Practice and professional development should take place throughout a successful financial professional’s career. Effective development is an ongoing learning process that starts from the moment one becomes a financial professional and continues until the execution of a succession plan.

End-to-end development is the self-realization that one doesn’t need to sit in a classroom to learn something; development also happens while interacting with clients, prospecting and networking with peers. It’s critical to invest in one’s practice in the following ways:

? championing the idea of “;

? building “centers of influence”; and

? taking ownership of one’s own development.

This combination will help financial professionals who serve clients in the advanced markets do what they do best: focus on what’s important to clients and position themselves as advocates for clients, the industry and their peers.

Interest, Access and Ability

For a financial professional to be successful in advanced markets, it’s essential to have “interest, access and ability:”

? Interest–the innate drive to grow and develop your practice in the advanced markets.

? Access–the ability to uncover and tap into professional resources, networks, referral sources and prospects.

? Ability–the skills necessary to successfully serve affluent individuals and business owners in all aspects of an advanced markets case.

One can argue that these three elements are necessary in general, but in advanced markets they are critical to success. For example, you may have had the opportunity to work on a case wherein the client was a recent lottery winner.

As a financial professional, you may be well-versed in the issues that can arise in such an advanced markets situation. But a case like this may also engender tax and legal issues beyond your expertise.

A successful financial professional knows when to ask for help and when to leverage resources to fill in the gaps. In the example above, the professional may have access to expertise of an affiliated carrier’s advanced markets attorneys–people who understand the complexities of lottery cases.

Such a situation might be similar to cases involving young professional athletes who receive large sign-on bonuses or heirs who suddenly receive large inheritances. But even without access to in-house support, an advisor should build outside networks so the ability to be successful in advanced markets isn’t hindered by a lack of expertise.

Centers of Influence

Centers of influence are specific to building the “access” channels that will help you be successful in advanced markets. Developing a network of centers of influence means cultivating strong ties with financial advisors and with other professionals–among them accountants, attorneys and trust officers–to build your reputation, brand, and capabilities.

As a financial professional, you must also keep abreast of industry trends and develop an understanding of what impacts both your business and your clients. One of the most effective ways of doing so is to become active in professional organizations and associations, then leverage the relationships you create once you are a member. Consider joining or becoming more active in organizations, such as the Million Dollar Round Table, the Financial Planning Association, the American Council on Life Insurance or the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting. By leveraging your centers of influence, you’ll be positioning yourself as an advocate for the industry and your clients.

Investing in Your Profession

Whether enrolling in a CE-credit class, working toward a professional designation or taking time out of your schedule to catch up on current events, investing in your practice does not simply come down to cost.

Many financial professionals use the resources of a business coach as an objective, third-party advisor in their management and development process. When you consider that many financial professionals have been in the business for years, a fresh perspective from a business coach can help elevate a practice to a whole new level.

Another way to invest in your development is by taking advantage of technological innovations like “virtual classrooms,” which allow financial professionals to continue their learning over the Internet and at their own pace. Some companies also use cutting-edge technology to help advisors identify practice and business development opportunities, monitor their development progress, and track regulatory and compliance training. Check with your company or other centers of influence to learn about available training and development opportunities.

Closing Thoughts

The support of a strong network of centers of influence and end-to-end, continuous development is crucial to the growth of an advanced markets practice. Financial reforms, innovations in financial strategies and products and shifting demographics are changing the landscape of our industry. To remain successful, financial professionals must have the interest, access and ability to change with it.

Michael J. Vietri, CLU, is executive vice president, Individual Distribution at MetLife, New York, NY. His email is mvietri@metlife.com.