), what clients need and the increasing emphasis on financial planning over somewhat commoditized investment management are pushing the financial planning arena into an entirely new landscape.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone build an adviser training system just for your firm? For larger firms, thanks to the gig economy, hiring an independent contractor to come in and build a program may be doable. But that option is likely beyond a solo or small, multi-adviser firm. What should you do instead? Start with the broad buckets of knowledge the incoming generation needs to absorb, and drill down from there.

The Tip of the Iceberg: Training Plan Components

Any training program should include the following key components:

  • Hard knowledge: At the very least, rising financial planners need training on investments, taxes, retirement planning, insurance and estate planning. They can start with the structured CFP® curriculum to attain the credential. Industry and insurance licenses support hard knowledge as well.
  • Soft skills: Equally critical is the ability to interact effectively with clients. Many young advisers compensate for their anxiety or a perceived lack of knowledge by talking too much. Tenured advisers know the skill of not talking. Young advisers need to learn that.
  • Business development skills: The most basic—and essential—skill of all is asking for an introduction to a potential client. Clueing the next generation in on this skill should be a requisite.

Generally speaking, you can find resources to address these needs from industry associations, wholesalers and third-party training vendors. Most advisers would agree, however, that this is just the beginning. The details have to be ironed out between tenured and next-gen advisers, with conversations about the unique aspects of their firm: its vision, values, client philosophy, ethics, compliance policies and procedures.

Best Practices: Content Vs. Format

In addition to the content your training program needs to cover, you should consider how that content will be presented and how learning will be evaluated. This is where the next generation’s learning styles and preferences make a difference in terms of the effectiveness of your training, which will require the following considerations:

  • Keep it short and sweet: Today’s young learners want to learn now in discreet snapshots compatible with a shorter attention span.
  • Motivate with fun incentives: Gamification, which employs game-design elements within learning, is expected and tends to have a positive effect on engaging learners.
  • Use a variety of techniques: Blending different forms of learning is optimal. Online training, classroom training, opportunities for groups of learners to address issues with peers and dialogue between younger advisers and tenured advisers are all parts of the training puzzle.
  • Make the most of resources: Formal training is worth seizing when available.

The Silver Bullet?

Successful firms of tomorrow will commit to developing training programs today. They may start out with an informal structure and lean a bit too heavily on some learn-as-you-go methods. But over time, firms will see that formality in training will attract and retain young advisers better than haphazard, on-the-job training attempts. I predict the industry will double down on training for new advisers in the future.

Still, training in and of itself is no silver bullet. Sometimes, individuals attempt to pursue a career for which they are ill suited, and no amount of training will make up for it. Experienced advisers serve their practices—and their trainees—when they guide the younger generation in the right direction, even if it’s a different path than the one they took. Ideally, we can all learn something in the end.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass.

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