During the holiday season, we tend to see a higher than usual number of uniformed military personnel enjoying time with their families in public. What we don't see are the massive numbers of military veterans who no longer wear the uniform but have still served this country faithfully.
With our industry facing an impending adviser shortage, it's time for everyone to appreciate how the mindset of military veterans makes them a perfect fit for our industry, and why firms have a responsibility to facilitate career shifts among this group.
For full disclosure, I proudly served this country in the Army for 30 years before retiring as a colonel. I've also been active in helping my broker-dealer, LPL Financial, craft a program to train U.S. Army Reserve veterans as future financial advisers.
However, I am not sharing my thoughts here to pat myself on the back, or to pitch for LPL or my own wealth management firm.
I honestly believe that wealth management firms can improve their business — and serve clients better — by bringing on more military veterans, a belief that has been thoroughly validated by my own personal and professional experiences.
The most critical trait military veterans possess is the ability to focus on the mission at hand. They are excellent listeners who can minimize distractions and apply the tools they have been taught to complete complicated tasks.
During their time in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard, these men and women used some of the world's most advanced software and machinery in situations where they had to think for themselves.
As financial advisers, they can apply the training of their new brokerage firm or RIA to gain the requisite licensing, find and win over prospects, look after the investment and income products of clients, and immerse themselves within a staff that they may lead one day. All that calls for intense concentration, something in which many military veterans are well trained.
The military prepares someone to go to battle and instills the tenacity necessary to fight with everything they can muster. That's not a metaphor; that's real life. Many of us who have served know people who put their lives on the line in the most grueling and treacherous circumstances imaginable, without any indication as to whether they would prevail.
Financial advisers are obviously not storming gates and defending bunkers, but we do experience incredible periods of adversity. At the beginning of our careers, we must build books of business from the ground up, when prospects often view us as unproven and unworthy of their business.
During market downturns, we must keep calm and get clients to stay the course. With the market possibly entering a period of extended volatility for the first time in nearly a decade, tenacity is something today's millennial recruits had better have in spades.
The military, by necessity, depends on individuals who have the ability to make decisions both quickly and ethically. Indeed, America's defense system only works because the people in the field and in front of computers consistently behave with integrity, even when nobody else is looking. Our veterans are conditioned to do what is right at all times, not out of fear of being caught, but out of an awareness and respect for proper codes of conduct.
In many ways, the same dynamic exists — and should be reinforced at every opportunity — across wealth management firms, the usual minority of bad actors in our space notwithstanding.
Much of the financial advice business comes down to personal relationships between the adviser and client, away from the watchful eye of regulators and compliance teams. How, for instance, an adviser explains a variable annuity to a novice investor, or under what conditions the adviser recommends rolling over a 401(k) into an IRA all comes down to integrity.
With the average adviser closer to retirement than the beginning of their careers, firms must find capable replacements. Based on the portion of today's recruits who become successful advisers, that task continues to be an uphill climb. And unless robots start thinking and caring about human beings, digital automation alone cannot make up the difference.
That leaves broker-dealers and RIAs with a dire human capital need that America's military veterans can meet. Firms that implement targeted training and recruitment programs can now augment their advisory force with the proper kind of recruits and get them ready for the succession planning wave among practices that will sweep the industry as baby boomer clients transfer their wealth to millennial heirs.
The timing is right, and together we can accomplish this mission.
Dryden Pence is chief investment officer at Pence Wealth Management, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based independent wealth advisory firm with $1.5 billion in client assets.