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Portrait of a Rookie (Part III)

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Up-and-at-’em at 5:30 in the morning for a pre-breakfast military-style work-out in the park: push-ups, weight-lifting, a two-mile run. Is boot camp any way for a financial advisor to kick off his 11-hour work-day?

You bet it is — if the advisor is rookie Jonathan S. Israel, 24, who is chalking up exceptional performance in his second year at Edward Jones.

“The work-out is a terrific energy booster,” he says. “I get a great feeling of accomplishment first thing in the morning. We have a few trainers there who push us.”

But the self-disciplined Oakland, Calif., native has needed no one to push him to reach production and asset-management levels that are well ahead of the standard for new Edward Jones advisors. Moving rapidly through the brokerage’s five-segment Milestone Advancement system, he is on track to reach Segment Three in just a few months.

You may recall that this past February, we found Israel in his Studio City, Calif., office in suburban Los Angeles beginning to reap client referrals and enrolling employees in 401(k) plans.

Research first profiled the FA last August. That March he’d already taken over an existing branch office as its sole advisor, after selling investments for only two months. By June, he could afford to hire full-time assistant Kristina.

In this article — the final in our series — we join Israel, who is compensated by commission and achievement bonuses, as he focuses on accumulating assets and asking for referrals.

Being a business success is indeed Israel’s top priority. In fact, it’s rather an obsession, he admits, concluding that he’s something of a “control freak,” wanting things handled “a certain way,” as he does.

“I want to be the best at what I do. That means making a living doing the right thing for people, being the advisor they want to come to and want to refer their friends and family to,” he says.

Though his progress has been swift, Israel is the first to say it’s been far from easy launching a career in a tough industry at age 22 and prospecting by knocking on doors, literally — as required by Edwards Jones.

But “there’s no excuse for doing poorly or not doing the work. You just have to buckle down and do it. I refuse to give up or fail. If something isn’t going right,” Israel says, “I find a way to improve how I’m doing it.”

As a newbie, he carved out several hours daily specifically for door-knocking in Studio City and adjacent Sherman Oaks, both in the San Fernando Valley. But now that the bulk of his time has shifted to client appointments in the office, the FA fits in door-knocking on the way home or when he’s out visiting clients in his 1997 silver BMW.

It’s only natural that Israel spends more time in the office since he’s “going deeper” with clients to “uncover more of their assets. I want to be more than just a place where people go to buy mutual funds,” he says.

“So, for instance, if I’m doing retirement planning, I’ll end up finding other brokerage accounts, insurance needs or maybe an old 401(k) plan from a previous employer, which can be rolled over…”

Delving deeper with existing accounts and meeting new people are, for Israel, the two most exciting parts of the job.

Tips for Opening AccountsNetworking is a key way to find new prospects — but networking with a purpose, as the advisor puts it. That is, Israel doesn’t just show up at a Rotary Club meeting; he comes with a goal in mind, like setting up a lunch appointment with another member whom he thinks is a likely prospect.

The FA’s clientele is broad-based, but Israel likes to build his book with business owners, especially. They offer lots of opportunities for corporate accounts, retirement plans, insurance and individual employee investments.

Recently, the advisor was asked to speak at a support group of rookie Edward Jones advisors. As a beginner FA, he was required to attend such meetings — but not now since he’s been selling investments for more than a year. Indeed, the meetings’ host wants fast-rising Israel to reveal to the group his methods of opening new accounts. The advisor’s monthly goal is in the double-digits.

“When [the firm] notices that someone is opening a lot of accounts, they’ll bring them in so they can tell some of the new guys how they’re doing it. It’s nice of them to ask me,” Israel says, modestly, “but I don’t have any secrets!”

Well, one tack that works wonderfully for him is phoning prospects on days that the Dow Jones takes a big plunge. Whenever the Dow drops, say, 200, 300, 400 points, it’s a great time for Israel to set appointments, he says.

