There was a moment for Smith during Field Foundations, the part of Edward Jones' FORCES and traditional track that involves door-to-door prospecting, when the connection started to make sense. Approaching his first house in an upscale neighborhood, Smith had no idea how it would go. He was nervously reassuring himself on the walk up to the front door with his Marine Corps pin fastened to his lapel. Once the door opened, adrenaline and a familiar instinct took over.
"You just feel kind of like a calming," he observes. "You get that feeling sometimes at intense moments—everything just kind of slows down."
He coolly introduced himself and explained that this was his first house, and the lady who answered the door became Smith's first real prospect. Although he did not get another lead for two hours, Smith still considers it an 'Ah-Ha' moment that conjured up a similar sense of pride to what he felt in the Marines after a promotion or when he received an award for the time he spent with HMX-1. He felt confident that he could master Edward Jones' five step process: know the client or prospects' current situation, design goals, assess goals, build a plan to get there, and walk that path alongside the client.
In the Marine Corps, it was BAMCIS or "Begin the planning, Arrange for reconnaissance, Make reconnaissance, Complete the Plan, Initiate the order and Supervise," which is essentially a six-step version of the same thing, according to Smith.
"We have within our training a five-step process and many times our military veterans have standard operating procedures," Eberlin observes. "They parallel well into being able to follow a process that allows them to identify client needs and identify solutions for those needs."
And when things are not going according to plan, that's when a veteran's background can be especially helpful, according to Runnion, who had been deployed to Saudi Arabia as a Scout Platoon Leader overseeing a squad of tanks during the first Gulf War. That experience helped keep life in perspective during the tumultuous markets of 2008 and 2009 and the uncertainty when his firm was acquired by Bank of America.
"It was a stressful time," he said. "But at the end of the day I took the train home, and I didn't worry about the commute. Is somebody going to shoot at me? Is there an IED [Improvised Explosive Device]? I had a warm meal every night and slept in my bed, so the level of stress that I experienced was nothing like our troops were experiencing at that time in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Bank of America Merrill Lynch helps veterans get a boot in the door by considering all applicants an "executive referral," according to David Smith, relationship manager in the Military Veterans Recruiting Program at Bank of America. That designation guarantees that they will automatically get an interview, which means a lot considering Merrill Lynch receives over 36,000 applications to its financial advisor positions each quarter. "The key to the interview is getting the interview," David Smith says. "You do have to compete with others, but we do give you a boost up," he explains.
It is after a veteran is hired, however, that the real work has to be done, according to Runnion. In early 2012, he took a look at other firms' veteran initiatives and founded MAAG in April, and it has since become a "second full time job," he says.
"There's a big jobs initiative in the financial industry, but giving a vet a job is the easy thing to do. That's day one," Runnion explains. "It's day two that's the challenge. And that's assimilating them back into the private sector, making sure that job is the right fit for him and his family, making sure that they understand the leadership culture, what they bring to the firm and how they reintegrate back in."
Runnion speaks from experience. After leaving the Army in 1993, he ran into AXA Advisors at a recruiting fair. He was one of a handful of veterans entering the financial services industry at the time and was the only one hired from that fair. With only his degree in psychology and sociology from East Tennessee State University and his military service to lean on, his first few times on the job were like "drinking from a fire hose," he says. "I had no idea what I was doing."
Runnion modified Merrill Lynch's existing training program, Practice Management Development, to compensate for the confusion he initially felt. The group identifies each veteran entering, where he or she is coming from and which office he or she is in, and then assigns him or her to an experienced advisor who often has prior military experience as well. Regularly scheduled meetings are in place for at least two or three years.