A survey by the CFP Board a few months ago found that less than 4% of planners are younger than 30 and more than 20% are older than 60. It’s obvious there will need to be a bigger influx of young advisors for our profession to thrive.
Some of the newest advisors joined the field this summer, when they graduated from school and got their first job. They have a great opportunity in a burgeoning field, but success is hardly a given. Here are eight suggestions for how these newbies can increase their chances of succeeding:
1. LISTEN AND LEARN
Receiving feedback and understanding a client’s planning issues is crucial to success. But discerning the fears and goals behind what a client says is essential to being effective.
Every client contact is an opportunity to learn. After explaining a concept or recommendation, ask if anything needs clarifying. Learning to ask the right questions and recognizing where things could be clearer makes for more insightful interactions.
A great way to gauge the effectiveness of your communication is whether or not the client is carrying through on your planning recommendations. When clients don’t follow your prescriptions, ask “Why?” and then allow them to explain. Their reasons may reveal more about their psychology, and you may discover that their hesitation may be something as simple as a fear of change.
2. REMAIN HUMBLE
While no advisor will ever make perfect recommendations for their clients or manage their staff flawlessly, you should still strive for perfection, while realizing you will never attain it. But you will get closer if you’re aware of your limitations and the areas you need to improve on. Recognizing this, you should seek out mentors and coaches who can help you sharpen your skills. A humble attitude will endear you to others and help you to be viewed as approachable.
You should regard it as a privilege to work with your clients on some of the most personal matters in their lives, and recognize the tremendous responsibility that this entails. No amount of training and certifications will give you all of the answers, so you need to know when to ask for help to ensure that your clients are receiving the best possible care. When you don’t know the answer to something, solicit the advice of advisors who have more experience in this regard.
3. INVEST IN YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Just like compound interest, the time and money spent on professional growth early in a career will reap great benefits later. Use your time outside of work to read professional books and articles, and to volunteer with professional organizations. If a designation will improve the advice you can offer to clients, pursue it — regardless of whether an employer reimburses the cost or not.
Investing in others will benefit you as well those you’re investing in. One way to be of great value and help the profession at large is to mentor a younger financial advisor or student. Guiding another advisor by engaging in discussions and brainstorming sessions forces both of you to assess what you know and believe about the profession, helping both of you to better understand what you need to do to advance your career.
4. EXPRESS GRATITUDE
Entering the profession at this time is an extraordinary opportunity. While challenges will persist, the foundation for professional success has already been laid: Financial planning career designations have been established, career paths forged and women, in particular, are gaining greater traction in a historically male-dominated field. Find a financial planner who has helped lay this foundation and thank him or thank her.
5. DON'T BE AFRAID TO BE YOURSELF
Knowing who you are and confidently expressing this to others is an important step toward success. It’s exhausting trying to project an image of what you believe others want you to be. Not only are you most likely wrong about other people’s expectations, you are being insincere and disrespectful to those you interact with. People can instinctively sense when someone is pretending, and even though they may not know precisely why, they feel a sense of discomfort.
6. EMBRACE CONTRARY THINKERS
Seek out financial advisors who think about things in a different way than you do. Look for those who have more experience, espouse different philosophies and are willing to share their ideas. Things are rarely as black and white as we like to think they are, and this exposure helps you to better define your own ideas about who and what you want to be going forward.
Exploring different ideas and goals is crucial to professional development. This profession is constantly changing and you never know when you will find yourself working within a different business model. Knowing why someone else might prefer that model helps inform your opinion going forward.
7. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
Step back and look at where you excel. What part of the financial planning process provides you with the most satisfaction? Our profession has room for everyone as long as they understand their strengths.
We ask our clients to be honest, and we aren’t afraid to ask them hard questions such as ‘Are you truly happy with your current career and job?’ And if they aren’t, we help them find a way to obtain what they truly want. We should be asking ourselves the same questions about our own lives. How can we identify with clients if we expect them to do things we haven’t even asked of ourselves?
Have you joined a broker-dealer when you wanted to work for an RIA? Are you putting off considering the next big career jump? What is it that you really want? Recognize that you have chosen to be in the position you’re in, but that you can also change it should you desire.
8. YOUTH ISN'T A DISADVANTAGE
Being new to the industry means you bring a fresh perspective — one that isn’t jaded. You don’t see the financial profession the way it’s always been, but the way it could be. Make sure to express these opinions in order to validate them, but also to shake up the status quo where needed. Most likely, your recent education and other experiences have exposed you to original ways of thinking. The best firms know how to tap into this to improve their business. This industry needs you to survive; make sure you give it your best.
My thanks to Hannah Moore, founder of Guiding Wealth Management in Dallas and the Dallas FPA NexGen chapter, for her collaboration on this piece.
Dave Grant, a Financial Planning columnist, is founder of Finance for Teachers, a planning firm, and Fee Only Consulting, in Cary, Ill. He is also the founder of NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for young, fee-only planners. Follow him on Twitter at @davegrant82.
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