The advice industry is in a funk. Sure, stock market gains and an improving housing market have helped client portfolios recover nicely from their financial crisis setbacks, so assets under management and advisement are growing strongly.
That means there is more household wealth that needs help. Not to mention the fact that the 10,000 baby boomers who are retiring every day — something that will last for the next 15 years or so — means a ton of opportunity for financial advisers.
But not enough young professionals are entering the advisory business. That may be OK for now, particularly considering that many, if not most, advisers say that they love their jobs and want to work well past the usual retirement age.
But it isn't OK for the future, and it is a problem that the industry needs to address now — and address seriously, not with platitudes and rationalizations.
We reacted with little surprise last week to news of a report from Cerulli Associates Inc. that forecasted a drop of 25,000 advisers by 2017, a loss that is expected to be felt mostly in the wirehouse, independent-broker-dealer, bank and regional channels.
The industry's head count is down by more than 32,000 since peaking in 2005, according to Cerulli.
That's not really big news.
But when one industry veteran stopped by for an off-the-record chat last week and said, “Forget a loss of 25,000; the advice industry might not even exist in 20 years,” we took note. Why does he think that?
The main reason is that the industry isn't diverse. To put it bluntly, he said that it is populated largely by aging (and balding) white men.
For that reason, it is hard to attract women to the business, though he pointed out that women who do become advisers attract assets a lot more quickly than their male counterparts and typically have very rewarding careers.
More to the point, college grads have little interest in going into a business that isn't considered modern and growing, he said.
It is hard to argue with the numbers. The average age of an adviser is anywhere from 55 to 62, depending on which data are used.
More than two-thirds of students who responded to a survey and had earned bachelor's and master's degrees in financial planning didn't take the CFP certification test, according to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc.
A report last week confirmed the trend.
A study by Pershing LLC found that as many as 500,000 students coming out of American colleges and universities every year could be interested in a career in financial advice, but the number of them entering the business isn't keeping pace with the number of professionals retiring each year.
As InvestmentNews' Liz Skinner reported, industry studies show that financial services firms will need to add at least 237,000 advisers over the next decade to meet demand.
But training programs have been cut at many firms, and the industry is too focused on hiring experienced brokers with their own books.
So it is high time for a change in direction. At the very least, the industry should rethink its strategy of recruiting only experienced brokers.
Industry players large and small need to find ways to bring in professionals in their mid- to late 20s, and even college interns, but not simply as receptionists, customer service representatives or to shadow advisers during client calls and meetings.
Advisers and managers need to engage these young recruits to learn what makes them tick, what motivates them and what their dreams are. Yes, they need to learn the business, but once they cross that threshold into the office, it shouldn't simply be about selling, selling, selling.
GET THE KID INVOLVED
If the 70-year-old client isn't going to respond to a 20- or 30-something adviser, find other ways to get that young pro involved.
One adviser in the Northeast hired his 29-year-old daughter, and her job is to build relationships with the children of his clients.
That is a win-win: A young recruit learns the business and gets engaged, and sets the stage so that when the client dies, the children and their assets remain at the firm. It is brilliant.
Young professionals are driven largely by a desire to improve people's lives, to make the world a better place.
But aren't those often the same motivations that keep longtime advisers working with clients into their 70s and even 80s?
“They don't feel entitled, and they're willing to work hard,” said Craig Pfeiffer, chief executive of Advisors Ahead LLC, which places students and graduates in structured internships. “They want to have an impact.”
Or as Kim Dellarocca, head of practice management at Pershing, put it: “Gen Y brings fresh perspectives, new ideas and modern skill sets that can help businesses prosper now and in the future.”
Only when today's recruitment and development paradigm shifts will the word spread that, yes, the advice industry may be heavily populated with older pros, but it is also engaged, diverse and evolving with the times.