July 7, 2020

Over the years, as my financial advisory business has grown and evolved, I have been faced with the dilemma independent RIAs often face – where does one find new talent? On the flip side of that coin, the young talent coming out of college has faced a similar dilemma – “I really want to work in finance, but if I want to be successful I need to spend a great deal of (my parents) money, or go into substantial debt, and then when I graduate only the large institutional banks will be hiring at entry level.” This has been a perennial challenge for the independent financial services community for many years. Over the past few months, the world has been grappling with a global pandemic. The pandemic has shed light on a great many things – good and bad. It also helped me to identify a solution to the young talent shortage in our industry, by accident. This is that story.

I met Max about 10 years ago. Long story short, he was the son of a very close family friend. Over the years it became increasingly apparent to me that Max had an interest in Finance – he was always asking for suggestions on what to read and how to learn more about our industry.

Max with his family.

In his words: “From a very young age I found myself fascinated by the Finance industry and the powerful effect it has on everyday people. By the time I reached middle school I felt committed to studying Finance and was already interested in studying it at a higher level. Throughout high school I took every opportunity possible to dive deeper into the financial world, but felt limited with a very structured education path.” More recently, in talking with his parents, they told me that Max was considering schools all across the country and even England, to pursue a Finance degree. I was excited for him to have these opportunities but I also knew the concern the potential college expenses were creating for his parents to either cover the costs of school or burden Max with significant debt coming out of the blocks in his career.

A frustrated college student.

Typically, Max would simply do what he thought was expected – head off to an institution of higher learning for an extremely expensive education. His parents would follow the typical playbook – take out a loan or lay out a large chunk of cash so their son might advance his career. I would look on, wishing all parties the best, knowing that in 4 years, Max would likely find his way to Merrill Lynch, or UBS, or any other wirehouse human meat-grinder to get a bad hands on education in how to take care of clients in un-biased fashion. Enter the coronavirus. Typical just took an extended vacation.

Most colleges, including top Ivy League schools, shut down their campuses very quickly and have moved to online learning environments[1]. Many of those schools have already announced that classes in the fall of 2020 will remain virtual. Plans were put on hold. Check that – plans were obliterated. Everything we’ve taken for granted in American society and across cultures worldwide, is being re-thought. College is no exception.

Max was compelled to make a decision that I believe many others are considering right now… Why pay $40,000+ per year for online college? As he observes: “I have watched multiple close friends of mine pay tens of thousands of dollars for a college education that they are receiving while quarantined in their home bedroom. With the extremely unprecedented situation the world is currently facing, students must react and search for alternative opportunities to pursue their career aspirations.” As he continued to think about what he really wanted, he made the decision to explore alternatives.

Max reached out to me and asked about the potential for him to join my firm – initially as an intern, but with an eye on launching his career in finance. He outlined his radically different plan, which involved exploring an entirely online college education, and learning the ropes at our firm. When you think about it, this approach isn’t really so radical at all – full time students often work part-time or even full-time, near campus. Executive MBA students are working full-time while pursuing their advanced business degrees. In Max’s scenario, he would receive an accredited college degree at a lower cost all while having the scheduling freedom to work at the same time. Our conditioning regarding the “way things were supposed to go” was rapidly shifting. The “new normal” has been extremely challenging for all of us, but some preconceived societal norms have been challenged as well, if not eliminated altogether.

Max was passionate and enthusiastic to get started on his career.

I found myself getting excited about the possibility of having a young man that I believe has a great deal of potential in our profession, on my team. His drive and passion would be a great asset and I felt confident that I could pass on close to 20 years of experience to him right at the beginning. Yet I was also anxious because I felt somewhat responsible for encouraging his decision and want to ensure that his career gets off to a fulfilling and inspiring start. My first act in my new role as mentor was to help him align his educational path with his on the job skill development.

As a part of the process, I introduced Max to the Test Drive Your Future program. Jim and Beth Hood created this program after writing a book by the same name 10 years ago. Max is pretty certain that he wants to go down the Wealth Management path, I felt it was important to take a step back and go through a process to make sure. As Jim bluntly puts it: “We have a situation in our country now where nearly 70% of high school graduates go on to college, many taking 5-7 years to finish a 4-year degree, but only about 27% of these graduates end up working in a field related to their major. The vast majority end up graduating with massive student loan debt that will be a drag on their lives for decades, all for an education they aren’t even using! We think there is a better way. At Test Drive Your Future we believe that a little time spent exploring your options and planning before setting off on your college and career journey can not only save you from spending a lot of necessary time, effort, and money but, if done right, can set you up for a lifetime of success and happiness!” In addition to what I will impart to Max about our industry and our role as advisors, I felt having an outside mentor through a program like this would be important, as well.

Click here to visit the website for the program Max used. Integrated Partners and konvergent wealth partners are not affiliated or endorse Test Drive Your Future. For more information, contact Test Drive Your Future directly.

Jim with his wife and their daughter.

We are wasting no time getting Max started on learning about our business – how we work with clients and bring value to them, what our investment philosophy is and how we manage money, and how to run a successful practice – I want him to learn many business skills that will be valuable whether or not he decides to stay in finance. I am excited to get him involved in our marketing – from website development, running email campaigns, video editing and copywriting to handling some of our day to day operational workflows and diving deep into our investment process. There are parts of our business where having a degree is important (getting your CFP designation for instance), however, I believe the experience that Max will get over the next 3-4 years while he pursues a specific educational path, will put him in a great position.

Max is quickly becoming a valuable member of the team.

My hope is that he will spend years learning about many facets of our business and building skills that will translate to other careers or for Max to perhaps start his own advisory business someday. Max will get through this educationally immersive period with no debt, and quite the opposite, a decent amount of money in the bank and/or investment accounts. Finally, if he does decide to get a full college degree online, and decides to pursue a career in Wealth Management, he will have met the work requirements to obtain the CFP designation by the time he is 22!

Many businesses today likely still have a requirement, even for entry level jobs, to have a college degree, or at least that a degree is preferred. When I was a training manager early in my career, I was convinced having a degree mattered. What the degree was in mattered less, if at all, but I was convinced that I had proven that I had the ability to focus and finish something I started.

However, as I attended job fairs at all the schools in Washington state, what we didn’t see very often for those getting ready to graduate was any real-life experience. By shifting your focus, or at least adding the focus of looking for HS students that are already building a portfolio of skills that are in high demand, you may find the ability to bring on young students that are motivated to prove themselves and willing to learn and build their skillset early. In addition, you can look at partnering with groups like Test Drive Your Future and Discover Praxis that can line you up with students that go through their programs that have exactly the skills that you need. For those businesses willing to go down this route, I believe there will be a distinct advantage in your ability to keep up with changes that are happening in our economy and what skills will be required to stay relevant in the years to come.

As we get deeper into understanding the implications of the shutdowns triggered by the Coronavirus, one thing that is becoming clear in the Wealth Management industry and many others, is that flexibility in working environments and the use of technology to get your message out will continue to be more important. By identifying young and talented individuals that can join your team with these skills already embedded as a part of their nature because they grew up in a more technology based world, independent advisory firms might find they have had a work-around to the talent shortage dilemma hiding in plain sight the whole time.

The pandemic is horrible and devastating in many, many ways. But we will get through it – and when adversity doesn’t completely destroy us, it has a tendency to reveal things big and small that help us to change for the better.

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-colleges-coronavirus-impact-finances/

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