TORONTO (Reuters) - It often starts with a case of weekly dread. Frustrated financial advisers, overwhelmed or under water, need objective advice. With few formal supports available in an industry that breeds fierce competition, they seek out a coach or mentor.
“It’s typically someone sitting late on a Sunday night, playing ‘Gee ain’t it awful,’ in their mind, and then getting up on Monday morning and saying ‘I need some help’,” said business coach George Hartman.
A managing partner at Accretive Advisor in Toronto, Hartman said advisers often struggle when their business gets too big and presents a conflict between running an office and serving clients. For many, revenues are down and costs up, and they are surrounded by people who depend on them for security.
“In many cases they’ve built the practice doing themselves all the things that other people should now be doing, so it’s hard for them to delegate, hard for them to justify adding resources or outsource activities.”
That’s where coaches or mentors come in; experts who can advise the advisers at any stage of their career. Business coaching is flourishing in Canada’s financial world as professionals fork over between C$3,500 and C$12,000 a year for an assessment, strategy and support to improve their careers.
Art Schooley has seen his business grow exponentially since starting The Personal Coach for financial advisers in 2002 in Toronto. He now overseeing five coaches and has hundreds of clients.
“When I was growing up in the industry, mentoring was important, and senior people had the time, and did it. I don’t think it is there as much. The world is busier, people don’t have as much time,” Schooley said.
“It can be a pretty lonely world out there, and they just like to bounce things off a coach. They don’t have that outlet at home, typically don’t want to get it from their supplier, so a coach offers a partnership relationship that they trust, and allows them to think out loud.”
Hartman and Schooley both describe a formal coaching program that starts with an initial assessment of the financial adviser and his or her business, defines where the adviser wants to be three or four years later, and then develops a plan for incremental change, and supervises the follow-up.
“We are very conscious that we don’t overwhelm them with to-do lists. We say we are evolving a business, not revolutionizing a business,” Schooley said. “The price of change is not simple. If it was easy, people would do it on their own.”
Hartman said his goal is to assess all the jobs in a business, and then pin down which ones the financial adviser likes to do most, and is best at.
“Then we find a way to get the others done. That could be delegating to current staff, it could be adding staff, it could be outsourcing.”
While financial advisers are often resistant to paying for coaching, the coaches say the payoff is often so obvious that the relationship will last for years, with the coaching fee seen simply as an investment in a growing business.
“We find that typically by the time the next quarterly payment comes around, they’ve grown some revenue and saved costs in such a way that they look at the fee and, instead of seeing an overhead cost, they see an investment they get a return on,” Schooley said.
But mentoring isn’t dead either, and is often a better alternative for young advisers who can’t afford coaching fees and just need an experienced colleague to share tips.
Christopher Dewdney was just two years into his career as a financial adviser in Toronto when he found a mentor that rescued him from a low point. Now, he recommends every new adviser reach out to find a mentor.
“Call them, go into their office, say ‘Hey, I’m new in the business, I’m going to stick around, I want to prove it to you’. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone say no to you,” said Dewdney, who ended up becoming a partner to an adviser who mentored him, taking on junior clients and freeing up the senior adviser to focus on bigger things.
It’s a model some wealth management firms have formalized, matching new advisers with senior advisers in an apprenticeship program designed to help both sides: the young adviser getting experience and the experienced adviser getting help.
“With disrespect to our industry, it takes six months to get your qualifying exams, but the question is, ‘How much do you know?’” said Clay Gillespie, managing director at Rogers Group Financial in Vancouver and a member of Advocis, the Financial Advisors Association of Canada.
“To give a high level of advice and know how to deal with clients, technically and practically, you need some training.”
At Rogers Group, all new advisers have to go through a three-year training program in which they shadow senior advisers, do low-level work, and complete courses and training programs, in an articling program designed to mimic law or accounting firms.
The program gives the small firm a built-in succession plan and gives young advisers some security in salary while they build their skills.
“You always want young advisers in your firm because it brings a vibrancy,” said Gillespie, who was the first young adviser through the program some 15 years ago.
“Whatever upfront costs there are, you get more of it back in the future.”
Reporting By Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Peter Galloway