In a special closed door session at the First Allied Securities national annual conference in San Diego this week, I met with a diverse group of female independent financial advisors. Some of these advisors were in the early phases of building their own independent businesses, while others have been established for a number of years now.
One thing all of these advisors apparently had in common was being increasingly approached by male advisors at any industry get-together with one top question: “Would you be interested in joining my practice?”
At first glance, it’s not surprising why independent advisory practices would want to recruit more qualified female advisors to their teams. Much has already been written about how underrepresented women are in the retail financial advice industry, particularly within the independent channel.
But why the seeming upsurge in interest over the past ten years in particular? The answer is simple: Women have more financial strength in their careers and financial authority within their households than ever before. Independent advisory practices and their independent broker-dealer partners are realizing more than ever that empowering female advisors is good for business in multiple ways.
Yet the fact that female advisors – who are uniquely positioned to understand the various life stages of female clients – continue to comprise less than 30%, according to a recent Pershing study, of the total advisor population in the United States suggests there may be challenges ahead in capturing the full spectrum of opportunities to serve more women investors.
The future dividing line between success and failure for the independent financial advice space will probably rest significantly on whether our industry can increase the number of qualified and successful independent female advisors.
Towards this end, a critical starting point is for independent broker-dealers and experienced female financial advisors to align with each other in carefully structured mentoring programs geared at facilitating strong connections between well-established, successful female advisors and the up-and-coming female professionals still building their books of business.
Our own experiences under the First Allied Women Advisor Mentoring Program – which matches an experienced female independent advisor with a female advisor who is in the early stages of building her practice – indicate that the long-term success of such broker-dealer sponsored mentoring programs is driven by the following five key elements:
- Personal chemistry is paramount. All too often, broker-dealers who attempt to build female advisor mentoring programs start with purely “rational” criteria: whether the advisors come from the same team, similar business models and relative experience levels. These are important factors, but a successful mentoring relationship must begin with a high level of personal fit. This means matching mentors and mentees using responses to an in-depth questionnaire that incorporates a strong balance of “rational” and personal chemistry. For example, First Allied asks its female advisor pairings to rate themselves on the following types of questions: “I am good at articulating my ideas; I am self-disciplined; I have strong time management skills,” and other similar questions.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities from the outset. Assuming that the mentor and mentee hit it off, the next step is for the mentor to establish an open-door communication policy with the expectation that she is there to give the mentee reassurance; keep her focused on her game plan and objectives; and provide an example of how an advisor can accomplish her goals and achieve success by executing consistently every day, no matter the challenges. From there, it is up to the mentee to explicitly commit to ensuring each interaction is as productive as possible through diligent advance preparation and a constant focus on goals.
- Set specific quantitative goals for the mentee from the start. While personal relationship-building is pivotal to any mentor-mentee relationship, it is all too easy for such relationships to languish when they happen in a vacuum. Setting specific quantitative goals from the outset addresses this issue. As one example the mentee in one of our most recent female advisor mentor-mentee relationships wanted to significantly increase her overall production by at least 10% year-over-year. Once we had set this as a quantitative goal from the start, it became a fairly straightforward process of “reverse engineering” the tactical activities that would feed into the achievement of this goal.
- Leverage broker-dealer resources and tools as effectively and thoroughly as possible. Within the independent space in particular, another contributing factor to the success of mentor-mentee relationships is the extent to which the mentor’s experience can be leveraged in navigating broker-dealer resources, tools and relationships to further support the mentee’s professional growth. In our case, we found that having the mentor walk the mentee through the portfolio management tools offered by First Allied to help advisors run their practices more efficiently, and assisting in the selection of the specific resources that would best suit the mentee’s practice, really helped move the needle.
- Look for ways in which the mentor can benefit as much as the mentee. The most successful professional and personal relationships are the ones where both parties benefit. To maximize the chances of success for female advisor mentoring programs, broker-dealers, mentors and mentees should remember to foster such relationships as a long-term exchange of practical knowledge and complementary skill sets over time. In one of our most recent successful mentor-mentee pairings, the mentor found that the exchange of knowledge was very much a two-way street, with the expertise of the mentee in marketing and the insurance sector providing direct benefits for the mentor’s own practice.
As female investors continue to grow in prominence in the years ahead, independent broker-dealers and advisors alike will need to leverage their relationship-building skills in new ways in order to ensure that our industry evolves along with the clients we seek to serve.
When motivated female advisors can more clearly see a future pathway to success in our industry, women everywhere will see it, too – And our industry will be in a far better position to build the relationships we value so highly with investors.
Marissa Fox-Foley is Senior Managing Director of Marketing at First Allied Securities (www.firstallied.com), an independent broker/dealer.