Morgan Stanley's new want ad: digital advisor associate

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Morgan Stanley's move to slash its recruiting efforts drew widespread attention, rattling recruiters and advisors looking to move.

The industry giant’s newest want ad, meanwhile, went by almost unnoticed. It shouldn't have.

Morgan Stanley executives plan to hire hundreds of digital advisor associates, a newly created position.

Positions like this, which emphasize digital skills, may come to redefine the wealth management industry, experts say.

"The big firms have high overhead and they have got to get it down to serve a broader cross section of the public and be able to scale," says Joel Bruckenstein, fintech columnist for Financial Planning and co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today conference series.

"Firms who initially resisted digital advice are coming around to the fact that it's different this time around," he adds. "You're going to have to evolve to compete in the future."

In recent years, traditional wealth management firms have been exploring how to embed and leverage new technologies in their services model, covering everything from client communication to portfolio management. Digital first firms, meanwhile, are looking at how to add more of a human element to their business model.

Morgan's digital advisor associates will support the firm's advisors in branch offices. Digital wealth management firms, meanwhile, are recruiting advisors for call centers to assist clients using a hybrid advice platform.

Previously, CFP Board CEO Kevin Keller said hybrid platforms present new opportunities for advisors. “From a career standpoint, a young CFP can gain great experience at a call center, and it will allow them to move onto face-to-face relationships," Keller says.

With most wealth management firms now adopting the robo-hybrid model, they have begun to post advertisements for related jobs. Salaries are not listed, but depending on where the office is located, they are expected to start at $50,000 for such roles, Bruckenstein says.

Morgan Stanley's digital advisor associate program complements the wirehouse's growing array of tech initiatives, including a robo platform. New hires to the apprenticeship program will build their wealth management skills "while gaining acumen in digital applications to support" advisors, according to a job description posted to the firm's website.

Associates' responsibilities will include social media, website management and other tasks related to client communication and engagement. After completing the two-year program, associates can transition into Morgan Stanley's three-year financial advisor associate program.

The firm's ad does say that familiarity with planning software MoneyGuidePro, which Morgan Stanley uses, is preferred.

The position is intended to appeal to millennials, a company spokeswoman says. And the program, in conjunction with another one, should provide more assistance to advisors in the field, she says.

The firm isn't alone in emphasizing tech savvy in future hires.

BBVA Compass, which developed a robo offering with BlackRock's FutureAdvisor, is hiring roles such as digital relationship advisor and digital relationship manager, says BBVA Compass Retail Banking Segment Executive Larry Franco.

“Technology is redefining convenience in banking, and BBVA Compass has been creating opportunities for clients through digital differentiation in its workforce,” Franco says. "These roles are also a key component to partnering with branches to add the human touch to that experience when needed, providing our customers with a ubiquitous and consistent customer experience.”

Meanwhile, Personal Capital, a hybrid robo advisor firm, has attracted 90 advisors by offering a base salary, incentive compensation and stock options.

"Our advisors come from a wide variety of backgrounds within the industry," says Kyle Ryan, executive vice president of advisory services. "The average tenure of our advisors is approximately eight years."

Ryan adds that Personal Capital has recruited its advisor workforce through employee referrals, its own recruiting efforts and through advertisements.

"We have also promoted a significant number of advisors internally from our Adviser Bridge Program for Associates," Ryan says. "We don’t anticipate any new hybrid robo efforts impacting our recruiting."

Betterment, which recently launched its own hybrid offering, currently has a dozen licensed advisors in house.

Similar trends are seen in other markets.

Canadian robo advice platform WealthSimple, which has designs to break into the American wealth management market, has posted an ad for "USA specialists" who would take clients calls from its offices in Toronto.

Industry Fund Services in Melbourne, Australia is seeking a "digital advice specialist."

The firm's job pitch gets straight to the point: "Looking to diversify your financial planning career? Want to move away from face-to-face planning? Passionate about digital advice solutions?"

Meanwhile, some robo advisor platforms are emphasizing traditional wealth management skills.

Vanguard's Personal Adviser Services has $65 billion in AUM and 500 advisors who have the CFP designation or are working toward it. The firm is striving to add another 100 advisors at locations in Malvern, Pennsylvania; Charlotte, North Carolina and Scottsdale, Arizona.

"It is fair to say there is a more competitive job market across the board in financial services right now," a spokeswoman says. "Our ideal candidate possesses cultural and philosophical alignment with the Vanguard approach, which is the client-centric model."

Aside from encouraging internal employee development, Vanguard also is recruiting from CFP Board certified college programs.

"If you're doing the most rudimentary basic planning for a millennial client, who has just a salary, a 401(k) and maybe some life insurance, maybe you don’t need a CFP to do that if you have the right software and training," Bruckenstein muses.

In some ways, such apprenticeship programs hearken back to the traditional adviseo recruitment model at wirehouses, he adds, where a group of new trainees would come in, and those who stayed and excelled moved up the ranks.

"The question is, it is a starting point or an end point?" Bruckenstein says. "I think it's too early to tell. It could be to pinpoint people with talent in holistic planning, put them through CFP training, and build some real advisors, or maybe not. Maybe some stay in that role. We just don't know yet."

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Recruiting Robo advisors CFPs Automated investing Joel Bruckenstein Morgan Stanley Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Personal Capital Vanguard