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Addressing advisor training challenges: Effective solutions for financial professionals


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Advisor training – or lack thereof – has become a flashpoint for the wealth management business.

“The problem,” says industry veteran Ray Sclafani, CEO of ClientWise, “is that when it comes to professional development, advisors are too often on their own.”

The good news is that steps are being taken to address the issue.

An increasing number of colleges and universities offer graduate programs for financial planning, including internships. The Financial Planning Association has a residency program to help next-gen advisors learn the business and offers access to Carson Coaching online. The CFP Board sponsors internship and workforce development programs. 

The Investments & Wealth Institute, formerly known as IMCA, is beefing up its certification programs to advance advisory skills and several firms have begun reimbursing advisors for the cost of the programs.

Advisors who enroll in Charles Schwab’s executive leadership program receive five ten-week courses in leadership, innovation, talent management marketing and entrepreneurship. 

Hightower Advisors has also implemented education and training for next-gen advisors. The RIA’s two-year certificate program emphasizes strategic decision-making using simulations for team dynamics, operations decisions, equity structures and organic growth.

Third-party and online programs have emerged as another training option for advisors.  

Sclafani’s ClientWise offers online training in business expertise, sales, leadership, financial products, compliance and relationship management. Advisor Roadmap is another online advisor training program and well-known industry guru Michael Kitces is building out a series of online “Advisor MasterClass Courses” at Kitces.com, beginning with skill-building classes on document reviews and specialized retirement planning.

Matson Money offers a year-long training program focusing on investment fundamentals, business expertise, marketing and branding and leadership skills that culminates in an intensive in-person two-day seminar on-site in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Ensemble Practice’s G2 Leadership Institute attracts advisors preparing to assume leadership roles and emphasizes hands-on training simulating real-world applications.

Advisors work in teams of five or six with industry executives over two years to create a strategic business plan and organizational structure for a hypothetical RIA and set management priorities and a compensation plan.

Program participants then create a growth plan incorporating business development, marketing, branding, prospecting and referrals. They must also evaluate potential mergers and acquisitions, analyze deal structures and review the firm’s equity structure and valuation.

Practical applications of the simulations are critical, says Ensemble CEO Philip Palaveev. “If you’re taking a class to learn how to drive a car, you can’t just learn in a classroom,” Palaveev explains. “You have to have access to a car. You can’t learn to box by watching YouTube. You have to get into the ring. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.”

While the basic skills of financial planning, portfolio management and business operations are important, Palaveev believes they are over-emphasized in too many training programs at the expense of leadership skills.

“Running a high-quality RIA has become more like coaching an NBA team where you have a lot of highly compensated stars,” Palaveev says. “You can’t scream at players the way you would with a college track and field team. You have to skillfully manage egos and get stars to work collaboratively.”

The G2 Leadership program’s case studies, simulations, benchmarking and feedback from experienced executives proved to be applicable to her real job, says Lauren Oschman, CEO of Nashville-based Vestia Wealth Advisors. “I learned what’s important to focus on, ask good questions and think more critically about my firm and where we need to think differently,” Oschman says.

The program’s alumni network was “an unexpected benefit,” she adds. “If I have an issue, I can call another alumni who has made the same mistakes. That support has been invaluable and I continue to learn past the program. It’s the number one reason I would recommend it for mid-sized firms.”

While internal training programs at advisory firms are lagging, an increasing number of RIAs are beginning to step up.

California-based Halbert Hargrove uses the online Sandler Sales System for sales training but has an internal program to train for specific roles and learn firm culture. Subject matter experts discuss investment and financial planning basics over Zoom and in person, and trainees engage in role-playing and shadow senior advisors and executives.

“The objective of training is to serve clients better and get to the root of issues,” says chief operating officer Cecilia Williams. In the relationship training course, for example, employees are taught “to ask more probing questions” to better understand clients.

Halbert Hargrove also started a book club to reinforce the firm’s culture and began a quarterly presentation of “Gladiator Stories,” where advisors share stories of how they got things done for clients.

Shadowing Halbert advisors, even if on Zoom, helped Joshua Robbins make a “much easier transition” to becoming an associate wealth advisor.

Robbins saw how financial plans were built out, how account openings and money movement workflows were made and how to facilitate discovery calls. “A new employee instruction can read a manual on workflow,” he says, “but that doesn’t allow for any true real-time training.”

As part of the program, other associate Halbert advisors would reach out to Robbins outside of a scheduled meeting and ask if he would like to see how they handle a particular client issue.

“I learned how to do various tasks, Robbins recalls, “but also learned how different advisors may tackle the same task, and what their thought process was.”

Training at Morton Wealth in Calabasas, California, combines an internal “Admired Leadership Program” with learning management software. Leadership training stresses behavior and strategy, says chief operating officer Stacey McKinnon, a graduate and current instructor at the G2 Leadership Institute.

McKinnon tells the story of one advisory firm CEO who consistently didn’t hold the door open for other employees. Despite his considerable business skills, the CEO was eventually let go because employees felt his behavior reflected his lack of accountability and poor listening skills.

“We try to make clear who a leader is and what a leader does,” she says. “You can’t have a happy team without a good manager. And you can’t deliver the best client experience without a happy team.”

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