The financial services industry is gearing up for critical staffing challenges. Many veteran insurance agents are readying for retirement just as the demand for financial advice is growing due to the boomer retirement and a shift toward consumerism and individual responsibility. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the oldest of the baby boomer generation turns 62 in 2008. As they trickle out of the workforce, firms will compete for top talent among younger generations to serve, perhaps, one of the largest and most advice-starved markets in history.

One of the best ways to welcome developing professionals into the workplace is to offer them a spot on a team. Generations X and Y, those born between 1965 and 1976 and 1977 and 1994, respectively, value the chance to be part of a group with a larger goal. These two generations are adept at social networking; and they have made web sites such as Face Book, My Space and LinkedIn popular.

They like interacting with their peers in a virtual group community and are accustomed to building friendships with people from across the U.S. and around the globe. They enjoy communities in the virtual and real world alike. But they are as wary as anyone of the sales process, particularly when it comes to products such as life insurance, stocks or bonds. To help them enter a career in the financial services industry that involves placing such products calls for a different perspective.

The concept of team selling has grown in popularity as the industry has changed. It is now commonplace in the securities and real estate industries. However, perhaps a more accurate and attractive phrase, at least in the realm of financial services, would be team planning. Our clients need a tailored financial plan to fit their specific needs, not a just a sales pitch, especially via tag team with an opener or closer.

Our industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 to 30 years. It was previously common practice to approach clients with a one-size-fits-all plan centered on two products: life and disability income insurance. Today’s financial services firms, formerly known as agencies, offer a more sophisticated approach.

Instead of pushing products, they seek to develop long-term relationships with clients to help them meet their ever-changing financial needs. Many of our clients are facing challenges not experienced by previous generations–simultaneously preparing for retirement, taking care of children and, in many cases, aging parents. As a result, our product is planning.

I started our firm in 1987 with an emphasis on planning. While the underlying goal of selling is inherent, successful representatives understand what they’re selling: a process, not just a product. Clients and prospects are often more receptive to the term financial planning than traditional insurance sales.

Our industry needs to attract more young talent to survive. To recruit and keep talent, we have found that it may be wise to offer young professionals a career in financial planning as opposed to product sales. It also helps to give them a place on a planning team.

The financial planning team approach can help to attract both new and experienced producers alike. A few tips for implementing a successful team follow.

Implementation tips

Planning teams provide the most thorough advice and service possible to consumers. Team leaders are experienced planners with expertise in all of the critical areas that must be addressed by any successful agent and are experts in building clientele. The team approach has several advantages.

Clients benefit because they receive uninterrupted service from at least one of the team members who knows their personal and financial situation inside and out. New planners benefit because they can watch and learn from our very best. It’s their fast track to business success.

Not everyone in our firm will fit a planning team. Some people are highly individualized in the way they work, and that’s fine. Their focus is on leading clients, not fellow planners. They do not have to join a team to make a valuable contribution. Those who do join teams, however, tend to enjoy working together. It’s the team leader’s job to help these prot?g? planners develop to the point where they may be able to lead teams of their own after several years of junior partner experience.

New hires start out as members of development planning teams, or farm teams, where they get classroom instruction in the basics of customized financial planning. This training is the responsibility of our corporate leadership group. During this phase of training, our experienced planning team leaders monitor the progress of our farm team members and seek out those whom they think would be a particularly good fit to join their established teams.

This results in a stream of highly qualified referrals that may have a real interest in learning more about a career in our industry.

For our new planners, joining an advance planning team is like joining the major leagues: It’s a big deal. Those who make it to the majors will not be the stars of the team at first. They are not yet franchise players but they’re good enough to be considered a major leaguer, which breeds confidence in new planners.

This approach allows new members to learn how their team serves their clients; and new members become more acquainted with the team planning process. These new planners also get a professional boost from watching experienced team leaders in action.

Each team has access to a staff of professional specialists in areas of financial planning for individuals, executives and business owners.

Firms making the switch to the team planning approach should be prepared for bumps in the road. Misunderstandings are bound to occur when large numbers of people work together. It can also be challenging to identify the best candidates for team leadership. Sometimes an experienced planner with defined leadership skills is a better choice than a firm’s top producing planner, who may prefer to work more independently.

Teams also need to have a consistent planning system and methodologies. You should be able to pick up any team member’s file and know what’s going on. This at-a-glance ability to interpret the work of your planners is important, not only for organizational efficiency, but from a compliance perspective as well. The team approach allows for a smooth transition for new planners and, most importantly, a consistent planning process for prospects and clients.

Perhaps the most important point to communicate when recruiting young talent is that we are more than the life insurance agents and investment professionals of the early years. We are experts in the uses of these products, but more importantly we are planners who strive to understand the wants and needs of those we serve.

Team planning has proven successful at our firm. Based on our experience, the total production from a team is generally more than what it would be by people working alone. Today’s young workers seem to like being part of a successful planning team.

Robert Mathis is chairman and CEO of Peachtree Planning Corporation in Atlanta, Ga., charter member of the Southeast Agency, an agency of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, N.Y.