OAKLAND, CALIF. - The financial advisory business always needs good producers and new advisors – and Infinity Financial Services is launching an apprentice program it believes will help resolve both issues.
“The biggest gap we found is that most people don’t know how to prospect,” says Gregory Gilbert, president of Infinity Financial Services, headquartered in downtown Oakland.
Noting that financial planners, especially college graduates entering the profession, remain in short supply, Gilbert and his partner James Simos are launching a “CFP Apprentice Program” to both recruit financial planners and train them.
Gilbert and Simos, managing principal for Infinity, have been tweaking the program during a beta launch for the last several years and plan to formally introduce it next year.
COLLEGE GRADS, CAREER CHANGERS TARGETED
The 11-year old firm, a hybrid RIA and independent broker-dealer with around $400 million in assets, is working with local Bay Area colleges and universities to interest college graduates in the programs and also seeks to attract professionals considering a second career.
Those entering the program will be mentored by one of Infinity’s certified financial planners and study financial plans for existing clients, help develop new ones and participate in client meetings. Apprentices are expected to pass the FINRA Series 7 and 66 exams within six months and begin studying for a CFP designation.
The heart of the program is helping the apprentices build up their own book of business by emphasizing prospecting skills – including cold calling.
“They have to learn how to communicate, collaborate and reach out,” says Simos. "They have to get on the phone, build relationships and listen to what people are saying.”
Infinity’s target market is mass-affluent professionals working for large public companies in the Bay Area, especially those needing help with company stock and stock options issues. This year Infinity also began selling financial planning services separately as either a complete annual consultation plan for $449 or in modules covering retirement, education, budgeting and insurance for a $99 six month contract.
FISHER AS MODEL
The hugely successful sales and marketing driven operation that has helped Fisher Investments amass over $60 billion in assets is Infinity’s model, says Gilbert.
“You have to separate sales and marketing and have a business development team communicate what you’re selling,” he explains. “The firm has to be involved in the community, transparent about cost and use scale to be competitive. We see our competition as Fidelity, Vanguard and Schwab.”
Apprentices use LinkedIn as a primary prospecting tool and upload information about prospects into the company’s CRM system. Before they make a cold call, the apprentices are urged to learn as much about the prospects’ professional and personal life as they can to be able to make a meaningful connection.
And while those in the program are trained and mentored, they are also expected to meet a series of metrics measuring productivity. “They have to hit their numbers,” Simos says.
DEVELOPING PROSPECTING SKILLS
Prospecting, making cold calls and meeting quotas can be daunting, admits Roger Escobar, a former apprentice who is now a relationship manager and associate planner with the firm.
Escobar still spends much of his day prospecting, sitting at a desk looking at a map of the Bay Area that pinpoints and lists the headquarters of the regions largest public companies.
There’s a LinkedIn profile of a Cisco Systems engineer on his computer screen, a woman he cold called, because Infinity has a number of Cisco employees who are also clients.
The prospect was receptive and being able to review some of the firm’s financial planning options on the web site with her at the same time helped the process immensely, Escobar says.
LEARNING TO LISTEN
Learning to listen to what prospects were really saying was the most valuable lesson he received as an apprentice, he says.
“You need to understand what they were really feeling at that moment,” Escobar explains. “You have to be honest and objective about why you’re calling, and leave it open for them to be interested or not. You can always call them back.”
And what about prospects who are hostile to cold calls?
“I remind myself every day that I’m doing God’s work,” Escobar says. “I can see how finances can help or hurt families. There’s always somebody who needs help with planning.”
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