Richard Brown

JNBA Financial Advisors

For years, Richard Brown heard other planners in his study group voice a serious, common concern: They couldn't find enough qualified young planners to hire.

So Brown - CEO of JNBA Financial Advisors, a Minneapolis firm with $520 million in assets under management, and the winner of this year's New Generation Influencer Award - set out to create some.

In 2010, he partnered with the business school at the University of Minnesota at Duluth to open an off-campus financial planning learning laboratory, where Brown teaches the semester-long capstone course of the school's new financial planning minor.

The lab gives students the opportunity to learn from not only university professors, but JNBA's own planners. Any student in the program can drop by the lab, where they see the inner workings of Brown's own firm and practice with planning software systems like MoneyGuidePro and Junxure; through a video link to JNBA's Minneapolis office, students at the lab can attend some of the firm's committee meetings.

The program gives students a decidedly real-world experience of the day-to-day work of planners - an experience that 23-year-old Lucas Traxler describes as "huge."

Since the 2010 launch, 32 students have taken the lab course, and more than half have accepted jobs in financial services after graduation. This past summer, seven worked as interns at planning firms around the country.

Brown devotes two days of each week during the spring semester to teaching students in person, making the five-hour round-trip commute from his Minneapolis office. Estate attorneys, CPAs, insurance specialists and other experts who work with JNBA also teach classes via the video link.

"Once Richard comes in that first day and just starts telling stories about different situations that have occurred," Traxler says, "that's when you realize that you are working with a firm and it's not just a class- room anymore."

Traxler worked as an intern with JNBA last summer. He graduated this May with a financial markets degree and a minor in financial planning, and just started full-time at JNBA.

Brown says his goal is to help seed the next generation of planners with graduates who have both a financial planning degree and the skills to find positions in independent planning firms, which he hopes will make them less likely to defect to other corners of the financial services industry.

Traxler says he probably wouldn't be in a planning firm right now if it weren't for the lab. "I think I'd probably be working at some bank or some big corporate office just doing my little job," he says. "I don't even want to think where I would be."

And three years after kickstarting the lab, Brown no longer has a problem with talent acquisition; Traxler is one of six recent graduates his firm has hired.

"I think it's one of the answers for the future," he says. - Ann Marsh

Read more:

•    Industry Leadership: Ron Carson
•    Practice Management: Joni Youngwirth
•    Tech Innovator: Sheryl Rowling
•    Portfolio Innovator: Rob Arnott
•    Lifetime Achievement: Lew & Karen Altfest

• Return to the Influencer Awards main page

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