From the March 2012 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

The Look: What Does an Advisor Look Like?

 If you’ve traveled in the financial world for any length of time, I bet you’re pretty good at picking financial advisors out of a crowd. I know my skills in this area have been tightly sharpened over the past 20 years. I asked a friend of mine, who works in a broker/dealer, if she could pick out a financial advisor in the crowd. She replied, “Of course I can, they all look alike.”

When I pressed her for more specific details, she couldn’t quite put it into words. “I know it when I see it,” she finally relented. About that time, one of my wholesaler friends arrived with a round of drinks. I asked him the same question, “Can you pick out financial advisors by look? Are there any in this bar tonight, for example?” He paused, deep in thought for a moment, and then said, “Hey dummy, we’re standing in the bar at a broker/dealer conference … they’re all advisors.”

After we all had a good laugh at how stupid I was, we started checking out the crowd. They weren’t, we discovered, all financial advisors. A certain number of the bar patrons were home office (broker/dealer) employees. This crowd was easy to spot. They were the ones acting like they were interested in what the others were saying. There was a lot of head nodding.

Another group that stood out consisted of our good friends, the wholesalers. This crowd was usually a little overdressed and they were the only ones in the room you could hear saying, “Hey, can I buy you another drink?”

The rest of the crowd appeared to be financial advisors. They had a little different look and feel than the others. They tended to drink top shelf booze rather than draft beer. It was the advisors, not the home office employees, who could be heard yelling at the wholesalers, “Hey (insert company name here), what’s a guy got to do to get a drink around here?” My friend replied, “Yep, that guy’s an advisor.”

Fast-forward about three months; I was meeting a buddy of mine for lunch. My buddy and I had worked together at a broker/dealer home office for a number of years. About a year earlier, he had made the leap to being an advisor. My first reaction upon seeing him was, “Wow, you look like a financial advisor.”

His hair was a little longer. His clothes were a little more disheveled than normal. I would also swear he had gotten a little pudgier and paler. Over the course of lunch he told me all about his transition into the world of the advisor.

One of things he really liked about being an advisor was he set the dress code. No more did he have to succumb to the whims of the Dress Code Committee. “Most of the time, I wear a suit, but if I’m not meeting any clients, I wear a golf shirt.” I noted he was wearing a golf shirt and he had already told me he had a client meeting after lunch. I told him as long as his dress code policy didn’t start slipping into his personal hygiene policy, he should be OK.

He went on to tell me of being wined and dined by wholesalers to the point he had to let the waistline on his pants out. I asked him if he was still playing basketball at lunch like we used to. “Naw … I’m too busy and besides, I’m the only guy in the office so there’s nobody to work out with. I’ll get back into it someday” (pudgier and paler).

I couldn’t help but think about the Star Trek episodes featuring The Borg (an alien entity that takes over everything it comes across). My friend was being assimilated, Borg-like, into the look of a financial advisor and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I wanted to shake him and tell him he was quickly becoming a stereotype. I refrained, because if you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you know “Resistance is Futile.” Live long and prosper, my friend.

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