With the independent advisory industry booming, many firms are scrambling to hire professionals who have the training and ability to work directly with clients from day one. Unfortunately, that's just what many firms do: start newly hired professionals working with clients almost as soon as they walk in the door.
This is unfortunate because it sets up these professionals to fail — or at least to underperform the expectations of their new bosses. In my experience, when professional financial advisors start a new job, it's not just a matter of doing what they know how to do in a new office. They are also working in a new business — with new people, a new culture, new systems, new procedures and of course, new clients.
When you think about it, those are a lot of “new” things to deal with all at the same time and while you’re meeting and advising new clients. Though I admit that I had to learn this lesson, too, it really shouldn't be much of a surprise when many newly hired lead advisors — even those with years of experience — struggle in new jobs. What's more, these struggles can affect their ability to contribute to their new firms for many months or even longer. And that can lead to problems with new bosses that often aren't easily resolved.
After seeing this problem occur time and again for my clients’ firms (as I said, I had to work up this learning curve myself), I realized that there had to be a better way. It occurred to me that we were all making the same mistake — assuming that because experienced advisors didn't need to be trained to work with clients, we didn't need to train them all that much.
The solution I’ve come up with is a six-week training program for new lead advisors to learn about their new firms, how they work and how they will best fit into them. I know, I know, “six weeks” is a long time to be paying a lead advisor to “not work with clients!” And believe me, I’ve heard it all before.
Instead, think of this time as an investment in creating a lead advisor who will eventually meet — or exceed — your expectations, will not become a problem employee and who won't need to be replaced within a year or two with someone even more expensive.
Now that you’ve (hopefully) calmed down, here's what I want you and others in your firm to “teach” each new lead advisor you hire and put through a six-week training process. I call it a process, because to be truly helpful, it must be more than a “data dump” of flooding your new employee with information and input.
Instead, I suggest that you break down what the new rep needs to know about your firm into six areas and take a week (yes, a whole week) to cover each area. During that week, you’ll give them information about one area of your firm, say, your technology. Then, you’ll let them think about what they heard, ask questions, explore your systems on their own and ask follow-up questions. This gives the newbie a period to learn and absorb new information while providing you with the space to adjust your way of doing things. Here are the six steps I recommend:
Week 1: A general overview of the company — who we are and what we do.
I usually suggest breaking this material into two parts. First, tackle your policies and procedures. This includes a profile of the company (owners, partners, backgrounds and history), along with your vision, core purpose, core values and business plan.
The second part of Week 1 is about your technology — a basic overview of your hardware, software and connectivity, and more details about your CRM, financial planning tools and approach, and investment management/research software. Finally, have new advisors watch training videos about your technology.
Week 2: General administrative procedures — how we function in the office.
Be sure to include basic info (which can often be the most important) — getting into the office, the phone system, email and mail procedures, office supplies, faxing, scanning, the filing system, file maintenance procedures, contacts for general office issues, and computer hardware and software maintenance.
Also, be sure to review office duties by job title and job description — who is responsible for what. This includes an overview of the organizational structure and strategy, as well as a listing of job descriptions and accountability.
Week 3: General client-experience procedures — how we create a consistent client experience.
This would include hospitality procedures (general visitor standards and client communication formats), appointment procedures (scheduling, calendar management, preparation for and confirmation of appointments, and meeting follow-up steps) and client-information updates.
Week 4: Marketing procedures — how we communicate what we do for others.
This includes an explanation of service models and a positioning statement, the ideal client profile, website, brochures and newsletters, and potential centers of influence. It also encompasses the prospective-client process, i.e., the handling of incoming prospects, scheduling, preparation work, follow up and prospect meetings.
Week 5: The new client process — how we onboard a new client.
This should include “internal procedures,” such as the client agreement, creation of accounts, entry of client information and completion of necessary forms. In addition, this entails the handling of external issues with new clients, such scheduling appointments, requesting data and following up as needed.
Week 6: Ongoing client management — how we work with clients.
This effort includes how we define an ongoing client, our annual-review process, what's in client reports and when we issue them, regular distribution and account-rebalancing procedures, and billing practices. Finally, new advisors need to be brought up to speed on the firm's compliance procedures, including a review of the compliance manual.
I know, it's a lot of information. That's one of the reasons that I’ve found it's best to spread the process out over six weeks. If it's a lot of info for you to put together, imagine the challenge of understanding and absorbing it?
If you’re like most firm owners, you might say, “We don't even have all this information written down.” I know that. But I hope you can see it would be a good thing to have it all written down for two reasons.
First, in my experience, even though we all know these procedures are important, many firm owners haven't taken the time to think through these issues. The onboarding of a new lead advisor is a very good reason to finally do it.
Second, a new advisor going through this process will undoubtedly be taking notes — notes that, with a bit of editing, could become a manual. Having this information available in one place would not only make onboarding all new employees much easier, it would provide a resource for all employees (and owners) by serving as a reference when memories fade or questions arise.
The bottom line is that you don't have to put all this info together before you hire your next lead advisor. And you don't have to do all or even most of the training yourself. It's much less painful to do this “training” off the cuff to start with, having notes taken and/or documents created whenever possible as issues arise. That way, over time, you’ll put together an entire program.
What's more, you don't have to do all the training yourself. In fact, it's much better to let the tech people do their part, the compliance folks do theirs, the receptionist do his/hers, the rainmaker do his/her, the marketing folks do theirs, etc.
Don't forget to include the last lead advisor you onboarded, as she or he will have the best perspective on what a new advisor really needs to know. In fact, I’ve found it's a very good idea to have a not-too-recently-hired lead advisor mentor the new advisor through the entire process.
No matter how you do it, be sure that you do it. The biggest investment in time and money that most independent advisory firms make is spent hiring new lead advisors. There's really no excuse for failing to put in the time and effort to give every new advisor you hire the best chance that you can to succeed.
I know it's hard to believe, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes more times than I can count. A promising new advisor is added to a growing firm only to become overwhelmed after a few weeks, not by client work, but by trying to figure out how their new firm works. Mistakes get made, sometimes clients are ruffled, and a firm's reputation is tarnished.
Trust me on this one: Giving new advisors six weeks to learn your business will be the best investments you’ll ever make.
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