Keep Top Talent at Your Firm
As the profession continues to expand, firm owners and senior management need to prepare for the new generation of practitioners.
With nearly 6,000 students graduating from CFP Board-registered programs each year and about 5,000 career changers entering the profession (gauged by the number of certificate program graduates), according to December 2015 stats from CFP Board, the profession is receiving an influx of new practitioners. According to the Department of Labor, our profession has an expected growth rate of 30 percent through 2024 compared to an average growth rate of 7 percent for all other occupations.
The profession is expanding, and it will continue to, as awareness grows around financial planning as a profession. Firm owners and senior management need to prepare for this new generation of practitioners.
Serving as 2016 president of FPA’s NexGen community, I have the privilege of speaking with NexGen planners from across the country, including those who work at your firms. Through my experience, and the shared experiences of planners, there are common themes amongst NexGen planners who are successful and thriving in their firms—they are seeking open environments and unique cultures.
Hiring and securing new talent is costly, and I am certain firm leaders would like to keep their top talent. But do firm leaders know what NexGen planners are truly seeking from their firms? Are firms offering an environment where NexGen planners are being nurtured, have a seat at the table, and are being allowed to show initiative? Are firms adapting their work cultures to foster collaboration between practitioners from diverse backgrounds, hence engaging NexGen planners and ensuring the retention of top talent to serve the clients?
Having spoken to a diverse group of NexGen planners over the years, I am very encouraged that the majority of my conversations lean toward the acknowledgement that both NexGen planners and firms are working together, implementing innovative ideas, and facilitating an environment where seasoned planners are passing the torch to the next generation of planners. However, is your firm included in this assessment?
Firms should focus on a few key areas to attract and retain NexGen talent. Within these areas, I am proposing suggestions for firm leaders to consider.
Develop Human Capital
Do not underestimate the value of frequent conversations with your NexGen planner. If you recently hired a new planner, meeting monthly—maybe over lunch—can accelerate the learning curve for that planner. Regular feedback and validation of what is going right and constructive feedback on how to improve is key to the confidence and the performance of the planner.
Mentorship is often an essential tool to retaining talent. Give the NexGen planner the opportunity to meet with their mentor during firm hours. A mentor provides insight on the landscape of the firm. The mentor also offers a sounding board, allowing for open and honest conversations about opportunities and challenges. In addition to mentorship, up-and-coming planners seek a supervisor/manager who not only assigns work, but who is a leader willing to be there to help guide them through the process of learning or completing a task.
Often, firms fall short when it comes to providing career development and information on career paths to NexGen planners. Having a seat at the table, learning about the different career paths, and obtaining information on requirements and expectations to grow within the firm will assist firms in securing and retaining talent.
By offering mentorship, continuing education, and participation in industry associations and conferences, firms illustrate to new planners that they are invested in their professional growth and success. Encourage your planners to participate in industry activities outside of the firm. Sometimes all they need is a little nudge and the OK from their firm leader.
“Planners in the pipeline want to do more than to just come to work, earn a paycheck, and go home,” said Aaron Clarke, NexGen co-director for FPA of the National Capital Area. “We are in this profession because we want to help our clients, and most of us seek ways to help others outside of our firm as well.”
Becoming a planner isn’t easy. It requires extensive continuing education, high professional standards, and a willingness to adapt. The profession attracts people who are intelligent, driven, and often those with an entrepreneurial spirit. It is also important to recognize that NexGeners, aka millennials, have an instinctual need for transparency and authenticity.
Firms looking to retain this pool of talent have to tear down barriers, and from early on, provide transparency on the direction and philosophy of the firm. They must also share with their new planners the firm’s rationale for changes and provide honest assessments around the challenges the firm and the profession face. Gone are the days of having to just go along blindly. Although new planners like security, they demand information.
This generation, perhaps more than any other, has the tolerance to strike out on their own. The key to retaining them is to make them a true part of the team. A NexGen planner located in the greater Chicagoland area recently shared with me one of the many reasons she has a vested interest in her firm: the leadership decided to have an “open book” policy where firm’s year-end numbers were shared.
“It’s really courageous that they include us on these meetings because, for me, personally, it helps me see the impact I am contributing to,” she said. “It makes me feel important, too. Although I do not have ownership in the firm, I feel like this is my firm and that is the mindset I take to work every day. At other firms people are pretty much in the dark. Not seeing the big picture can diminish that fire in your belly.”
Look for Opportunities to Change
As a NexGen planner, here is a secret I’d like share with firm owners: we don’t leave your firm because we want a title; we leave because we are not allowed to have a seat at the table.
Are you losing talent? Encourage planners to complete an exit survey and listen to why they are leaving. Sometimes the reasons are out of your hands. But for those leaving due to environment and culture changes that could be enacted, look at this as an opportunity to change. Foster environments where all planners contribute and offer paths to leadership so planners are truly invested. Identify innovative ways for planners to feed their entrepreneurial spirit while supporting the firm. Keep in mind that some planners end up leaving because they don’t feel like they are essential to the success of the firm or they are not being heard. While they want to contribute, they are never offered that opportunity.
Firm owners and planners should understand that both firms and planners evolve, and not always in the same direction. Having worked in the profession for some years and after experiencing various models, a planner may opt to go a direction that no longer fits with a particular firm. This is not an indication that the firm isn’t offering opportunities for growth and transparency, rather that the planner has evolved in a direction no longer in line with the firm.
In addition to evolving to attract new talent, firms have to evolve to attract new clients. New talent brings with them knowledge of innovative strategies and technologies to attract and support new clients. Be open to new ideas, as these ideas can turn into solutions to move your firm forward.
NexGen planners across the country want to make a difference not only in your firm, but also in the profession as a whole. “The foundation of our profession is to change the world by empowering lives through financial guidance,” Russell Kroeger, CFP®, FPA of San Francisco’s NexGen co-director, told me. “It only makes sense if the leaders of our profession do everything in their power to equip their replacements with the wisdom and courage to carry the torch.” I agree with his sentiments wholeheartedly.
There is no perfect equation to attracting and retaining new talent. However, understanding the needs and demands of today’s new practitioners may help your firm secure talent that you can groom and support; in exchange, those planners will help your firm reach new heights.
Creating an environment where the firm is open to evolving, and allowing planners to grow into their role and beyond, will ensure that your firm continues to retain the best talent. In the end, clients ultimately benefit from the expertise of highly skilled planners—and that is our top concern.
- Originally published in The Journal of Financial Planning.