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Breeding the Next Generation Advisor

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Breeding the Next Generation Advisor

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I’m convinced every wealth management firm has the same so-called “talent” issues; they don’t have enough skilled senior client-facing talent. I’ve resolved the only way they can find these elusive people is to breed or grow them. 

The Medieval European merchant and craft guilds come to mind as a model for wealth management.  In this pre-mercantilist era, tradesmen banded together to sustain their common interest and respective crafts (i.e. masonry, glassworks, millinery, etc.).  The quality of what they stood for was inviolate and, transcending their crafts, bound their villages and regions together.  Notwithstanding their anti-competitive economics, the products of these guilds were widely-accepted as providing artisanal quality and, therefore, a perceived value and demand.

The wealth management industry could return to such an artisanal model with improved advisor identification and by committing resources to training and development to advisors through an apprenticeship to a journeyman stage and onto a final master stage.  Those who are masters and grand-masters will understand their duty to mentor the next generation to sustain their “craft.”

The pathway to becoming a counselor to families of great wealth and complexity is misaligned.  There is no early identification methodology – firms react to what the market presents to them; they often cannibalize their neighbor’s talent or have a passive response to whatever the market produces, largely products of what the “academy” presents to them.  That is, individuals largely focused on degrees or vocational paths heavily tilted to finance and the capital markets where mathematics, analysis, and empiricism is predominant; not the study of the human dimension.

The academy and our industry has responded to a degree with programs (i.e. Texas Tech’s CFP program) and credentials (CFA, CFP, CPA-PFS, CIMA, CAIA, etc.) but these formal training programs are “pulled” by market participants, not “pushed.”  

Without too grossly simplifying the issue, most financial firms including wealth management firms are populated by left-brained, rational, logical, analytical types and, rarely, by right-brained “feelers” or intuitive types.

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Wealth management firms need to profile the intrinsic aspects or personal characteristics of the ideal advisor/counselor and have early identification systems in place to identify and recruit them.  There are many fine workplace assessment tools available today to assess personality tendencies and behavioral motivations. 

Then, they need to invest in the professional development paths for these emerging professionals. The Millennials are famously forcing change, too.  If they’re bored or perceive their employers are not investing in them, they’ll vote with their feet and leave for another firm.

Both the client experience and firm economics can be served when firms invest in their people for the long-term.  So-called “middle office” personnel (i.e. apprentices and journeymen) can provide immediate operating leverage stretching senior client-facing professionals’ (i.e. masters) capacity.  Importantly, these next gen advisors can also drive the long-term enterprise value of firms as an artisanal quality service is a wealth management firm’s ultimate value proposition and should logically drive demand and have less price resistance.

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