HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- There's a way to fix the financial advisory industry's reputation, as well as its connection to Gen Y clients and talent, said Mark Tibergien -- but it's going to take advisors' help to make it happen.

That was the message at the heart of the Pershing Advisor Solutions CEO's address the advisors at Pershing's Insite 2014 conference here on Thursday.

The solution to several interconnected industry issues, Tibergien said, is fixing financial literacy, particularly among young people. Without understanding the basics of personal finance, he said, young adults are easily swayed by negative headlines and by hustlers touting investment schemes.

And he cited ominous statistics about advisor demographics -- "Only 5% of the advisor population is under 30," he warned -- and advisor attitudes: "What we realized is that 37% of advisors today wouldn't recommend their children get into the business."

He encouraged advisors to reach out to their own high schools and sponsor financial literacy programs, as he does; a few years after he donated teaching materials to his own high school, he said proudly, 20% of the senior class now goes through a personal finance class.

"What were the conditions that allowed you to flourish?" Tibergien asked listeners, then chided them to take action: "I want you to think about the benefits you have earned from being part of this industry."


Generational attitudes are on Tibergien's mind, he said during a conversation earlier in the day, as he thinks about the bottlenecks pinching advisor business growth. "I think the pressing issues right now relate to capacity," Tibergien said. "I don't think advisors are struggling to get more clients; I think advisors are struggling to serve more clients."

Some of those problems can be addressed by technology, he said, but "in the end, this is a people business."

Tibergien himself has been participating in Pershing's "reverse mentor" program, with the 62-year-old chief executive paired with a 24-year-old in Pershing's prime brokerage group.  

"It forces me to think about things differently," he said of the experience. "It helps me think about: How is my messaging working?" The relationship, he said, has showed him how to look at an issue "from an employee standpoint, from a millennial's point of view, or in her case, from a woman's point of view."

The result, he said, has been a shift in communication. "This is a traditionally hierarchical business," he said. The reverse mentor program "flattens that out."

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