Look beyond financial planning schools to find the next superstar

Advisers find successful hires in a swathe of academic disciplines, not just planning

Apr 17, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

By Liz Skinner

Advisory firms committed to hiring the next generation of financial advisers aren't limiting themselves to the narrow pool of financial planning degree candidates.

ClearPath Capital Partners, which recently hired five soon-to-be college graduates, talks to anyone who is curious about the industry. One hire last year was a philosophy major who speaks Portuguese, Spanish and English. Two new hires are earning degrees in economics.

"Some of the best financial advisers are those who didn't think of this as a career path," said Paul Boyd, managing partner of ClearPath. "Our clients are typically entrepreneurs and innovators, and we look for people who are passionate."

In fact, several financial advice industry leaders emerged from other fields. For example, Michael Kitces, partner and director of research for Pinnacle Advisory Group and publisher of The Kitces Report and his own blog, Nerd's Eye View, was a psychology major and theater minor in his undergraduate years. Wade Pfau, professor of retirement income at the American College of Financial Services, received his doctorate in economics from Princeton University before realizing the effect he could have on the financial advice field.

Mr. Boyd himself was headed toward a degree in planetary science before he switched course toward a business degree.

Troy Larson, a co-founder of ClearPath, and the firm's human resource coordinator, said he looks for people who have experience doing something over a period of time, be that athletics, playing a musical instrument or something else. That helps the firm avoid people who may seek instant gratification and leads to people who understand the need to work hard over a period of time, Mr. Larson said.

Dynamic communication skills also are very important, he said.

Additionally, candidates whose parents are entrepreneurs get a bump-up because they are more likely to understand the motivations of the firm's many entrepreneurial clients, Mr. Larson said.

Caleb Brown, co-founder of New Planner Recruiting, said it's smart for advisers to open up their minds to candidates outside of more-traditional financial planning graduates, especially since the total number of students graduating from such programs doesn't seem to be growing.

Although more financial planning programs are starting at different universities and colleges, most are not getting a critical mass of students, with about 100 students enrolled in an average-size program, he said. By contrast, hundreds of students graduate from each school each semester in accounting, economics and finance programs.

Mr. Brown, whose firm finds entry-level hires for registered investment adviser firms, acknowledges that hiring financial planning majors does probably lower the risk of a new employee not understanding or even liking the financial advice business.

"But that doesn't mean the candidate will be better skill-wise," he said.

Mr. Brown has helped advisory firms hire graduates with degrees in engineering, accounting, psychology, general business, marketing and finance.

While successful advisers certainly need to know a certain amount of industry-specific information, it's even more important for an adviser to have strong communications and relationship skills, he said.

Cheryl Holland, president of Abacus Planning Group, said she doesn't want to hire only financial planning students, even though she believes they are the most likely candidates to remain with the firm long term. She values the diversity "of training, thought and background" that graduates of other disciplines add to the firm.

Columbia, S.C.-based Abacus Planning also doesn't have a financial planning program located nearby to draw from, so it needs to "be more creative," she said. It's also important to look for candidates who have a reason to want a job in your particular city and who fit the culture of the firm, she said.

A math major from Bangladesh who is graduating from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania is one of her firm's most recent hires, she said.

"We are trying to create superstars, as opposed to attract superstars," Ms. Holland said. "The key to all of them is that they have a passion for financial planning, because if you have that joy, you just can't teach that."

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