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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Breaking Through Your Career-Track Barrier

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In my conversations with next-gen advisors throughout the country, many express frustration that they are stuck in an associate advisor role when their desire is to move into a full lead advisor role.

There could be a couple of reasons for this. The next-gen advisor might lack the skills to advance, or the firm could be managing its growth improperly. In this article, we are going to look at what next-gen advisors need to do to prove they are ready to move up.

New advisors should focus on the following three C’s to demonstrate their ability to operate unsupervised.

Communication. Communicating with clients and getting them to adhere to a plan is one of the most difficult aspects of financial planning. Effective communication, therefore, is essential and is one of the largest differentiators between a support and lead role. The responsibility is immense, especially under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, because you are liable as a fiduciary for whatever advice you give.

College can lay an educational foundation, but it cannot fully prepare you for real-world client interactions. It teaches you the science of financial planning, not the art. If you are a few years removed from a CFP Board-registered program, consider putting in some extra work to sharpen your communication skills. Look at professional certificates in conflict resolution/mediation and negotiation, as well as courses on psychology, counseling and family dynamics. Furthermore, study your firm’s past client correspondence to observe how certain situations were handled and what the outcomes were. If this is not available, there are many self-study business and professional communication classes available. Toastmasters could be a good option, as well.

If you aren’t receiving the mentoring you desire, request that a senior advisor listen in on your phone calls and provide feedback. Your tone, inflection and volume are all under close observation by clients.

Competency. You have to be able to answer 90% to 95% of the client’s questions. In most independent firms, you will not have a team of experts attending each client meeting with you, so you essentially have to know everything.

A good rule of thumb for technical competency is to be prepared for the client to ask multiple questions about multiple subjects versus only about taxes as they probably would with an accountant. Obtaining your CFP certification should be your minimum goal, and you should consider eventually pursuing other advanced qualifications such as CPWA, AWMA, JD, CPA or CFA. These are common in the requirements section of industry job postings and go a long way in preparing a lead advisor for the breadth and depth of advice they have to provide.

When you experience a situation where you do not know something, be honest with the client and tell them you have to look it up and get back to them.

Confidence. Clients have to have confidence in you or your tenure as a lead advisor will be short-lived. They cannot be confident in you if you are not confident in yourself.

Taking the steps mentioned above should give you a solid base. Furthermore, your firm should have a career development plan established for you to achieve incremental victories with clients to build your confidence. If they do not, approach them about your intentions and ask to be given specific parts of a client’s plan to present individually.

Take initiative and volunteer for tough assignments no one else wants.

Keep in mind that many larger firms strive to have multiple professionals present when meeting with clients, but you are still primarily responsible for conducting the meeting as if no one else was present. Your goal is to make it easy for management to move you into that next slot or even create a slot for you. Do not get discouraged about how much time your progression takes—everyone’s timeline will look different depending on their skill set, personal timing and the firm’s time horizon.


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