With competition for talent in financial planning at all-time highs, here's some observations for financial planning and investment advisory firms in search of great new talent.
1) Plan ahead.
The best students have jobs in place 6 months or more before they graduate. Advertise your jobs and internships 9-12 months ahead of the hire date, if at all possible.
2) Hire a summer intern.
Test the person out. Give them projects to do in your firm. Have them sit in on (at least some) client meetings and take notes. Have them learn a major software program (CRM or PMS or Financial Planning). This is a low-cost way to test out talent.
Some of the best and brightest students actually undertake internships during their sophomore-to-junior year. They don't yet know a lot about financial planning, but they can be really good at tackling projects around the office. And you have a "leg up" on securing them for another internship, and then a permanent position.
At Western Kentucky University, about 80% (significantly above the national average of about 57%) of our students who do internships get offers from their firm for full-time employment. We attract a lot of honors students, and high-GPA students, to our Personal Financial Planning Track (B.S. Finance) program (which is housed in an AACSB-accredited business college - which is tough to get into). Hence, we have a highly talented pool of students to choose from.
The best students receive some great internship offers (as to total compensation and benefits). Other students receive compensation that is enough to afford them to live reasonably in the internship location. (We don't encourage any students to take unpaid internships.)
3) Have a clear career path.
Here is just one possible type of path. Of course, each firm will have roles that suit its client services dynamics and needs.
A) Client services assistant or paraplanner or advisor assistant role. For about 1-2 years. Learn the software and systems and procedures. Do a great many financial plans (for senior or junior advisors). Work hard - to secure licenses, then CFP certification. Work 50-55 hours a week, as well. Less hours until CFP exam passed, and more hours after that.
B) Junior advisor - serving some clients, under supervision, as soon as one year following graduation. Working 40-50 hours per week, for the next 3-7 years. Perhaps two levels of this. In the second level, more vacation time provided.
C) Senior advisor - 4-8 years following graduation. Taking on full responsibility for clients. And being assisted by assistants / para-planners / junior advisers.
D) Path to ownership. Could be through an ESOP, or through other means. But the path should be well-defined.
There are many ways to structure career paths, and jobs / job descriptions. Many ways to build "teams." The foregoing is just one way. Practice management consultants can help you build career paths to fit what your firm does for its clients.
4) Structure a great training program.
Have every adviser in the firm train new advisers / para-planners in one specific area. Know what training should occur, and when. Map out the training schedule.
5) Hire for quality. Soft skills matter.
As does the ability to take personal responsibility, work in teams, be proactive with work assignments, and possess a commitment to lifelong learning. We stress at Western Kentucky University all of these - including the need to tackle projects without being "spoon-fed" the material, by doing research online (and otherwise) when confronted with an issue or knowledge gap.
And we stress the need to engage with others - smiling, greeting, firm handshakes, the ability to initiate and start a conversation, great listening skills, empathy skills, and presentation skills. And to acquire leadership experience - by becoming a leader of a student or other organization, leading team projects, etc.
If you hire for quality, the expertise will inevitably follow as greater knowledge and experience is acquired.
6) New graduates are usually willing to leave their hometown and go elsewhere (and they often prefer this).
I caution students to try to land jobs that are no greater than an 8-12 hour drive away from home. That way if a family emergency happens, someone can hop in a car. Or, if airports align right, cheap airfares are available for those quick long weekend trips home.
(Fortunately, WKU graduates land jobs from Kansas City to Omaha to Minneapolis to Chicago to Detroit to Pittsburgh to Washington DC metro area and then down to Orlando, Florida, and then over to Houston, then Dallas, and up to St. Louis ... and all points in between. It is nice to be "centrally located" and within a days' drive of about 60% or so of the U.S. population.)
7) Connect with PFP Degree Programs.
We encourage our students to network. Including inviting practitioners to present to the FPA Student Chapter on campus. Including their own visits to firms, and seeking out a "job shadowing" for a day (or longer) during Winter Break. Or just reaching out to interview practitioners to find out what they love, and don't especially love, about their careers, and to learn tips on how to succeed.
