How to Break into the Industry

Last week I wrote a post about how to become a financial advisor. It was mostly big-picture stuff, which is why I’m excited to share with you some specific steps you can take if you want to be an FA. What I’m about to share comes from an Animal Spirits listener. If you’re reading this, I hope you can implement some of his ideas.

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Since this has become one of your most common questions, I wanted to share with you my experience trying to break into the industry. I’m 29, working for a team at an independent wealth management firm, and have been in the industry for about a year and a half now. I didn’t come from wealth, nor did I have any connections in the industry starting out. I also knew that I couldn’t build a book from scratch the old school way. With the advisory landscape focusing on holistic wealth management and most established advisors having a team around them, I knew it would be almost impossible to convince wealthy people to trust a 27-year-old with zero experience to manage their wealth. I had an uphill battle and an unconventional approach would be necessary to break-in. So here’s what I did:

  1. Made inroads through clients of advisors:  Given that nobody in the industry knew who I was, I had to find a way to make genuine connections with advisors. I figured that my best chances of getting in a room with one was through their clients. I was fortunate enough to find a handful of people that introduced me to their advisor. Before every introductory meeting, I did my own research on the advisors, compiled a list of questions for them, and basically tried to talk a little as possible when we met; Dale Carnegie 101. With each meeting my knowledge base grew, my questions improved, and I was able to harvest more intel each time. Those meetings were critical in figuring out the lay of the land, allowed me to build connections in this industry, and helped confirm that this was the career path I wanted to pursue.
  2. Obtained a professional designation: Designations like the CFA, CFP, CPA, etc.. are the easiest ways to garner instant creditability in the professional world. It’s a great way to market yourself to people who don’t know you and inform them of your skillset. Right after university, I worked towards my CPA designation and I’m currently a level II CFA candidate. Having that level of professional education has opened a lot of doors for me and I wouldn’t have gotten into the industry at my age without them. I also made sure that I completed all of the necessary licensing courses before I got into the industry so that if a job opportunity arose I’d be ready to start work right away.
  3. Looked for advisors without succession plans: Most advisors are older and on the “back nine” of their careers. In addition, many of them don’t have a successor to their book of business. I figured, why try and build a book for scratch when there are advisors with decades of experience, significant goodwill built into their client base, and their businesses will be available for sale in 5-10 years? This was how I got in. Not having an exit strategy/succession plan can be a major stressor for any business owner and I was lucky enough to connect with an advisor in this exact situation. I pitched him and his firm on how I could be the solution to his succession problem, ensure the continuity of care of his clients, and help mitigate the risk of the firm losing those assets when the advisor retires. It was a classic Michael Scott win-win-win situation.
  4. Brought immediate value to an advisor’s business: Succession plans don’t happen overnight. I needed some time to get to know this advisor’s clients, understand the business, and establish myself before buying an equity stake. That being said, if I’m not bringing value to this guy’s business immediately, it’s much harder to convince him that I should be his successor and pay me while he teaches me the business. I had to figure out what holes I could fill in his business from day one. Fortunately for me, a common phrase amongst advisors is “I’m not an expert in tax, you should talk to your accountant”. I worked at an accounting firm for 4.5 years before switching to wealth management so the combination of my prior work experience & CPA designation allowed me to create immediate value by providing tax advice. Plus, if I became an expert on the financial planning software the firm uses (Naviplan), I could quickly get to a level where I could handle the financial planning side of the advisor’s business. This was a weak point in this advisor’s service offering and I was an immediate solution to a growing need he had. It also helped ensure I didn’t take a significant pay cut when I switched careers because added to his bottom line right out of the gate.

For me, stepping into an established wealth management practice was the best route for breaking into the industry. I’m not a sales guy and somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of “prospecting” for clients. However, I firmly believe in Charlie Munger’s sage advice that “the best way to advertise yourself is the work right in front of you”. I knew that if I could start working with an existing client base it would give me the opportunity to hone my skills, establish myself as a financial advisor, and grow our business through referrals. The route that I took could be good for professionals coming from industries outside of finance who can add value to underserved components of an established advisor’s business. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach but it might help one of your listeners break into the industry.