Bryan Hasling, CFP®, EA, is a financial planner at JW Harrison in Walnut Creek, California. In addition to managing client relationships, he publishes practice management content and NexGen advice on his blog, MillennialPlanners.com.
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I met some of my closest friends in the financial planning program at Texas Tech. Wide-eyed and eager to learn, we eventually graduated and set out to begin our careers as financial planners.
Our graduating class accepted positions far and wide, and after a few months I trusted everyone was loving their new jobs as much as I was. But not all jobs are created equal; some of my friends were having bad experiences. Some wanted to quit their positions. Others considered leaving the profession altogether.
Imagine reading headlines around the growing shortage of financial planners, while simultaneously your well-trained planner friends are looking for an exit plan. This is a common conundrum in our profession, and I believe the key difference between unhappy employees and those who have great experiences is management.
Let’s call out the necessary truth: most of us entered this profession to become financial planners, not to manage teams and organizations. But when the business grows and you need to hire more people, many new planners will invariably be deemed a “manager” in no time. And because we are trained to study spreadsheets, not career development, ignoring this reality often results in bad bosses. People rarely leave jobs; they typically leave their bosses.
If you’re like many of us who have suddenly found yourself in a management position at your firm, it’s important to know what themes create bad experiences and what we can do to avoid them.
Each time a friend told me why they quit their job (or wanted to), I recorded a data point. And over the past half-decade, I’ve collected dozens of cases highlighting what went wrong. Reviewing those cases, I see common management mistakes that cause young talent to leave a planning firm.
The case studies here outline real situations of mismanagement that both new and experienced managers can learn from. Each case study has its own nuances. They also have the following in common:
Associates. Each subject was an entry-level associate, hired as a staff member to eventually grow into a financial planner position at an existing planning practice.
Quit voluntarily. None of these employees were fired for bad behavior or poor culture fit. They genuinely wanted the opportunity to work.
Preventable. I believe these situations were preventable if proper adjustments had been made in management.
Jess, a former classmate of mine, is talented, hardworking, and self-sufficient. It was no surprise she had multiple job offers upon graduation. She took a job with a well-known RIA with a solid track record for developing associates. Her specific opportunity was slightly different, as the company had acquired another firm and she was hired to help that branch. She moved to the small city’s location and learned they hadn’t incorporated financial planning yet. Plans for the branch to become a full-service financial planning practice didn’t pan out, and most of her work was administrative. She was accidentally called a “secretary” on numerous occasions. She did not feel valued.
Quite simply, the job Jess signed up for was not the job she received. A perk of the original opportunity was the predictable path to a lead adviser role, which many other new hires experienced. Jess received a uniquely different opportunity than what she expected, which led to disappointment.
Many firms opt to hire the best talent no matter what, but the downfall comes when there is no reasonable plan for the talent after the hire. As managers, our job is to make sure we give someone a fair opportunity to succeed. Jess left the firm because she didn’t get that chance.
Be an Advocate, Shape Experiences
Billy is a young career changer who wants to be a financial planner. He took CFP® courses on his own time and was hired by a big, well-known financial planning firm. He soon found he was struggling to keep up with the workload. Self-admittedly, Billy lacks confidence at times and wants his work to be perfect before submitting for approval. This perfectionist attitude combined with a high-volume firm led to backlogs and unsatisfied managers.
For 12 months, he gradually improved, but the work poured in heavier and he began to drown. He reached out for help, but in an environment where everyone is busy, he felt like no one had time for him. After months of the same response and no one to turn to, he quit.
There are two lessons here. First, everyone needs a direct manager to lean on when things get tough. No matter how busy the team is, you should never feel alone. Second, managers shape experiences. The hardest part of working on a team is remembering that competency is relative. Your teammates might not be skilled in your strongest areas, and vice versa. A skilled manager knows their employee’s unique skill sets and will adapt their workload to match.
Create Goals Together
Alice studied financial planning in college and accepted an entry-level role building plans and inputting data. Her goal was to eventually move up and become a client-facing adviser. After a few years of hitting her performance goals, she asked for more opportunity. She asked for a way to become client-facing; the firm said no. She asked to sit in on client meetings; the firm said no. She asked for salary incentives to give her something to work toward; the firm said no.
She hit many ceilings but knew she could lean on her direct manager for help. When she approached her manager though, she unfortunately received bad advice: “I was told by a female manager that I shouldn’t ask for a raise because I need to cater to the partner’s male ego to get what I want long term. I realized that my manager wasn’t there to support me or advocate for my growth.”
There’s a lot of talk around career paths for young planners, and it’s important to understand the basics. Most 25-year-olds aren’t interested in a “path to equity.” All they need is a couple of large goals they can work toward over one to two years that can be customized for each person.
Customizing experiences is where boutique firms can thrive, because all associates are different; they should have slightly different paths, course-correcting at least annually. I don’t believe Alice needed decades planned out for her, she just needed to visualize a future that had her in it.
Alice’s problems were related to problems faced by her direct manager. A middle manager is often the connection between an associate and the firm’s ownership, and therefore should be an advocate for the associate. However, they must be empowered. If the middle manager is not empowered, the associate may ask for help, only to realize that hands are tied.
Give Opportunity, Create Rock Stars
I’ve been given more opportunities than I ever imagined, and as a result my career has grown quickly. But opportunities are not the only ingredient for success. Once opportunity is granted, the difference between mediocre and exceptional talent is a direct function of the guidance a young person receives along the way.
It took me years to realize my success has been a team effort. It’s like realizing on your 25th birthday that you’ve had great parents who guided you through every life challenge. I thought I was in control, but it was really the care and investment from the generation before me who paved the way.
Now that we’re able to give opportunity to the next generation, it’s our job to make sure they become exceptional in their own way to help guide the profession’s future.