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The Flip Side of the Social Network: Advisors’ Missteps Will Haunt Them

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I just got back from the FPA “Experience” Conference in San Diego, and I have to tell you my experience this year was interesting and unlike any other.  Let me explain: For many years now it has been my mission and greater purpose to support students in CFP registered programs across the country. This year, I took a group of Kansas State University (my alma mater) students to the FPA national. I find exposing planning students to even a slice of the real world of financial planning and the financial services industry really helps them put their studies in perspective—and the contacts they make often lead to invaluable intern positions and future jobs. The feedback we get from the students every year overwhelmingly confirms this. 

But this year, I did something that I don’t usually do. I decided to focus more on connecting with the students, spending more time with them, walking around the conference with them and mentoring them more in their networking skills.  I’m bored with my usual business suits, so instead, I choose a more comfortable route and put on jeans and a K-State shirt and walked around the conference with them and went out to networking events in the evening with them as well. It wasn’t a conscious thing at all, but in this untraditional casual dress for me, apparently I looked like one of the students, at least to many older advisors.  This experience gave me a perspective I have never had (and one I never thought I would get)—and believe me, in some cases it wasn’t so good. 

There seemed to be two extremes here: When students were talking to advisors some were very engaged and very much respected the student’s value to the future of the industry, gave them great advice, understood their educational background, and gave them a positive experience. 

But, what dumbfounded me was the other extreme. I don’t mean to get off on a rant here, but what I witnessed on the other end of the spectrum concerned me. I watched well respected, successful financial advisors in front of a group of financial planning students act like these “kids” were dumber than a box of rocks—with egos inflated well beyond what they should have been. 

Let me just say that I was embarrassed; for these advisors and for the planning profession as a whole. I can’t tell you how many advisors, who should have known better, treated the students as if they were idiots: making wild claims about how great their firms are, asking embarrassing questions (How would you define financial planning?, What makes you old enough to know how the market works?, etc.), or giving them instructions as if they were in grade school. Even worse, some of these advisors clearly knew they were over the line: when I finally couldn’t take it anymore, and stepped forward and introduced myself as their faculty advisor, they’d blush and try to dig themselves out of a hole or just head for the nearest exit. 

In addition to showing the planning profession in a light that it (for the most part) doesn’t deserve, these advisors apparently had no idea of the damage they were doing to the reputation of their firms. For a long time, I’ve suspected that many older advisors have no idea how much social media has connected young advisors, advisory firm employees and financial planning students. 

If you do something dumb one afternoon, by evening 1,000 or 10,000 financial planning students and young advisors could know about it. Why do some firms get overloaded with applications for jobs and internships, while others get very few? People used to tell advisors not to tell their clients anything they wouldn’t want to see on “60 Minutes.” Well, we’re way past that now. My advice to advisors is don’t say anything—if you want to hire young people in your firm (which at some point, if not now, you are going to inevitably need)—that you don’t want the world to hear.    

It’s going to be posted on some social media avenue somewhere and believe me, you don’t want your fame to come from saying something that is out of line, idiotic or ego driven.  You want it to be something positive, which makes your firm stand out as an employer of choice who understands, supports and most of all, believes in the next generation of talent.  

Regardless of whether we like it or not, social media is mainstream and the way of the world for young people today.  Hence, upon returning home, all the students I took to the conference have requested to be my friend on Facebook.


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