‘If you want to learn a subject, teach the course,’ goes an old saying. In years past, new advisors would all too well have appreciated the adage, given that so many of them received only a minimum of training. That’s changing, however, as a growing number of firms see value in implementing mentorship programs for inexperienced recruits.

Such initiatives, say sources interviewed by National Underwriter, benefit new advisors by helping them to learn survival basics, diversify their practices and deepen their understanding of niche disciplines faster than they otherwise could achieve on their own. For mentors, particularly those approaching retirement age, there’s another big benefit: the ability to groom a successor to the practice.

Douglas Myers, a financial advisor at Associated Benefit Consultants, White Plains, N.Y., says he gradually transitioned to ABC from Guardian Life three years ago to diversify his practice and focus on his desired market niche: pension planning.

To that end, Guardian’s general agency connected Myers to Anthony Domino, ABC’s president and the immediate past president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals. Establishing his own practice under the dba Strategies for Wealth Creation and Protection, Myers mentored informally under Domino for 18 months, servicing ABC’s less profitable ‘B’ and ‘C’ clients and learning the company’s approach to pension planning and prospecting. After the 18-month period, Myers became a junior partner at the firm and the mentorship was formalized.

“Previously, with the tools I had in my toolbox, I would have focused mainly on personal financial planning, sold life and disability policies, and maybe done some brokerage account work,” says Myers. “I would not have done all the work related to pension planning.”

That includes collaborating extensively with other professionals. Myers observes that, with Domino’s guidance, he has jettisoned highly technical explanations in favor of “soft-selling” points when presenting solutions to accounts. To win their referrals, he also has learned to avail himself as “an information resource” and to plug his pension planning services frequently as a value-add to the accountants’ practices.

Myers concedes, however, that he’s still striving to become more like his mentor in one regard: fearless in pursuing the very large client. “Anthony plays big,” says Myers. “He’s terrific at it. It’s going to take me awhile to reach his level.”

To be sure, Myers is levels above mentorees who just are starting out, many of whom spend much of their initial training period crunching numbers in advisors’ offices, rather than meeting with clients. Example: Joshua Pierce, a new hire at Leon Rousso & Associates, Ventura, Calif.

Now three months into the first of a three-phase mentorship, Pierce is learning how to use software that produces financial planning recommendations based on fact-findings that Rousso gathers from client meetings. He’s also learning much about the ethics of financial planning. He notes, for example, that clients frequently are better off funding an irrevocable life insurance trust with an existing life policy, though issuance of a new policy, and the commission to be made on the policy, might be more to the advisor’s advantage.

Also new to the financial advisory world is Andy Umbach, son of Rich Umbach, the founder and principal of Lisle, Ill.-based Pulse Financial. Now a senior and finance major at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., the junior Umbach has worked in his father’s practice part time since his freshman year, securing his life and health licenses and passing the Series 7 and Series 66 exams along the way. On graduating in May, he’ll begin working full time for the firm.

He says he’s ready to take on more responsibility for what father and son expect to be the final year of training. Since the mentorship started, the junior Umbach has joined his dad in client meetings, arranged appointments with prospects, helped set up client seminars using a turnkey solution from Jackson National Life, and spent a lot of time honing presentation skills and learning about products.

The job’s toughest challenge, he notes, is overcoming clients’ procrastination in agreeing to an appointment. Thereafter, says the younger Umbach, they’re generally very “grateful” and “understanding” when presented with a solution to their financial objectives.

Mentorees themselves are just as appreciative simply in having objectives to pursue. Mark Davis, a principal at Haas Financial Services, Southfield, Mich., observes that such objectives, or benchmarks, were the single most valuable component of his mentorship.

Don Haas, an elder colleague at the firm who is grooming Davis to take over the practice, set forth three objectives: securing a professional designation; becoming a registered principal; and acquiring enough practice experience to be self-supporting.

To that end, Davis pursued the ChFC and certified fund specialist (CFS) designations. He additionally gained experience in prospecting, selling and active listening through an insurance agency and, subsequently, working as an advisor at a credit union. Thereafter, Haas felt sufficiently confident to bring Davis into his practice as a “journeyman apprentice” and reward Davis with a brass ring.

“Mentoring wasn’t worthwhile [for Haas] before I gained this outside expertise,” says Davis. “Until we could talk more as equals, we didn’t spend much time together. That’s when I really began to learn the subtleties of financial planning.”