How many times have we said to ourselves, “If I’d only known then what I know now?” At this year’s Securities America Assistant University, a panel of experienced advisor assistants shared the benefit of hindsight and the top things they wish they had known in their first year as an assistant.

Betsy Dickey in St. Charles, Ill., said all assistants – especially those in their first year – should keep some sort of notebook of common procedures and instructions for even mundane tasks. This notebook can be a physical notebook with detailed hand-written notes, or a Microsoft Word document that includes screen prints of pages within programs and systems. These notebooks serve as quick reference guides while you are still learning the ins and outs of your duties within the practice, and can be used by all assistants to create uniform processes or as training tools for future assistants.

“The most important part of this is that the procedure is written in the assistant's own words,” Dickey said. “Even if there are detailed processes available, nothing replaces notes that the writer takes themselves and, sometimes, only they may be able to understand.”

Megan Severeide, assistant with the EFS Group LLC in Sioux City, Iowa, said assistants’ lives will be much easier if they have realistic expectations of time, especially when receiving compliance approvals.

“Don’t try to submit materials into Compliance and expect it to turn around in a day or even a week,” Severeide said. Severeide believes having a plan to complete and submit things early enough to be able to wait the normal estimated turnaround time will help avoid panic and unnecessary calls to the home office. Having unrealistic expectations of any home office department, advisors or other assistants creates unnecessary stress.   

Echoing Severeide’s comments, Cherri Cuffari, assistant at Cedar Brook Financial Partners LLC in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, said “You have to have patience.” Cuffari believes this is the most important piece of advice she can give to other assistants, especially those just starting out. According to Cuffari, having patience with programs, advisors, other office staff and especially with yourself, will create a more efficient and enjoyable work environment.

Knowing and understanding your broker-dealer’s technology was most important to Teresa Melies in Omaha, Neb. Melies said the first thing every assistant should do is familiarize themselves with all the technology the broker-dealer has to offer. Melies also said it is important to learn what reports will be used most often and, if possible, have those saved in an easily accessible location.

“Being able to find the reports I need with a quick keyword search or to know exactly where they are under my favorites is fantastic,” Melies said.  

Like Melies, Beth Hodges, assistant at Queen City Advisors in Cincinnati, Ohio, encourages all assistants to really learn about the tools and training is available through your broker-dealer.

“My best piece of advice for assistants is to utilize every resource you can, from other associates or experts, to taking advantage of educational opportunities and networking opportunities to become the best assistant you can,” Hodges said. “Don’t try to do everything on your own, but try to learn everything you can. If you don’t know something, ask and learn it. That’s the only way to grow.”

Melies offered another piece of advice to emerging assistants that all panel members agreed with.

“Communication is key,” Melies said. “No matter if it is your first year as an assistant or your fifth, you need to be able to communicate openly with everyone you work with, asking for help when needed or for the opportunities to grow and educate yourself. Open communication truly makes a difference.”

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