Firms Partner with Colleges to Recruit Young Advisers

The industry wants to get ahead of an expected talent shortage.

Financial services firms are increasingly partnering with colleges and universities to develop financial planning curriculum in order to attract new graduates to the profession.

Edward Jones, for example, has partnered with 11 universities to prepare students to take the Series 7 exam, the general securities licensing exam required by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

“The need for what we are doing is exploding faster than anyone has expected,” says Matt Doran, the Edward Jones principal responsible for the firm’s Financial Advisor Career Development Program. “There are 300,000 financial advisers in the U.S. and one-third of them could retire over the next decade.”

Doran says there are simply not enough new advisers projected to join the industry in the next five to 10 years, despite a small jump measured for 2014, to meet the growing need for financial training and education. Exacerbating the problem, people are living longer lives and are facing lower interest rates and few guaranteed retirement income opportunities from a shrinking pension system. Facing these challenges, Americans need financial advice today more than ever.

“Our goal is to create a more defined path to the financial adviser profession,” Doran explains. “By giving undergraduate students enrolled in financial planning programs the opportunity to study for the Series 7 program prior to graduation, we are helping them succeed in the required first step of becoming a financial adviser.”

The program got off the ground when Edward Jones, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, learned that five years ago, the educational partner it uses to train its financial advisers, Securities Training Corp. (STC), had created a financial planning course for Bryant University in Providence, with Fidelity Investments as the sponsor, Doran says. “We thought the higher educational industry sounded like a better medium to teach prospective advisers …  Students have classmates, projects, deadlines and an instructor.”

NEXT: What it takes to make an adviser

The 11 universities that Edward Jones partnered with to underwrite the curriculum were selected because they were schools where the firm already had existing relationships, be it a school where the firm had recruited talent, had alumni or sponsored a scholarship, Doran says.  Currently, there are 200 students enrolled in the Series 7 program throughout the United States. Going forward, Edward Jones intends to partner with additional universities in locations where it would like to expand, he says.

In conjunction with the academic program, Edward Jones has hired 200 interns to work throughout their academic year, Doran says.

Likewise, Merrill Lynch has put together curriculum and scholarships at 16 colleges across the United States, and the firm also gives presentations on what a financial adviser’s job is like, says Racquel Oden, head of adviser strategy and development for Merrill Lynch in New York. These partnerships are critical, as Merrill Lynch adds 1,500 new financial advisers to its training program each year.

Merrill Lynch has in recent years restructured how new hires work, Oden says. “The way you traditionally entered the business throughout the past 50 years was through our traditional Practice Development Management program,” which required each adviser to build their book of business gradually, on their own. A year and a half ago, Merrill Lynch augmented that with two additional programs: Team Financial Advisor and the Bank Team Financial Advisor.

“With the Team Financial Advisor program, you are hired onto a team immediately,” Oden says. “You partner with a seasoned adviser on day one to drive a skill set, be it planning, the investment portfolio or relationship management. What is really important about this is they come in with a special skill set but are look at as part of the team.”

The Bank Team Financial Advisor program is another option Merrill offers new recruits to enter the business, becoming part of a team at a Bank of America banking center, Oden says. On top of this, Merrill hires 250 interns every summer. “The summer intern program, and the Team Financial Advisor and the Bank Team Financial Advisor programs are all anchored in teams,” Oden says. “We now have new younger individuals joining our teams.” Currently, there are 1,600 people in the Team Financial Advisor program and 600 in the Bank Team Financial Advisor program.

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Capital One Investing of McLean, Virginia, has also embraced a team approach, says Yvette Butler, president of the firm. “The traditional model of a hard salesman is a turnoff. That is completely different from what we have built,” Butler says. “We are very much a digital organization and are very much about partnership and teams. When you are placed in a branch, it is a team effort to serve the customer. You don’t have to dial for dollars.”

Industry groups are becoming proactive about recruiting new talent to the industry, as well. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) of Washington on November 18 announced the launch of the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning to create academic programs for the more than 240 colleges and universities that offer a CFP Board Registered Program. However, CFP Board’s goal is not just to recruit young advisers but a more diverse group of advisers.

“There are a number of growing problems facing the financial planning industry,” says Kevin Keller, CFP Board chief executive officer. “We have more CFP professionals over the age of 70 than under 30. Less than 6% of CFP professionals are African American, Asian American or Hispanic. We need a more diverse workforce. We also launched a women’s initiative several years ago.

“The answer to all of this is the Center for Financial Planning, to create a more diverse and sustainable supply of financial planners and to create an academic home to support them,” Keller adds. “We will know we have been successful when there is no longer a shortage of financial advisers, when the population more closely matches the population of the U.S., and when we have established a body of knowledge to support the profession like the professions of law, accounting and medicine.”