February 19, 2014

Raymond James Program Grooms Associates for Advisor Roles

After a pilot program, the firm says it will look to train additional client assistants to boost the number of female reps

Advisor Margaret Starner speaks at the 2012 Raymond James Women's Symposium. Advisor Margaret Starner speaks at the 2012 Raymond James Women's Symposium.

Raymond James (RJF) said Wednesday that it aims to train a number client associates each year to become advisors. This move comes on the heels of a pilot program for associates, which it started last year, to boost the number of female advisors and to groom successors for retiring advisors.

“We want to create a career path for service associates who want to advance,” said Tash Elwyn of Raymond James & Associates (RJA) Private Client Group, the company’s employee broker-dealer, in a statement. “We also know that by being exposed to this education, participants will gain many new talents in working with their respective advisors and teams and improving their skills, whether or not they ever pursue the ultimate goal of becoming financial advisors.”

The program received a flood of applications, but just two candidates from each of RJA’s five geographic divisions were accepted. If the pilot is successful, the company says, it plans to expand the number of associates in the training program in future years.

Male associates are eligible, too, but most associates are women.

“At one of our recent Women’s Network gatherings, we asked for a show of hands from advisors who had begun their careers as sales or service associates, and at least 30% of the audience raised their hands. And of the members of our Women’s Advisory Council, that number increased to 50%,” said Nicole Spinelli, director of the Raymond James Network for Women Advisors, in a statement.

“So we knew immediately we had a very deep pool of potential advisor candidates already at the firm,” Spinelli said. “It was just a matter of developing the right curriculum, assessing the right candidates and launching a pilot program to see where that leads.”

The year-long effort pairs an associate with an advisor in the Women’s Network Advisory Council. They spend several hours a month working via conference calls, completing online classes and tutorials and, finally, attending the annual Women’s Symposium in the fall.

After six months, participants train for the Accredited Asset Management Specialist designation and take the exam. Candidates also work with a business coach, a female Raymond James advisor and other professionals contributing to the program.

Raymond James decided to use the AAMS curriculum due to its focus on core concepts of investment management (portfolio construction, asset allocation, risk assessment, etc.), as well as inclusion of financial-planning topics (such as insurance and estate planning), according to Pat Dixon, vice president of Wealth Solutions.

Plus, the AAMS serves as a “good foundation for those candidates who wish to pursue the CFP designation," Dixon point out. About 25% of Raymond James reps are CFPs.

For Raymond James’ management, the program fits in well with its other training activities and its desire to expand the number of female FAs in its ranks.

“For several years, Raymond James has positioned itself as the best place to practice for women advisors,” said David Patchen, senior vice president, PCG Education and Practice Management, in a statement. “The Women’s Symposium, the numerous educational conferences, the Advisor Mastery Program (which has about 33% female participants) and now this new Registered Service Associate Team Development Program – they are all examples of Raymond James demonstrating that focus. We are excited about the potential.”

Those in the pilot program wholeheartedly endorse the concept. “I have already learned so much and have definitely enriched my understanding of my talents and how our whole team interacts,” said class participant Ashley Thomason of Forrest Thompson Wealth Management in Greenville, S.C., in a press release.

“I particularly enjoy working with my mentor, Laura Steckler in Miami; she has inspired me to dream big and to stretch myself,” Thomason added. “Whether or not I ever decide to become a full-fledged financial advisor, I am developing many more skills and a much deeper knowledge of our business. My advisors have been extremely supportive of the program.”

At the 2013 Raymond James Women’s Symposium, held in October in St. Petersburg, Private Client CEO Chet Helck said, “Our professional ratios should be like the ratios of our clients." 

“We’re at a healthy level,” Helck added, looking around the 200 female advisors in the conference hall, “but I don’t think it will get there in my lifetime. Progress is slow, though significant.” (Helck is retiring this month.)

“We want to turn this challenge into an opportunity, as CEO Paul Reilly has explained at this event,” Elwyn told attendees of the 19th-annual event. “This comes about through succession planning, recruiting and new-advisor training and development.”

About 35% of participants in Raymond James’ overall advisor training program are women, he added, “which is a significant number.”  Roughly 120 individuals enter the new-advisor training program each year.

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