“Those are really exciting days. I get right on the phone and call my clients and prospects. I assure clients about their investments and make sure that prospects aren’t worried about anything they own.

“Other brokers don’t like to call when the market is down, but that’s a great day for conversation because prospects are more willing to talk. When everything is fine they have the attitude: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Though Israel has started to take the initiative in asking for referrals, this is an area in which he “probably could do better,” he says. Nonetheless, referrals are coming in at the steady clip of a few per month.

The extraverted advisor is apparently more confident when it comes to public speaking. This, of course, serves him well in conducting seminars. A recent one he held, complete with guest expert, was all about long-term care insurance, on which the FA is putting great emphasis.

“Long-term care insurance is something that a lot of people think about but don’t want to bring up. So I usually do. I feel it’s my responsibility. I have to. This is where going deeper with clients gets a little more exciting,” he says.

By last spring, Israel had begun to acquire 401(k) plan business: starting up new plans or taking over existing ones. Now he’s switching gears, hoping to provide employee education and maybe even becoming broker of record on some plans. Educating employees is a good way to get in front of a number of people at once. Then he makes himself available one-on-one to whoever wants help in choosing and diversifying their investments.

The special legal forms that are filed for 401(k) plans are public information, so Israel does a bit of research to locate nearby firms that offer such plans. Next, he phones the plan administrators.

“They’re really concerned about employee education because [they have] a fiduciary responsibility,” he notes.

Pleasantly PersistentIsrael, who joined Edward Jones in September 2006 right after graduating from the University of California at San Diego, was a hard-working sprinter from the get-go. He logged in long hours and soon began reporting to the office six days a week. Now, as his practice grows, he’s trying to cut back to five. During the week, he arrives at 7:45 a.m. or 8:00 a.m., typically not leaving until at least 6:30 p.m. — sometimes much later if he’s scheduled an evening appointment.

The young advisor’s off-hours are chiefly dedicated to his girlfriend of more than four years, Angeline, an engineer. And as a member of a basketball league, he plays one game weekly.

But his career in financial services is Israel’s central focus. And he aims to make it a big career.

“I like being someone that other people come to for advice — their financial business or even if it’s about buying a car,” he says. “There’s a certain amount of recognition and responsibility that comes along with being a financial advisor.”

Looking back — not all that long ago — Israel says that at first he was nervous about materializing on doorsteps and meeting new people. “I wasn’t necessarily born [excelling] at knocking on people’s doors. I ‘threw up on people’s shoes,’” he says, alluding to rookies’ tendency to talk too much, too fast to prospects.

But he soon relaxed and got the knack of being “pleasantly persistent.” “I hope I’m still pleasantly persistent,” he says. “I know I’m persistent!”

The job’s biggest challenge? To Israel, it’s making sure he’s consistent in following up — because, he notes, “the money is in the follow-up.”

With the drop-out rate for new financial advisors as high as ever, what advice does the outstanding Israel have for newbies who may be eyeing the exit?

“You’ve got to give it everything for two or three years. You can’t walk into something that’s this difficult with the attitude: I’ll try it out and see if I like it. You have to feel that failure isn’t an option. If, by two or three years, it’s not working, then you should consider doing something else. Maybe you’re not cut out for the job.

“But,” he says, “if it’s because of all the hard work that’s involved, it’s just something you’ve got to overcome.”

Israel believes that new FAs quit the business simply because “they don’t want to do the work. It isn’t easy. They don’t want to pick up the phone and make the calls. It takes a lot of persistence, especially if you’re knocking on doors. And if you’re not willing to go back and follow up, you won’t make it.”

Even for the determined Israel, the roughest part has been to keep going in the face of bad days. But “even on my worst day — when I’ve been developing a relationship and the person ends it, for example — I can’t bring myself to say that the business is too hard and I’m leaving it.” He adds:

“I’m so stubborn, I’ll never say: ‘I give up’”.

Freelance writer Jane Wollman Rusoff is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor of Research and is the founder of Family Star Productions.


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