We also take up to 10 students (per trip) on field trips to visit firms (Spring 2019 trips currently being planned: Atlanta, Charlotte, St. Louis, Louisville).
8) Network with Students at Conferences.
Our students attend conferences, including those of FPA and NAPFA and TDAI. Including FPA local chapter meetings. Including other conferences when they come within a reasonable driving distance (to keep our travel costs down).
Better yet, sponsor a student to attend a conference. A national 3-day conference usually runs about $600 per student (with student registration fees, paid hotel room, and shared 15-passenger van cost to travel to the conference). (But even a partial sponsorship can go a long way.) Get to know the student at the conference. Mentor them. Professors can team you up with students who might be a good fit for your firm. And often the very best students are more likely to attend conferences - especially in their junior year.
And both practitioners (over 100 at our first Symposium) and our students attend our own WKU Personal Financial Planning Symposium - scheduled for Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, at the Knicely Center, Bowling Green, KY. Michael Kitces will be providing 2 presentations at our Symposium, and we are busy lining up other great speakers. We will announce further details later this year.
9) Are you hiring salespeople? Or advisers?
Everyone sells themself. And everyone should be networking to seek clients for the firm. We teach networking skills - and encourage our students to take a popular class in "Personal Selling" as one of their electives.
But not everyone wants to sell investment or insurance products. At WKU our graduates want to work as financial planners and investment advisers. Most desire to work for firms that possess a fiduciary culture. (This does not mean that the firm is necessarily fee-only, however).
What we don't desire our graduates to encounter is being hired with the expectation that "95% won't succeed" or "Only 25% will succeed" after 5 years. Sorry, but we want our graduates to have great careers. Don't hire WKU's graduates if your business plan is to "weed them out" and "only keep the minority that can really sell."
Growing professional firms hire talent, train them right, and hold onto them. We want our graduates to have a 95% or better probability of succeeding at your firm, by joining firms that have that professional culture.
If you want to hire product salespersons, please talk to WKU's marketing professors, instead.
10) The most "valuable" hire is a rainmaker who also possesses exceptional project management skills.
These are rare, but they exist. Every year I have a handful of students (2-4, out of 30-40 graduates) who will be the ones who have that natural ability to connect with people and bring in business. We identify these students early on, and seek to culture - rather than suppress - these talents. They may not always have the highest GPAs (but they will still be generally high), but they will have the greatest long-term impact in your firm. If your firm needs to grow, seek out these "5-10 percenters" - and be prepared to pay well for them.
If, however, your firm already has more work than it can handle, hire those who can write well, relate to clients well, and do presentations well ... they can be also cultivated to network in the community and generate clients, over time.
11) Your job posting goes university-wide.
But the financial planning professors will ensure that the PFP students see it. Universities have policies stating that all job opportunities, and internship opportunities, are posted university-wide. This could bring a lot of inquiries. But the PFP professors, such as myself, will ensure to reach out to their students who they believe will be a good fit for your firm's needs.
12) Have a great job description or internship description.
Look at the NAPFA, FPA and CFP Board career center web sites for examples of internship and job descriptions. Put in your job description the qualities - skills and talents - you are looking for.
If you are in search of talent - interns or soon-to-be graduates - drop me a line. Email me: Ron.Rhoades@wku.edu.
We are proud of the students we graduate.
Not only do they take all of the courses the CFP Board requires, but additional courses in counseling, software usage, advanced investment theory and portfolio management, and three corporate (business) finance courses. And a good dose of general business courses - from accounting to economics to marketing to management.
And, we seek to graduate well-rounded students. Students who have expanded their comfort zones, put away their phones, and posses the ability to connect with others. Students who are willing and able to tackle new challenges. Students who work well in teams. Students who possess a great desire to assist their clients, in a highly ethical and professional manner.
Thank you! - Ron