Theoretically there should be thousands of young ambitious professionals who are trying to start their careers in wealth management firms. Theoretically, they should be eager to start with a good firm that can provide them with training and mentoring and lead them down a career path where one day they can be lead advisors. In practice, Fusion has had open ads for such professionals in the New Jersey and Washington DC regions, and very few candidates have expressed an interest in pursuing a career as an advisor. I know enough statistics not to infer that our specific experience is an industry-wide problem but I believe many other firms are bumping into the same issue.
The problem boils down to the issue of “selling.” It is amazing how many associates begin their career by self-declaring that they do not want to “sell.” That in turn leads their employers to declare that they will never be “real advisors.” The result is an impasse where many wealth management firms are struggling to find the next wave of lead advisors and a large number of younger advisors are “stuck” in limited roles.
This issue surfaces almost immediately in the interview process—candidates often inquire with obvious fear in their voice if they will be expected to “sell,” prompting the “Why not?” reaction from their prospective employers.
The reality is that there are only so many positions open for purely “service” advisors and that sooner or later someone has to develop new business for the firm. Usually, the principals of the firm are reluctant to be the only ones responsible for selling, because they rightfully recognize that sooner or later this strategy will implode as they look to retire or slow down.
Every Profession Needs Business Development
I would like to plead to advisors who are just entering the industry to be more open minded and realistic about the issue of “selling.” Please, be realistic—there is an aspect of selling (or “business development” if you prefer) in every professional practice—doctors, lawyers, consultants, CPAs, architects, etc. For any firm to have clients, someone has to identify prospective clients and convince them that firm fits their needs the best. No sales = no clients, it’s as simple as that. The business development function is highly valued in every professional firm and partners who consistently develop a lot of business tend to be highly recognized and compensated—it’s a fact of life. Without partners who can develop business, firms die. Trust me, I have seen a few do that.
First of all, I am not sure why “selling” is so scary or so objectionable to so many advisors. Selling clients something they don’t need would be unethical, but I am pretty sure most clients need wealth management—and if they don’t, you don’t have to push them into it.
Selling clients something of poor quality would also be unethical, but
you are essentially selling the skills and expertise of your firm, so the quality should not be a question—or should it?
I strongly suspect that behind the fear of selling for many younger professionals is the self-doubt of “I really don’t know enough to be working with that client.” That’s where you have to remember that you are working with a firm—not just on your own, and hopefully that firm has the skills and expertise to make you confident.
I have never believed that the ability to develop business is some kind of an innate skillthat only a few individuals posses and others have no chance of ever obtaining. It is a skill that most people (all people) can acquire with some practice and some good guidance. It is no different inherently than the approach to servicing an existing relationship: listen, understand, probe and gather information, hypothesize a solution, present the solution, point out the advantages and the drawbacks, be prepared to adjust as you receive feedback. Something like that.
What is really difficult for everyone, not just associates, is generating leads. Identifying prospective clients who are actively looking to make a change in their wealth managers is very hard and is a function of systematically developing the reputation of the firm year after year, patiently but proactively following your strategy.
Firm-Developed Leads or Your Own?
This is what this discussion should boil down to for younger advisors—are you joining a firm that can develop leads or will you have to do that on your own? This is the issue to investigate during the interviews and due diligence. I promise you that if your firm can generate leads consistently and if you can follow a seasoned partner and observe their business development meetings you will be a good business developer within seven to eight years of starting with the firm. If the firm can’t provide you with leads but you at least can follow an experienced partner, it will take you 10-12 years to establish your own reputation and network and you will still get there. If you can’t even learn from an experienced mentor—you have a very low probability of success.
In Part 2, Mr. Palaveev discusses the evolution of the business development process.