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Tapping into the CFP pipeline

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How firms can find the right talent for what they need.

The need for good, young advisors is well established. The good news: the new generation of financial planning candidates come with a stronger background than many of their predecessors. 

The Flexible Advisor recently spoke with Stephen Schiestel, Frederick S. Addy Endowed Professor of Practice in Finance in the Finance Department at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business. He shared his experience in building the school’s CFP program, and some insight into the ways a firm can best connect with future advisors. 

It began with a suggestion

A group of Michigan State alums employed at a regional CPA firm with a very large RIA attached to it suggested the potential advantages of the University creating a CFP registered program within its business school. Not only would it help their firm’s acquisition needs, but it could serve as a valuable credential for business students as well. After several years of developing the curriculum and addressing various organizational and logistical issues, Schiestel and his team registered the program with the CFP Board. “We started off in 2018 and graduated our first class of 16 in 2019. Today we have 49 students signed up for the program. This past year it became a minor, so it's something students can put on their transcripts and resumes. We are also launching a master's program, which I view as a fifth-year building onto the undergrad program.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Schiestel is committed to doing whatever he can to make productive connections.
  • When well defined and supported, an internship can be mutually beneficial for both the employer and the student.
  • An internship can provide valuable training to learn and understand the importance of interpersonal skills.

From engagement to placement

A critical part of growing the program is explaining to business students the opportunity set within the financial planning profession, as well as setting realistic expectations. “I tell the intro class that this is an awesome career. There are few careers within finance where you can work with individuals. You can listen to them, understand their needs, and give them advice that can have a very important impact on their lives. On top of that, there is more and more need for advisors. I tell our students that our profession has so many different firms, so many different business models,” said Schiestel. That may entail different expectations of a young person just getting started. “Whether it's building a book right from the beginning, or maybe be part of a team that is tasked with providing support. Building experience. Whatever the situation is, they can figure out what fits best for them so that they hopefully can get into the profession and choose to stay there.”

There are few careers within finance where you can work with individuals. You can listen to them, understand their needs, and give them advice that can have a very important impact on their lives.

Placement is, of course, a two-way proposition. “A firm owner can go to the CFP website to find a program,” Schiestel said. “Perhaps there's someone in their local vicinity to connect with. That's a great way to start.” For his part, Schiestel is committed to doing whatever he can to make productive connections. “I tell employers, ‘I'll do whatever you need me to do. If I need to just share a link to your website where a job posting is, we'll do that. If you need me to describe something unique to your culture or where you're located or whatever the situation is. If that can help to laser focus on certain students, we can do that as well.’ Whatever it takes in order to make sure that the right student lands in the right firm.”

Internships as a trial run

When well defined and supported, an internship can be mutually beneficial for both the employer and the student. Based on student feedback, Schiestel suggests three components to optimize the experience for all involved.

1) Payment. Compensation makes an internship a more appealing option and establishes a tangible incentive. 

2) Projects. Students benefit by having an assignment to work on throughout the internship, something they take ownership of, ending with a deliverable – a formal report and/or presentation.   

3) Participation. Active involvement provides valuable experience. Schiestel suggests involvement in client meetings —whether it is just to be in the room or on the zoom call or being responsible for a task like taking notes and putting them into the CRM. “Let them use the financial planning software system. Familiarize them with the forms we have to fill out, whether it's internal documents or custodial forms. Some have actually had the ability to look at a client portfolio and come up with initial thoughts on how they would rebalance an account or what they would sell to raise cash”. 

    Firms are looking at how comfortable a potential employee is in client conversations.

Importantly, an internship can also provide a valuable training ground to observe, and hone, one of the most critical elements of an advisor’s job: interpersonal skills. Most firms, in Schiestel’s experience, assume that candidates from a program such as his will have at least some technical proficiencies and can learn on the job. Soft skills can be a deciding factor when making an offer. “What I hear over and over and over is that firms are looking at how comfortable a potential employee is in client conversations. How good are their phone skills? Can they course-correct if they are leading a conversation? How are their listening skills? Firms need those skills in their advisors.”

A new generation, an evolving profession

Students sometimes assume that the terms ‘wealth management’ or ‘financial planning’ essentially mean ‘sales.’ Schiestel seeks to dispel that generalization. “I make a point of stressing that the industry and is evolving. Yes, there are sales-oriented positions, and certain firms are going to emphasize them. But there are many, many other opportunities as well. No matter what path you choose, when you get in, you have to have grit and discipline and you need to take all different types of jobs, different tasks, and do them at the best of your ability. This is the kind of advice we'd give to all young people, regardless of career, regardless of major. But I feel that it's our job as the older generation to reach a helping hand to our younger, future colleagues.” 

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