To better understand the future of the financial advisory business, I visited William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., which created a financial planning program in late 2008, to speak with students and recent graduates who will become the future of the profession.
Younger planners foresee RIAs booming and perceive fundamental flaws within the wirehouse model. They see advisors making big mistakes with next generation clients. They have fears about the future of the industry along with some ideas on how society should change to create a more financially secure world.
Here's what one recent William Paterson graduate and a current sophomore student had to say.
Steven Crevar (Age: 27. Graduation date: 2010. Current job: SMF Financial Advisors)
Why did you choose William Paterson's financial planning program?
General corporate finance is based more on macroeconomics. The university's financial planning program is a more specific approach and based more on micro-economics. I like the aspect of meeting people individually, learning more about their lives, and actually helping them financially.
What opportunity do you see in the industry?
Before I joined the program, I read a few articles on the topic of personal financial planning, and how it's on the rise. Financial planning is applicable for every age and income level. There's an obvious need for it -- there will always be a profession for it.
You're currently working as an RIA. Why did you choose that path?
During the interviewing process with wirehouses, broker-dealers, and insurance firms, I started getting questions about how many people I knew so I could recruit them as clients, through cold-calling and sales pitching. I knew it wasn't about me, it was about who I knew. I knew that wasn't for me. The broker-dealers, insurance companies, and wirehouses don't have to follow a fiduciary standard by law -- they often take the financial planning process and make it the same for everyone, recommending the same products for example. But the financial planning process should be very personal and contain advice and products if need be. At the end of the day, if you're selling everyone the same product, you're not doing the job as well as possible.
What would make the industry better?
A clearer identification of who is a financial advisor and who's not. To pass the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam, we go through such enormous training. People can avoid going through the CFP, Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), and Certified Public Accountant/Personal Financial Specialist (CPA/PFS) examinations but can call themselves advisors without education -- that's scary. There needs to be a clearer understanding for consumers about who is a financial advisor and who's not and who has their best interest in mind and who doesn't.
The RIA industry is a very transparent business with a fiduciary standard. The management fees are clearly stated. I interned once at an insurance company and I'd hear employees saying 'I could sell this person anything' without ever meeting with the client. Employees, for example, would sell clients a $1 million whole life policy as opposed to a $100,000 term policy which would be more than adequate to fit the client's lifestyle. During the first week of training while I was still a student, they told us to call ourselves financial advisors, but we had only taken a handful of finance courses.
How did you respond to that experience?
After passing my CFP exam, I realized a true financial advisor has to do above what the minimum is. I was at a golf outing once, and I overheard a maybe 23-year-old guy say to a much older man that he was an advisor. And the younger man said he could get him a 3% annual return using life insurance. The older man sounded happy with that, and the 'advisor' claimed it was higher than bank interest rates at the time. But 3% is just around historical inflation. I pulled the younger man aside afterward for small talk and asked 'did you ever think about using index funds in clients' portfolios which have the chance of gaining higher returns?' He said 'I don't know much about mutual funds.' A financial advisor who doesn't know anything about investments should not be a financial advisor.
How do you approach younger clients with relatively small amounts of assets?
About 10,000 people retire per day in the United States. These people will age and go through retirement. When they pass away, all the money will funnel down. People my age don't have the asset base that their older counterparts do. As a younger advisor, I work with people with limited income now -- I know that their assets and income will eventually grow.
How should advisors manage and prepare for wealth transfers to their Gen Y clients?
Within the advisory industry, there's a lot of generational marketing going on. One day there will be around 10,000 people dying per day and all that money will shift to kids. Many behavioral studies show that people are not as careful with money when they inherit large sums of money rather than earn it. Advisors need to start planning now so investors will be more careful and wise when it comes to inheriting money. They could do a lot with the income to make it useful and not squander it.
What's the biggest mistake that advisors make with younger generation clients?
Not including kids in meetings with parents. This is a sensitive area with many people -- parents don't want the kids to know their issues with money. I wish kids could see how parents make money and the strategies used to accumulate, preserve, and distribute it. I wish the topic was more comfortable.
What needs to change in our society to make that happen?
We need to bring personal finance into the schools. Classes on how to budget, for instance, should be mandatory. Many people don't know how to create a balance sheet. When I was younger, we had mandatory fitness in school to keep the body active. But you need to be financially healthy too. Bringing financial planning courses into schools would be a great start.
What's been the proudest moment of your financial planning career thus far?
I recently helped a client get out of thousands of dollars of debt within about three months with a roughly $80,000 salary. The first step was to write down all of the client's debt on one sheet of paper to see the total amount. Afterward, we created a cash flow worksheet where we reordered all of the client's income and expenses and we saw there was huge disposable income available after mandatory expenses were met. We reordered the interest rates for each debt and decided to pay off the highest interest rate debt first. The client said her lifestyle during that time hardly changed.
Aviv Florenthal (Age: 18. Expected graduation: May 2016)
Why did you declare financial planning as your major?
Largely because of Dr. Lukas Dean, the financial planning program director at William Paterson University. Before talking with him, I hadn't known anything about financial planning, but learning about available jobs in the industry sparked my interest. He takes kids to conferences and helps with internship opportunities.
Within the industry, what path do you want to go down and why?
As of now, I haven't seen all of the industry yet. I'd probably want to be at a fee-only financial planning firm, with fiduciary responsibility.
What are your biggest fears as you go down that path?
Distrust. I think once people distrust companies that are handling assets, it will cause problems all around. With advisors that don't hold a fiduciary standard at brokers-dealers and wirehouses, people are incentivized not to act in the client's best interest, and that causes a negative reputation on the whole industry. I think it's important for companies to show that they put clients' interests first over commissions.
Why did you choose to major specifically in financial planning over finance more broadly?
I felt there are more opportunities that financial planning offers. If you know your niche, that's what the financial planning program is for.
How will advisors better connect with younger clients?
Social media. Companies will better reach and stay in contact through social media. It's more individual to individual.
Do younger advisors face trouble when it comes to attracting clients due to a relative lack of experience? If so, what's the solution?
In every industry you run into problems with experience. To combat that, advisory firms need strong mentoring programs. The younger advisor could do more of the behind the scenes work, while older more experienced advisors could do the client-facing responsibilities. A lot of firms have this, but this should be a priority. You need a client to trust you.
Read More: Inside 25 Great Financial Planning Schools