Calls for financial literacy programs in high schools aren’t just for the benefit of a more informed consumer base. For Laurie Belew, 2016 chair of the FPA NexGen community, those programs are another avenue for young advisors to enter the profession.
“People want to be a doctor because they have an experience with their doctor,” she said. “It’s not like a junior high student is going to meet with a financial advisor.”
That early introduction is especially important when many financial planning undergraduate programs aren’t part of the business schools, according to Belew. “People have an interest in finance and naturally — I did — think, ‘Well, I need to go to business school.’ Sometimes even when you get there, you don’t learn about this whole other area of how to help people with their money.”
The industry is becoming more receptive to younger advisors, Belew said. “Just in the last 10 years since I’ve been in the industry, the conversation has really changed from ‘What do we do with these people?’ for lack of a better word, to ‘How can we make this a career for people who are interested?’”
Advisors are still asking where to look for talented young advisors, but Belew said the new question is “‘How can I engage and challenge younger advisors and really give them a career?’”
To that end, FPA NexGen focuses on engaging with local communities of advisors. NexGen was founded as a national organization that would bring advisors “together occasionally at conferences,” Belew said. However, “As we’ve grown through grassroots efforts, people are looking to connect on a regular basis in their local communities, so we’re trying to support those efforts.”
Belew noted that “every community is different, but as much as we can help them structure and help them overcome challenges, we’re trying to position ourselves to be a great resource for them in that regard.”
Conferences are still a major part of FPA’s outreach, and the NexGen Gathering conference has “grown by leaps and bounds” over the past three years, Belew said.
Instead of the familiar conference format, with a lineup of speakers and breakout sessions, she said Gathering’s goal is to bring advisors together to “be part of the conversation. We want NexGen to be known as the place where young advisors come find a home in the community and in the profession, so [we’re] creating opportunities for engagement within” NexGen, including adding more leadership volunteer positions.
“In terms of engaging younger people, we have to give them a place where they feel like they’re contributing,” Belew said. “Whether that’s in our firms or in the profession as a whole, if we can create opportunities for that, we’ll have people who not only enter the profession but stay in the profession.”
Belew is also a partner and senior financial advisor at FJY Financial. Her firm supports younger advisors by working in teams so they start working with clients early. “Most people entered this profession because we want to develop relationships with people,” she said. “If we can avoid putting young planners in a back office crunching numbers, that brings so much more satisfaction and value to their careers, and sets them up long term to be successful lead advisors.”
Other ways to increase engagement among younger advisors is to empower them with the authority to “own something,” Belew said, “whether that’s being a super-user for a particular piece of software or running a research project on the investment committee.”
Another benefit of early financial education is that it can ease the way for advisors to engage with the next generation of investors. Inviting clients’ children to meetings has long been held up as a way to do that, but the same lack of familiarity with financial services that Belew said prevents young people from following the career path, could also prevent them from interacting with an advisor at all. She gave an example of a meeting she had with a client and their college-bound child.
“They wanted to start that financial literacy […] conversation, and after the meeting, the feedback was, ‘Wow, she was a lot different than what I expected,’” Belew said. “What reputation do we have in the minds of young people in America about what we do? Let’s get that truth out there sooner, rather than waiting until people have money” to begin building relationships.