"I find they last much longer than that," Runnion says. "It becomes the person you can go to from day one, 'Where's the coffee room?' to 'Help me build this portfolio, what would you do for this client?'"
In addition, Runnion personally makes himself available as a counselor, helping to spread the message and provide support.
"When I talk to a veteran who's starting day two, I say, 'I've been there. I know what day two is for you,'" he says. "Sometimes I think we find that for two to three years after [they retire], veterans miss that camaraderie they had with the guy who maybe had been in a tank or jumped out of a plane or deployed or been through boot camp, so I try to recreate that network back inside the bank."
Edward Jones bumped its traditional training program up from 16 weeks to a total of 26 for FORCES candidates. That provides former soldiers more time in an office with an experienced advisor, more time to study for regulatory exams and more time until they enter variable compensation.
"We realized very quickly that training is critically important to these folks and this population," Eberlin says. "They're very accustomed to a military training style, which is a left seat/right seat kind of experience. I'll show you and then let you experience that."
Although less physically challenging, the last 26 weeks took Smith back to the 16 weeks he spent in boot camp. While studying options eight to 10 hours a day and "going 'Ugh!' and pulling your hair out," he says, Smith recalled the time he spent marching up and down the mountains in San Diego at the will of his drill sergeant.
"The physical level was not there for the Series 7," he laughs. "Honestly, I actually thought a couple times about my drill instructors. As physically demanding as boot camp was, it was also mentally demanding because they both really go together."
Once he got to Field Foundations, Smith wore out a pair of boots canvassing suburbs of New Orleans in the heat of the summer. "Good thing my sister works at Zappos," he jokes.
A support network of friends and colleagues at Edward Jones helped him up those hills on his way to the Series 7. Kyle Robichaux, the military development leaders, or coaches, at Edward Jones, and even some of the recruiters on the acquisition side would call to check in. One day before the options chapter, Robichaux offered a few words of encouragement:
"Just barrel through it man. Just hunker down, get some coffee and go," he remembers Robichaux saying. "Go. Go. Go."
A lot of the Edward Jones' culture is instilled in the classroom. In each session, there is an experienced Edward Jones advisor (sometimes a veteran as well if the class has ex-military on the roster) who takes time away from the office to come back and relate stories from the field.
Moreover, the military development leaders, who were calling Smith throughout the process, oversee several trainees at once and can share common issues and ideas.
"It can help the culture," Steven Kuehl, a financial advisor training head who helped design the FORCES curriculum under Eberlin and Doran's guidance. "It makes a large firm feel a bit smaller."
As an added benefit, that extra time can give some recently discharged veterans time to master the finer points of their transition out of uniform, such as their language.
"That's one thing I was warned about," Smith said. "Marines are marines and we can get unruly at times talking with each other. I'll be totally honest: as a father and a Christian, it's something that needs to be done anyway."
To make the experience more familiar, Eberlin and Doran had to think about compensation as well. Smith and others had been receiving a paycheck on the first and 15th of every month for over 20 years, which is different from the commissions and bonuses many trainees and advisors receive.
Edward Jones decided that in addition to keeping veterans essentially salaried during training, FORCES offers five-and-a-half more months of guaranteed income after they have graduated from the first 26 weeks. The first eight weeks of studying provide hourly pay and then that increases to a regularly monthly payout to total $65,240 in the first year by Edward Jones' estimate. Veterans can also tap into the GI Bill's On the Job Training (OJT) benefits to help pay for housing, although neither of the first two FORCES graduates did. "As much effort as Edward Jones puts into training everybody, there's eight to ten weeks more of preparing me to move into something that I'm going to make commissions on," Smith says. "It's very important to be good at what you do, especially when every month you start back at zero."