In the years since the financial crisis, brokerage executives have spoken repeatedly about the need to restore the public's trust in the industry.
But then people leave the conferences and wait for someone else or their company to take action, said Pershing Advisor Solutions chief executive Mark Tibergien, speaking at his firm's annual conference on Thursday in Hollywood, Fla.
Instead, advisers need to be the ones to lead the way by starting a grassroots movement to change the legacy of the industry by helping educate the public about personal finances and the role advisers play, he said.
(See Mr. Tibergien talk about the profound changes in the advice industry)
“We don't have to sit here and wait for a large organization to do it,” he said. “Each of you individually and incrementally can make a change in how we view the business.”
More education about personal finances, especially at the high school level, would help people understand what products they are being sold and develop an appreciation for what advisers do, he said.
“We've created an environment in which the fraudsters can flourish, where people selling the wrong products can flourish,” he said. “The Great Recession was caused by the great level of financial illiteracy.”
The next generation of possible recruits is at stake, he added. Financial services is still viewed in lower esteem than other industries, including the pharmaceutical industry and the government, Mr. Tibergien said, citing an Edelman Public Relations study.
“Everything that we've heard about this world has to do with negative things like these headlines,” he said as words such as “London Whale” and “mortgage-backed securities” flashed on a board behind him.
“We have generations of people who don't understand what we do,” he said.
Change could start with a social media post, he said. He encouraged the 1,000 or so attendees to write what they wanted their legacy to be and tweet it with the tag #FutureOfFinServ.
The ideas could include sponsoring a program or a teacher at their local high school who would educate the next generation about personal finances. Advisers could also think about funding a scholarship or sponsoring an internship for a high school student, Mr. Tibergien said.
The point is to find an on-going activity that will leave a lasting impression in the local community, he said.
“I'm not talking about stock market games,” he noted.
An hour after his speech, the hash tag had collected only a small number of responses, however, although all were positive.
“Love the movement of leaving a legacy,” wrote Ria Jernberg, who is director of practice management at Summit Brokerage, according to her twitter bio. “Calling my high school.”