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Springtime for Advisors

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This month’s cover story details an ambitious new training program that Merrill Lynch is undertaking. The goal is to improve on a fairly dismal industry track record known for “throwing new hires against the wall and seeing if they stick,” to quote Dwight Mathis, who heads the Merrill initiative.

But even if you don’t work at Merrill, and are not a new recruit, the subject of training should be uppermost on your mind. The reason is that even successful, veteran advisors struggle with continuing their past record of success. 

Momentum is not something anyone can take for granted. Rather, we need to strive to keep things fresh. Life teaches that all things are subject to decline—be it one’s health, marriage, business, even country—without constant efforts at renewal.

And lifelong learning is one valuable tool to counter the forces of decline. That is because we all have naturally egotistical tendencies and see things from the perspective of our own narrow vantage point. Education is a means by which we subordinate our own assumed wisdom by learning from someone with superior knowledge in a given area.

In the natural world, a cessation of growth means death, and so it is in our human endeavors. Behavioral studies have shown that the honeymoon stage of a marriage declines after about two years; similarly, it is normal for businesses that take off to eventually plateau. 

Couples seeking to renew their relationship not uncommonly take a trip together. The outdoor classroom provided by travel is functionally equivalent to formal learning. Seeing new things and places gives couples a fresh perspective, and helps a couple to see themselves anew through a changed context.

The renewal of plant life we see all around us this time of year should not just signal the regenerative power inherent in nature but also remind us of the planting, clearing, pruning and other activities we must engage in to shape our environments. 

In other words, we need to sow the seeds of future success; we need to get rid of unwanted weeds that inhibit growth; and we need to consciously imagine the possibilities for ourselves, our families, our clients.

Not all training will have an equal impact. In fact, there are a lot of fairly worthless offerings out there. But in searching for opportunities to reinvigorate your advisory practice, you should look for teachers with demonstrated knowledge and wisdom and subjects that excite and stimulate. 

Finally, learning that does not lead to doing will be of little benefit to you or your clients. Focus on the areas you feel will most benefit your client—whether that is financial planning education or developing expertise in Social Security spousal benefits.

With dedicated effort, planting seeds of knowledge should generate renewed confidence and yield a springtime of opportunity.


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