NU Senior Editor Warren S. Hersch recently interviewed Caroline Feeney, president of Prudential’s national sales organization, comprised of 3,000 financial professionals. The interview explored, among other questions, the performance of Prudential’s career distribution system in 2014, the role the unit plays as part of Prudential’s strategic vision, and lessons she’s learned that might benefit other senior executives occupying similar industry positions. The following are excerpts.
Hersch: How did Prudential’s career distribution system fare during the past year. Has the unit met recruitment goals?
Feeney: I was very pleased with our 2014 performance. We had a strong year across all of our goals. From a growth perspective, we were able to increase — for our 6th consecutive year — the number of quality financial professionals within Prudential. Our growth story is consistent and one that I am proud of.
While recruiting results are strong and are part of our growth story, just as important is retention. Our four-year retention rate exceeds the industry average. While I continue to look for ways to improve retention even further, it’s a testament to all that Prudential has to offer our financial professionals in terms of support and choice, so they can best support their clients.
Our efforts are paying off in more ways than just great retention. Aside from seeing an upgrade in the talent and leadership capabilities of our field management team, we’re seeing better representation of the diverse markets we serve. We take a ‘total market’ approach: working hard to make sure that all diverse market segments are represented in our sales force; and endeavoring to understand and exceed the expectations of our clients in these markets.
Hersch: What accounts for the company’s career distribution system’s growth?
Feeney: There are two factors to consider. One is controlled growth: the careful, thoughtful selection of financial professionals; and secondly, good development of recruits with a clear eye on retention goals.
We’re taking a well balanced approach to both. And we do so with growth as the secondary goal to hiring quality, knowledgeable financial professionals who provide expert advice and put their clients’ needs first.
Hersch: Are Prudential’s hiring and retention practices consistent with industry norms or distinguished in some way?
Feeney: On the industry continuum, we’re highly selective. We put financial professional candidates through an extremely rigorous process to ensure that we’re hiring quality individuals whom we believe are going to be a fit for our business and will be successful.
In terms of development, our educational programs and resources are providing new financial professionals with the tools necessary to launch and grow a successful career.
We recognize the need to offer alternatives in the way we train the next generation of professionals. To that end, we have a broad range of resources that include face-to-face and web-based options. One area we’ve successfully expanded into is video training. That can take the form of a 5-minute clip from a top financial professional or seeing an established financial professional in action. We find that these quick hits deliver more education and insight in a simple and easy-to-digest way.
Our financial professionals last year began conducting all of their business on a virtual desktop through the Internet. This move has made submitting business electronically much more convenient, thus enabling the client to conduct business more easily and helping to limit our dependence on paper. This is an example of the culture shift we see as we become, what I refer to, as a “high-touch, high-tech” industry and organization.
Hersch: What objectives for Prudential’s career distribution system do you hope to advance in 2015?
Feeney: As I earlier indicated, we’ve grown our career distribution system for 6 consecutive years and are very pleased with that consistency. Continuing growth and retention of quality financial professionals at Prudential remains a leading priority.
Another focus area will be continuing to find ways in which to deepen our existing client relationships. This includes using technology to interact with clients in new ways, and continuing to educate financial professionals on solutions that help clients meet their unique goals.
In 2012 we introduced a LinkedIn pilot that has proven to be successful from both a prospecting and recruiting perspective. Currently, over 400 of our financial professionals are active on LinkedIn.
Technology will play a significant role in building relationships as the way people prefer to communicate continues to evolve. There’s tremendous potential here. I don’t see technology replacing conversations, but rather complementing them.
We find that those who embrace both the challenges and opportunities that come with technological innovation are better positioned for success. Financial professionals not only need to be knowledgeable about their products and the market in general.
They also need to be conscientious about connecting with customers by their preferred channel, whether that be via phone, online applications, social media, or client-financial professional videoconferencing — while at the same time not overwhelming or intruding on them.
I’m very pleased with our solutions-oriented advisor model, versus one that’s transaction-focused. And we see this in terms of the diverse product mix offered to our advisors.
Continuing this work will be very important to us, as will be maintaining education and communication with our advisors to ensure they always have the most up-to-date information and can provide clients with the most appropriate advice. We’ll also continue to (1) build on the joint work initiatives going on currently with our existing advisors; and (2) expand on our practice-building programs.
These programs enable financial professionals to expand their practice by bringing on one or more marketing assistants or junior producers, partnering with professionals in other industries, and/or aligning themselves with a mentor. There are many different — and increasingly complex — products on the market, so it does help when financial professionals are working with one another.
Also, in September of last year, we introduced a new financial advisor title that can be used by our financial professionals if certain licensing and training requirements are met. This is part of a possible career path that one can embark on, depending on how they want to build their practice and where they want to focus.
Someone new to this business can choose one of several career paths, depending on the market they serve or decide to look at a career in management. This also allows us to accommodate experienced financial advisors who join our organization.
We will do additional work in 2015 to continue to refine and support all of our available career paths for financial professionals and ensure that all of the requisite training programs remain relevant and up-to-date.
We want to be the employer of choice for financial professionals. To that end, we’ve clearly defined in our recruiting process the career paths that are available to financial professionals; and the tools and programs available to help them succeed.
Hersch: What additional support are you offering Prudential’s financial professionals that you didn’t in prior years?
Feeney: We’re putting together additional educational programs for individuals earlier on in their career. We’re also offering additional mentoring programs for existing financial professionals. And we are looking into ways to recognize individuals who are succeeding in their careers and are truly realizing the depth of client relationships that we want to see more of.