Most advisors start their careers in a sink-or-swim environment. The new advisor and the firm have high hopes that the relationship will go swimmingly, but in reality a majority of new advisors sink. This must change: The profession needs a new training model that attracts and develops the next generation of advisors.
The continued success of the profession depends on it. The current population of advisors is relatively old and requires talent for transition and succession; successful advisors who are growing their practices need associates to segregate duties and segment clients.
But how do we re-imagine the development model? At my firm, Advisors Ahead, we propose looking no further than preparatory programs in the medical and legal fields. These professions have proven the value of a methodical, progressive education combined with practical experiences allowing increasing responsibility.
The model we propose is a structured path with three components.
Undergraduates begin with a finance-focused curriculum, and those who are highly motivated attain their CFP designation. Their campus curriculum is supplemented by distance learning programs delivering courses in emotional intelligence, a vital capability that helps students establish trust and build relationships with future clients. Instructors will also emphasize communication and listening skills. Self-awareness assessments will prepare students to serve clients' needs and help them develop consultative selling skills.
Students then gain practical experience through paid in-branch internships for 10 weeks during their junior-senior summer. This allows firms to observe candidates at work and participants to get genuine exposure to the career setting. The intern should maintain professional decorum, spend at least a third of his or her time completing a predefined set of sample tasks across all facets of the business, and observe veteran professionals with client-facing experiences.
Once candidates complete their undergraduate degree, they return to the profession for a transitional "residency" period as a step toward a permanent position. During this period of one or two years, the resident should be compensated initially at the support staff level and follow a predefined path, similar to the internship experience. As the tasks increase in responsibility and accountability, so too should the compensation. This real-world experience could be the start of a much-needed succession plan.
Now more than ever, universities need to pair practical experience with academic rigor, and firms need to establish programs that consider younger, entry-level candidates. There is both supply and demand; to match it up requires us to think differently about the next generation of financial advisors. With proper execution, this model could be a game changer by enhancing the quality of service and experience delivered to clients.
Craig Pfeiffer, a former vice chairman of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, is founder and CEO of Advisors Ahead, which provides student development and job placement for aspiring planners.