The ball is always in play for the senior advisor. Not only do clients’ lives, needs and expectations steadily change but new regulations, laws, taxation, practice-management, recruitment and compliance issues commonly cloud the planning picture. Plus there’s the plethora of new products that, while often helpful when attempting to fill client needs, can also create requirements for additional or ongoing education and training.

Industry associations such as LIMRA (www.limra.com), the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (www.naic.org), the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (www.life-line.org) and the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association (www.imsa.org) regularly sponsor educational initiatives to help advisors stay at the top of their game. Educational institutions such as The American College (www.theamericancollege. edu), as well as broker/dealers and product providers also offer events covering the latest issues, frequently with continuing education (CE) credits as an inducement. And life education comes in various forms from seminars (and Webinars) to newsletters, in-office and regional presentations, conference calls, tutorials, national symposiums and general meetings.

“Within any organization, a crucial factor for accomplishment is continuing education on the tools, processes and procedures that are vital for success,” says Bart Daniel, senior vice president for education at Fixed Income Securities, LP in San Antonio, Texas. “Advisors are no different, especially as the products and services within our industry continue to expand and become more complex.”

And as agents retire, those replacing them will need to be educated in order to fill any remaining knowledge gaps left by their more experienced predecessors. The overall decline in the number of new agents entering the business and the decreasing number of trained advisors capable of serving customers needs to be addressed. There can be no substitute for a strong, diverse body of trained producers capable of meeting consumer needs.

“It’s an ongoing fact of life that to succeed in this business you must regularly be educated,” says Mark Snyder, an advisor in Medford, N.Y. with eight industry designations and more than 30 years experience advising mostly seniors on how to get the most from their retirement. “It’s a constantly changing field on all levels,” he says. While Snyder relies on Web sites and industry publications, he regularly meets with industry professionals and participates in a peer group to help stay current. He also gives his broker/dealer Royal Alliance high marks for the educational programs it features at its conferences.

“We’re always working to increase the educational value we can provide,” says Jim Freeman of b/d Cantella and Co. Inc., in Boston. Cantella allows annuity and other product providers to present at its conferences but also invites other speakers to discuss industry trends and how they can impact a practice.

Keeping current in life insurance education also means focusing on trends that are impacting one’s target base, whether it be retirees, pre-retirees, business owners, high-level executives or a more narrowly focused group. Then there are the nearly never-ending applications. Are your life solutions aimed at solving succession issues? What about estate planning? Income generation? Tax-minimization strategies? Working within a trust? How do you knowledgeably answer questions about new products or new ways to utilize existing ones?

Mark Hall of Market Street Advisors in Smithfield, N.C., regularly sends staff to meetings and seminars pertinent to their areas of responsibility. He encourages his staff to obtain professional designations to help remain at the crest of the wave. One Market Street advisor recently earned the Certified Senior Advisor designation while two others are preparing for the Certified Financial Planner examination.

“We noticed that senior clients like the idea of a specialist on board,” Hall says. “It increases their comfort level and sends a message that as an office, we’re making a commitment to increased education. This can only be seen positively among clients concerned about their financial futures.”

“So many successful advisors are busy selling that in order to excel above the competition, they must carve out sufficient time to read about the competition, new products, important new applications and strategies,” says Dr. Larry Barton. Barton serves as president and chief executive officer at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., which pioneered an initiative to provide the Certified Financial Planner Certification Examination program in seven months through its Financial Planning Express Program.

The widespread move to shift retirement and insurance burdens to the individual has largely created a more financially astute retail investor. And venues such as the Internet – with its promise of near instantaneous answers – plus cable and radio financial shows, as well as an overall greater participation by the average retail investor in the equity and bond markets, have made personal finance a prevalent conversation topic.

“Typically an experienced advisor relies on the ?tribal knowledge’ he has obtained throughout his career,” notes FIS’s Daniel. “However, as clients become more savvy and new products and services continue to enter the market, professional education seminars can provide a critical jumpstart to both new and experienced advisors in this constantly changing financial landscape.” FIS University offers one to two classes per month at its main sales and service center and up to three additional monthly classes nationally at or near client offices. Taking the course on the road allows FIS to reach advisors who normally wouldn’t be able to travel, while keeping expenses at a minimum.

“Anyone can go to an industry association meeting, listen to a book online or join on a Webcast. They’re each fine but generally are not meaningful learning,” emphasizes Barton. “If you pick up a new sales technique, that’s wonderful. But if you believe that senior planning is a process, that you must understand gerontology and how it is the foundation of integrating with financial planning, insurance needs, tax planning and other issues, enroll in a program. Differentiate your practice from its competition through education.”

New York Life recently contributed $2 million to establish the Center for Retirement Income at the American College to help address the demand for sound retirement-income solutions. “With more than three-quarters of the nation’s wealth under their control, our 44 million current and pre-retirees are the most affluent and least understood financial services market,” says Fred Sievert, New York Life president. “The array and complexity of products available to retirees has never been greater. Our mission is to provide educated guidance to advisors.”

Further complicating the horizon is the reality that many will need to turn to a combination of insurance products as planning scenarios grow in complexity. This may foster a need for advisors to reach out and form alliances with those offering different specialties. Many of those approaching retirement can benefit from lifetime products that include, among other things, long term care features and inflation riders. It will be critical for consumers to work with an educated professional who can navigate the various options available.

Support can come on various levels and from unique sources. Jackson National Life introduced a multimedia presentation based upon the book, “But What If I Live? The American Retirement Crisis,” by its executive vice president, Dr. Gregory Salsbury, Ph.D.

“Jackson is committed to providing education and support for advisors to help them develop retirement income solutions for their clients,” says Salsbury, whose book earned a Retirement Income Retail Communications award from the Retirement Income Industry Association (ww.riia-usa.org). “This validates our approach to educating advisors on the critical importance of retirement preparedness.”

Other firms such as the Phoenix Companies, Inc., provide advisors with a broad portfolio of tools to help meet the needs of affluent individuals and institutions in addition to its lineup of life insurance, annuities and investment products. Its sales support group is a nationwide network of life, annuity and investment consultants who provide marketing support and in-depth knowledge of product features and benefits to advisors.

The Phoenix Wealth Survey provides advisors with ways to better understand and reach the growing and changing high-net-worth market in a monthly enewsletter that discusses demographic trends and how to best solve the challenges members of this group may be facing. Phoenix has also formed a new Alternative Products unit to develop innovative ways to extend features of life insurance and annuity products to other financial products to help meet retirement income needs.

Coventry, a pioneer in the secondary market for life insurance, has expanded its 7-year-old continuing education program to include advanced coursework for professional advisors experienced with secondary market transactions. The curriculum, which complements an introductory-level course, is offered nationwide and based on hundreds of actual cases.

“Advisors are hungry for the most current information about this market, especially those who already have some life settlement experience,” says Michael Cohen, senior vice president for account services. “Given the rapid development of new products, planning concepts and increasing consumer demand, advisors want to know what is happening in the market right now.” Topics in Coventry’s curriculum include basic and advanced planning concepts, a life settlement overview, policy valuation and identifying candidates. Continuing education credits are available.

The insurance industry has always looked for new and innovative ways to improve its offerings. Similarly, advisors need to make education a regular extension of their business practices. As no one company or product will be able to satisfy the plethora of issues seniors face, advisors will need to creatively consider a wide range of products and choices to provide the solutions their customers will need. And to do that, they’ll need to stay educated.