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by Lewis J. Walker, CFP®, CRC®, CEPA®

Lewis J. Walker, CFP®, CRC®, CEPA®, earned his CFP® designation in 1975 and established an independent financial planning firm in 1976. He sold the practice in 2016 to join Capital Insight Group, a multi-adviser ensemble practice, where he continues to serve clients as a senior adviser. He received the P. Kemp Fain Jr. award in 2011. He is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and a Certified Exit Planning Adviser.

Year 2018 marked 45 years since 35 men and women graduated as the first class from the College for Financial Planning. These pioneering Certified Financial Planners led the way, nurturing the growth of a now global profession. They were members of the traditionalist generation, born before 1946, or the baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964.

Of those who founded or joined practices in the 1970s and early 1980s, some have passed away, some are retired, and many are on the cusp of transition. They aged as their clients aged and as the age wave rolled on, the pendulum swung toward Gen-Xers, 1965–1980, and Generation Y, the millennials, 1981–2000.

As the ownership and employee base ages, succession and continuity planning are a “front-of-mind” imperative. Gen-Xers have been the successors, by and large, to boomer owners, and Gen Y is being groomed as successors to the successors. Older financial planners are urged to cultivate younger clients who are destined to grow into the wealthier clients of tomorrow.

How should we consider generational differences in terms of employee engagement and productivity, as well as marketing, client acquisition, and service?

First, are the characteristics ascribed to each generation even accurate? Jennifer J. Deal, a research scientist with the Center for Creative Leadership and author of Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground (Jossey-Bass, 2006), maintains, “The conventional wisdom about generational differences in the workplace is mostly wrong.” For example, some might assert that traditionalists are hard workers, baby boomers value loyalty, Gen-Xers demand work-life balance, and Gen Y craves innovation and change.1

As to negative assumptions, Deal says stereotypes really don’t hold up. More important is what is not different from generation to generation: shared values.

“Everyone wants to be able to trust their supervisors, no one really likes change, we all like feedback, and the number of hours you put in at work depends more on your level in the organization than on your age.”2

According to Deal, all generations have values that are similar, and family tops the list as being important to both employees and clients. We all want respect and understanding. Leaders, managers, and advisers must be seen as trustworthy. We all want to learn and grow. Advisers and leaders are teachers. Deal emphasizes, “Everyone wants to know how they are doing and to learn how they can do better.”3 Isn’t that what financial planning and human capital development is all about?

It’s Still about the Boomers

Despite the focus on Gen X and Gen Y as employees, successors, and marketing targets, boomers remain a force to be reckoned with.

According to mature market marketing consultants, Immersion Active, there are roughly 74.9 million baby boomers in America. Further, 50 percent of the U.S. population is over age 50, spending close to 50 percent of all dollars. Yet, less than 5 percent of all advertising is geared toward boomers.4 Think of all the life transitions that face those age 50-plus, many of whom still have children in the nest, yet to be educated and launched.

Practice tip: Wrap probing questions and conversations around challenges. Common challenges faced by this demographic include: funding educations, planning for retirement, aging parents, special needs kids and adult children, trust planning issues and complications, grandparents raising grandchildren, health issues, long-term care, career issues, forced early retirement, loss of a spouse or life partner, travel goals, legacy concerns, and philanthropic goals. Additional challenges for boomers may include: a search for meaning and purpose in retirement, boredom in retirement, growth and ultimate transition of a closely held business or professional role, divorce, second and sometimes third marriage complications, alienation from loved ones, substance abuse, etc.

According to Immersion Active, 70 percent of disposable income is controlled by boomers. Over the next decade, spending by people age 50-plus is expected to increase by 58 percent, while spending by those age 25 to 50 will grow only by 24 percent. Of all assets held in 401(k) plans, 93 percent are owned by boomers. Declares Immersion Active: “The key takeaway for investors and entrepreneurs (and advisers) is this—this market is too big to ignore.”5

But You Cannot Ignore Gen X

At about 51 million, Generation X is a smaller population cohort than the baby boomers. That means fewer people to buy the businesses of boomer entrepreneurs, including financial planning firms. It means fewer people to buy the boomers’ toys and vacation homes when they move to simplify.

With the oldest Gen-Xer age 53 in 2018, they have many of the same challenges as younger boomers. The youngest Gen-Xer is 38 years old, facing the complexities of family growth, education funding, career decisions, etc. Given succession challenges, they are the ones the boomers are talking to. We see a movement away from the solo or silo practice models of the past, favoring a team-based and strengths-based ensemble model run like a “real” business, not as a lifestyle enterprise. I have found that the market value of one versus the other is significant.

The need for scale and revenue and cost pressures will precipitate a growth of larger practices, growing and consolidating RIAs and hybrids, with an expanding focus on human capital development and employee engagement. It isn’t about “job descriptions.” It’s really about “role descriptions.” As Jim Collins put it in Good to Great, you not only want the right people on your bus, you want them in the right seat!

Practice tip: In the conversational construct involving challenges (both positive and negative), alternatives, resources, and expectations, how will you frame advice that clients will value, pay for, and refer?

Millennials: Somebody Has to Sell Something!

The millennials are a large cohort, approximately 75 million. The oldest in 2018 is 37, the youngest 18. Millennials are graduating from schools with financial planning disciplines and majors. Increasingly, they are a financial planning firm’s interns, associates, and employees. They are the successors to the Gen X successors.

