Advisory firms still reluctant to hire newbies

Jun 5, 2011 @ 12:01 am

By Lavonne Kuykendall

There are probably more financial planning jobs available than at any time since before the 2008 market crash, but that doesn't mean that it is any easier for employers and entry-level job hunters to make a deal.

“Firms didn't hire from 2008 through 2010 and they have to make up for two years,” said Caleb Brown, managing partner of New Planner Recruiting LLC, which specializes in financial planners with less than five years' worth of experience.

Despite a clear need for fresh talent, a variety of issues are making it difficult for financial advisers to pull the trigger on new hires, observers said.

Solo practitioners, for example, are second-guessing their abilities to spot good candidates and to train them. Large firms, meanwhile, are reluctant to invest in training new recruits for fear that they will be lured away once they develop profitable books of business.

“We recognize, as a profession, this is a problem, and we are working on solutions,” said Karen McIntyre, a fee-only wealth adviser with United Capital Corp., who is active with the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. “Our membership is getting older, and there needs to be a pool of talented people” coming up in the profession.

POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

Among the ideas that NAPFA has proposed to members is hiring part-timers or matching up new graduates with more experienced practitioners.

“At least they would get some experience” under such scenarios, Ms. McIntyre said.

Deena Katz, an associate professor of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University, said that while she sees the market for entry-level planners picking up, advisers are more cautious than in the past and are taking more time to make their decisions.

They are concerned about making the right hire, with many extending the interview process to three or more meetings for top candidates. They are also using personality and work skills testing more frequently, she said.

Some advisers who were hired during the hot job market of 2007 and early 2008 were laid off during the height of the recession, and Ms. Katz said that she has seen graduates from those years back in the job market, which is increasing competition for available positions.

After a search that lasted almost 10 months, solo practitioner Brint Detwiler, founder of Barnstone Advisors LLC, recently hired his first junior partner, Steve Heck. Mr. Heck, who began work last Wednesday, recently graduated with a master's degree in financial services from St. Joseph's University in Collegeville, Pa. The impetus to hire a junior planner came partly from his realization that he needed to make his business less dependent on him and partly from a desire to make his own workload more manageable, Mr. Detwiler said.

“I want more balance in my life,” he said.

Mr. Detwiler began interviewing candidates in September but decided to take a step back and do more “homework” after talking to some other advisers who went through two or three hires before they found the right one.

“That can be expensive, time-consuming and productivity-consuming,” Mr. Detwiler said.

He sought out assessment tools for candidates as well as a training program for when he brought an adviser on board.

Stephanie Bogan, president and chief executive of Quantuvis Consulting Inc., which helps develop such training plans, said that she sees the job market for entry-level advisers “heating up a bit.”

The market recovery is helping, as is the fact that the average adviser, in his or her mid-50s, is beginning to think about succession planning, she said.

They see a junior or associate planner as someone who can help manage smaller client relationships, provide support on larger relationships and allow senior advisers to carve out time to focus on bringing in new business or perhaps slow down a bit, Ms. Bogan said.

She sees increasing opportunities for junior planners, especially in small to midsize firms with about $1 million to $5 million in annual revenue.

Advisers in those firms have a difficult time hiring entry-level planners, for a number of reasons, Ms. Bogan said.

A lot of the older generation of advisers began their careers in the insurance business or some other sales environment where they “dialed for dollars,” and they sometimes have a hard time connecting with graduates of financial planning programs who don't have that background, she said.

For some advisers, it is difficult to begin the process of bringing in an associate who may end up being a successor, Ms. Bogan said.

“There is a difference between saying you want to do it and actually wanting to do it,” she said.

Many advisers say they want a junior planner but aren't really willing to be a mentor, Ms. Bogan said.

PERFECT COMBINATION

Mr. Detwiler looked for attributes such as a high level of confidence, an ability to be a self-starter, a willingness to pitch in and a philosophy compatible with his own.

He said that he was extremely impressed with the overall high quality of the candidates he interviewed.

Mr. Heck, however, turned out to have the perfect combination of traits. An avid student of the advisory business, he also had an entrepreneurial background and a down-to-earth demeanor, Mr. Detwiler said.

Mr. Detwiler said he was pleased that Mr. Heck was knowledgeable about the fiduciary standard.

Mr. Heck said that he interviewed at different types of firms for several months but always kept a picture in his mind of the ideal firm, which was a smaller practice where he could learn all aspects of the business.

Mr. Detwiler had just the type of experience he wanted to emulate, Mr. Heck said.

“He was looking for a mentor, and I was looking for a mentee,” Mr. Detwiler said.

E-mail Lavonne Kuykendall at lkuykendall@investmentnews.com.

“We recognize, as a profession, this is a problem, and we are working on solutions.”

Karen McIntyre

Wealth adviser

United Capital

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