I’d like to take the opportunity to respond to the August 22 Letter to the Editor submitted by Paul S. Bunkin. In his commentary, Mr. Bunkin offered some thoughts in response to your article, “Help Wanted: The Number of Active Producers Continues to Erode”. Like Mr. Bunkin, I received similar training and development when I joined Prudential in 1979, and he correctly described how a significant amount of time and resources was made into each new recruit so everyone had an opportunity to succeed.
To Mr. Bunkin’s point, we do live in a different world today; however, those differences do not mean that we still cannot have a thriving community of financial professionals. As someone who is thoroughly engrossed with the growth and development of the Prudential field force, I live every day with the challenge of recruitment and retention. This is not just a company challenge, it is an industry issue, so I offer the following thoughts in regards to how we can attract and retain the next generation of financial professionals.
While Mr. Bunkin’s comments begin by mentioning training, a company’s first step should be to make sure that only qualified candidates make it into the training program. High quantity with low quality leads to high turnover. We have a program in place that provides job sampling before a candidate (and the manager) makes a commitment. It has been so successful for us from both a recruiting and retention perspective, we made the decision to offer this as our only entry path in the near future.
In regards to training, to Mr. Bunkin’s point, financial professionals today are dealing with a complex environment with very sophisticated products. Add to that the need to prospect and grow a book of business, plus an increased regulatory environment and the career can seem daunting. Companies can combat this with passionate managers who are committed to developing and training their new financial professionals. In addition, a company should have a clearly defined strategy to help new financial professionals build their client base. And finally, the best way to learn is from someone who has been in your shoes, so joint-work opportunities with veteran financial professionals must become the norm. Mr. Bunkin experienced much of this when he started at Prudential and I am proud to say we still continue these traditions.
From an industry perspective, we must do a better job of promoting our professionalism, and education plays a key role in this endeavor. The more knowledgeable we are, the better prepared we are to assist our clients across a variety of needs. We have partnered with The American College to support the benefits of designations such as CLU and ChFC throughout our organization. The more our next generation is exposed to this type of resource as well as other industry programs such as MDRT and GAMA, the more they get to see leaders in action, and that is extremely motivating.
One of the big differences Mr. Bunkin notes between today and yesterday is the culture of instant communications and its impact on client contact. There is no doubt that ours is a relationship building profession. In fact, if done correctly, most financial professionals after a few years can build their business simply through referrals. There is also no denying that social media is everywhere, and will play a big role in the future of our industry. The challenge is going to be in balancing the use of social media to expand one’s reach—whether for recruiting or prospecting—while not losing focus on personal interaction. It’s not that the younger generation is unwilling to sit at a kitchen table or business and talk products, it is that we have not done a good job as an industry showing them how they can use the communications tools they are most comfortable with as part of their business. This continues to play out from a regulatory and supervisory perspective, but it is a road block for many who are considering a financial professional career.
Not within Mr. Bunkin’s letter, but another significant industry challenge I feel obligated to point out, is that there is tremendous opportunity for growth from a diversity perspective. This is a passion for me and my leadership team, and I know other leaders share the same sentiment. The face of our nation is changing, and today’s financial professionals need to better represent the communities they live and work in. We need to improve how we reach the wealth of talent that is out in the marketplace—in many instances, right outside our doors.
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bunkin’s assessment that all of us in the financial services industry play an important role in providing security to individuals and families. In fact, it is that opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life that most appeals to the next generation. This need to help is not going away, in fact, it will increase as markets continue their volatility, products become more complicated and companies bow out of defined benefit plans. We just need to do a better job of sharing our story and showing our new producers how to make dreams into realities.
John W. Greene , CLU, ChFC , is President of Agency Distribution, The Prudential Insurance Company of America based in Newark, New Jersey.
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