SEI Surveyed Millennial Advisors: What Did We Learn?


There is a real lack of young financial advisors in our industry. That’s a fact. InvestmentNews cited that, “The industry saw its fifth consecutive year of decline in 2014, to about 285,000 advisers, from a peak of 325,000 in 2008, according to Cerulli. The research firm estimates there will be a gap of about 10,000 advisers in 2020, in terms of the supply of advisers versus the industry’s potential growth.” The SEI Advisor Network surveyed nearly 300 millennial advisors to find out how our industry can change this sad statistic and truly recruit, engage, and retain young financial planners. So as we close our four-part series on our millennial advisor research with our last and final blog, I feel it’s important that we take this opportunity to pull together all the key findings and ask ourselves – what can we do?

1. Recruit them while they’re young

According to our research, nearly 20% of millennial advisors fell into this profession by chance, but of those surveyed, nearly 30% purposely chose this career track during college. It seems then that college recruitment is the best opportunity for our industry to attract potential young planners to our industry. If we focus our time and attention on students in their college years – before they’ve chosen a career track – we may be able to improve these statistics.

As an industry, big financial services giants can do this by partnering with schools and other institutions that have access to these college students to better market the financial planning profession. As an individual financial advisor, you can do the same by partnering with local universities to look for opportunities to present about your career or to create internship/mentorship opportunities at your firm. The focus here should be about creating awareness for what a role as a financial advisor truly means. We need to make them aware that it’s not just about finance and numbers; it’s a profession that includes everything from sales to client service to entrepreneurship.

“While I was fortunate to discover this career midway through college, I wish I knew sooner. By the time I learned about St. Josephs University’s CFP program, I was unable to finish all of the pertinent coursework during my undergraduate studies due to scheduling conflicts, so I had to take additional courses after graduation to be eligible to sit for the exam. I have now committed to return to the universities to present to intro-level finance classes about financial planning career opportunities outside of those high-turnover/sales positions that tend to dominate entry level job offers.  I encourage other CFP professionals to do the same at their local colleges, not only to help the students but to potentially build a pipeline for future hires!” – Stephanie M. James, MBA, CFP®, Senior Financial Advisor and Director of Financial Planning Standards, Wescott Financial Advisory Group LLC.

2. Support their planning aspirations

In our research, 79% of millennial advisors identified themselves as financial planners or wealth managers (someone who does both financial planning and investment management). To us, this indicates that a key way to support young talent is by encouraging education and certifications toward becoming a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. Traditionally, the focus has been on helping new hires obtain their various licenses to advise on financial products or investments. However, if they have aspirations of calling themselves financial planners someday, many of them will likely desire a certification from the CFP Board or other financial planning institutions.

As an industry, we could support these aspirations by working with more colleges and universities to develop CFP programs designed to provide students with the course load and education that enables them to obtain the marks either by graduation or right after graduation. Individual advisors might address this need by supporting young advisors with the money and time they need to obtain financial planning certifications. Think of it as an investment in your staff, because your firm becomes inherently more valuable and attractive if you have a financial planner in-house.

3. Give them the autonomy to flex their skills

Not every millennial advisor will be management material. However, some millennial advisors could become your next generation of owners for your business if you give them the opportunity to test and develop their skills. The key is creating a work environment that allows them to do just that: take ownership over key business initiatives and projects to see if they have what it takes to drive change within your firm. One potential project that was identified in our research is giving your millennial advisor the opportunity to help you expand out your client base to younger investors. Of the millennial advisors we surveyed, 93% indicated interest in serving millennial investors. In fact, of that 93% a full 40% indicated that they are already successfully serving Gen Y clients today. Another potential project could be helping your firm incorporate technology into your business. In the research, more than 6 in 10 millennial advisors indicated that robo-advisors won’t replace advisors, but that that this technology could definitely help financial advisors in their profession.

There are many other ideas or ways for engaging young talent at your firm to test their potential management skills. In an ideal world, you want to pick a project that helps both you as a business-owner, but also that is also something the millennial advisor is interested in (like some of the suggestions we made above). Let’s be real though; not all aspects of your role as a business-owner is glamorous…and young advisors will need to understand that if they’re over going to take on a management role at some point in their career. However, just by giving the millennial advisor full autonomy and responsibility for whether that project is successful, you’ll hopefully spark their interest and passion for getting it done.

4. Talk to them about succession early on

It’s a tale as old as time in our industry: a young advisor joins your firm, learns the ropes, and then leaves to start her own advisory firm…potentially taking some of your clients with her. But what if we could change the end of that story and retain that young talent? Amongst the millennial advisors we surveyed, interest in starting a financial advisory firm increased around age 26 and peaked around age 30. If you don’t feed this need and facilitate this entrepreneurial spirit, it’s likely that your millennial advisor is likely to look outside your firm for the next opportunity.

Advisors can address this issue in two ways. The first is by making a management level decision to develop compelling career tracks within the firm, which paints a long-term picture of how that young advisor could grow and develop within the business. The second is by bringing succession planning to forefront and creating a tangible pathway toward potential ownership and management level positions within the firm. Not every millennial advisor will be management material. The key is just letting them know that the opportunity is real, and then giving them the chance to test their skills so you can determine if they have what it takes. Set specific goals for their professional development within the firm and be transparent that this is about testing their skills to see if they could become one of the next generation of owners. Often we wait too long to have these types of discussions with young talent, and so they look elsewhere for opportunity to grow and develop.

That’s a wrap

Our hope for this four-part series was to organize our key findings and discuss the takeaways to help you better engage young, millennial advisors. We surveyed nearly 300 millennial advisors to gather feedback straight from the source. Every industry player and even individual advisors can play a role in helping us to address this need for to recruit and retain young planners. We hope you’ll take the calls-to-action from this research series, and join in this initiative for the sustainability of this profession.

Stephanie M. James and Wescott Financial Advisory Group, LLC are not affiliated with SEI or its subsidiaries.

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Missy Pohlig

Missy Pohlig

Missy Pohlig is the millennial contributor for Practically Speaking and also serves as Program Manager for the Solutions Team in the SEI Advisor Network.

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