The financial planning profession is finally feeling the pressure of years without an established career path.
The field has lost potential new entrants to others that pay higher -- at least initially -- and many students don't even follow through on their studies to bother taking the CFP examination. There is heavy competition for the relatively few unattached experienced advisors, mainly due to the fact that firms can assign client responsibilities to these hires immediately, without extra training, and expect them to start generating revenue immediately -- especially if they have an existing book of business. Yet with big demand and small supply, prices are high (and continue to escalate) for this type of advisor.
Meanwhile, for the few firms that do seek out younger talent, there is a battle raging for the top-of-the-class newly minted graduates of CFP Board-registered programs. And even these graduating students can pose a challenge for firms looking to hire. I would estimate -- based on years of campus visits to programs throughout the country and conversations with firm owners about expectations and needed skills -- that only a small fraction of the new grads can succeed in financial planning firms straight out of college. (Hence the focus on the experienced advisor.)
There are many reasons for this. Among them: lack of onboarding assistance from firms, lofty expectations from students, insufficient ongoing training and mentoring, lack of structured career path and lower educational requirement as compared with other more established professions.
TARGETING TOP GRADUATES
The CFP Board has estimated that CFP programs produce about 6,000 graduates per year. For some financial planning firms, the millennial generation (born between 1978-2000) offers a young, tech-savvy, agile workforce. So what can firms do to best position themselves to garner one of the top candidates?
First, you need to understand them.
For firms that have embraced the millennial mindset -- focused on technology, social media, work/life blend and the idea of working for purpose -- the rise of the millennial is a welcome sign. For others, this generation can be a management nightmare, carrying stereotypical downsides: entitlement, lack of awareness, flakiness.
Firms need to manage millennial employees successfully to leverage their intrinsic talents for the betterment of the organization. Here are a few key ideas to keep in mind:
Work/life blend is a key component to attracting and retaining millennials. They place a high priority on time off and working outside the office. Keep in mind that advances in technology make it less important where employees are during the workday, as long as they are available to clients and the work gets done. Millennials also seek opportunities where they can work on different areas of the business to gain a broad array of skills.
Flexibility within the established career track is an additional bonus: New planner might enjoy their work and the firm culture, for instance, but think the only way to advance is to become a senior planner, with a silo business underneath an existing RIA. What if they do not see themselves on that track?
Hint: Millennials are likely to feel more challenged if the work they are doing becomes more complex over time, rather than being repetitive.
Millennials want to make a difference -- with both their lives and their careers. It is important for them to see the way good financial planning shapes people's lives. When I was a young planner, having clients directly tell me how much they appreciated my efforts and how relieved they felt that someone was accompanying them on the journey kept me motivated -- even during some difficult times in my career.
Hint: Show millennials how their work improves the lives of the firms clients.
Millennials prefer autonomy and deplore micromanagement. They seek empowerment to develop and integrate new ideas into the firm. Firms should grant them freedom to share their opinions; let them be vulnerable in front of their superiors without fear of blowback or ridicule.
When I was just starting out in financial planning and took over some legacy clients, I had a manager give me a great deal of leeway operationally, giving me the freedom to try different things. Some ideas worked and some did not, but I never lost a client (nor got us in any trouble with any regulators). This helped build my confidence while I was developing my own style of client communication.
Hint: Resist the urge to control everything. This creates more stress for the people who work for you.
You don't need to have weekly bashes, but you do want to create a firm culture that encourages fun. Low-cost ways to bring fun into the workplace could include hallway putting contests, a TV airing the NCAA tournament in March, prizes for employees who have the fewest jargon words or typos in their communications, etc. Or, if you just signed a large new client, take everyone out for happy hour. Millennials will remember these events and share them with their network, which could include other future employees.
Just don't promise anything you can't deliver. A long time ago, I had an employer promise during my interviews that we would stop work early sometime and go play basketball. I cannot remember what my salary was at that job, but I do remember that we never did go play basketball.
Hint: Here are a few other ideas to make the workplace more fun: http://bit.ly/WorkplaceFun
Firms that can embrace and implement these ideas will be best positioned for success as the millennials move into the work force. Firms that can't may find themselves pursuing a rapidly shrinking portion of the talent pool and continue to lag behind in profitability and employee satisfaction.
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Caleb Brown is the chairman of FPA NexGen and a partner in New Planner Recruiting, a recruiting firm that places financial planners in financial planning firms nationwide. He can be reached at newplannerrecruiting.com.