Is this generation more risk averse than the founders of our profession? Of the first graduates from the College for Financial Planning, the majority already were successful with practical experience in financial services in some form or function. Many had training in marketing and sales—whether stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or insurance. They knew how to prospect, how to turn prospects into clients, how to sell, and how to close the deal.

Many of the founders of now-successful planning firms circa the 1970s and 1980s were right-brained and sales-oriented. They were driven entrepreneurs and risk-takers who put in prodigious amounts of time—whatever it took—to build a firm and generate a profit. Along the way, they built our profession.

The founders are aging. Firms are transitioning. Succession and continuity strategies are important, but there’s a disconnect. In 1973, there was only one source of financial planning education, the embryonic college in Denver. Now, CFP Board registered financial planning courses are taught at nearly 200 colleges and universities nationwide. Certificate, bachelor, master, and Ph.D. programs are offered.

Increasingly, millennials entering our workforces come from an academic background with little to no “real world” experience and often a left-brained approach to problem solving. Left-brained skills are absolutely needed in certain roles.

However, Stephanie Bogan pinpointed a challenge to those now focused on sustainability and growth of an established firm facing transition as founders retire, willingly or involuntarily due to health or other issues. “The advisers following in their footsteps have grown up in a different environment and time. These individuals have professional degrees and designations and expect to join a service firm, not a sales force. They expect compensation to be robust, yet not at risk. And they expect it to be determined in ways beyond the generation of new business. They want career advancement tracks, standards of practice, and partnership equity over time.”6

Where are the right-brained motivational skills? In the academic world, sales and marketing courses rarely are offered in tandem with financial planning education. CFP Board will not offer CE credit for any session that covers marketing or selling. There is an idea that selling somehow is unprofessional, smacking of client manipulation and fiduciary malfeasance.

Bogan recognizes the dilemma. “Many of those hired and in line to succeed are competent advisers who lack the ever-important entrepreneurial spirit and rainmaking skills. Founders are struggling to secure successors who can provide professional leadership, service top clients at a senior level, and drive growth—all in the same person.”7

I acknowledge that marketing and sales are different roles. Marketing is what you do as a firm to reach out and find prospects who need and want what you offer. The most common initial goal is to get a person or couple illustrative of your desired market in for a conversation.

There’s a basic premise: People have to know you before they know they need you. Often something happens in one’s life—a crisis, an opportunity, a triggering event that motivates a person to contact your office. How will you get your name, your team’s name, and/or your firm name top of mind so your phone rings or email dings?

What’s your message that persuades prospects that you are the firm for them? And how do you deliver it? Advertising, public relations, social media, relationship marketing, brand marketing, viral marketing, direct mail, speaking, writing, hanging out in the right places with the right people?

A highly successful friend of mine always flies first class. Yes, it’s more expensive. (He quips, “I can’t afford to fly coach.”) He meets prospects sitting next to someone in a first-class lounge or in the adjacent airplane seat. He stays in Ritz-Carlton hotels on the executive floor with access to the lounge. (You’d be amazed how many people use lounges in upscale hotels as an office away from home.) A simple question can precipitate a meaningful conversation—the first step in motivating a contact to become an interested prospect and ultimately, a long-time and happy client.

Practice tip: Too often, “selling” is associated with unsavory product-pushing. No one is asking anyone to do that. But once effective marketing gets the right prospect in the door, you have to convert them into a profitable client. You have to sell yourself, your firm, your process, your expertise, your value-added. Until the client signs an agreement, buys a service or product, writes a check, or agrees to some other form of payment, you have only unprofitable, time-consuming conversation. Leaders and builders have to sell something!

The founders, the business owners who built the successful practices now ripe for transition, at their core are sales people, “people people.” They want to engage with clients, have meaningful and wide-ranging conversations, work with clients and families and business associates, help them surmount challenges, solve problems and inspire solutions, see new possibilities, meet face-to-face and not in cyberspace while building a life-sustaining and profitable business rooted in fiduciary principles.

What’s the Future?

Founders took risks with personal guarantees, renting office space, buying furniture and equipment and supplies, hiring and paying people, and funding expenses and obligations before “take-home pay.” Personal commitments must be part of the fabric of success in the creative and growth-oriented firms of tomorrow.

We have seen advisory shops grow from one planner and an assistant to large registered investment advisory shops with several hundred employees. Human capital and human relations are a critical element of profitable growth as a firm expands.

If you begin with the end in mind, what is your vision of the future? Where do you wish to be in the next 10 years or the next 40? ​What will your third act look like? Can you answer the same questions you pose to your clients?

Endnotes

  1. ​See the American Management Association article, “The Myth of Generational Differences in the Workplace,” at amanet.org/training/articles/the-myth-of-generational-differences-in-the-workplace.aspx.
  2. See endnote No. 1.
  3. See endnote No. 1.
  4. See “24 Stats Marketers Need to Know about Baby Boomers in 2017,” at immersionactive.com/resources/24-stats-marketers-need-to-know-about-baby-boomers-in-2017​.
  5. See endnote No. 4.
  6. See Stephanie Bogan’s article, “Why Advisory Firm Founders and Successors Can’t Get on the Same Page,” in InvestmentNews, posted May 25, 2018 at investmentnews.com/article/20180525/FREE/180529938/why-advisory-firm-founders-and-successors-cant-get-on-the-same-page​.
  7. See endnote No. 6.

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