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Many assistants want to get licensed so they’re more effective on the job.

So you should help junior staff prepare for licensing exams, says Brian Gordon, a former advisor and founder of ExamSuccess.ca. Consider splitting training into two parts: first, have them attend prep courses and seminars prior to taking their first exams; then offer practical training and long-term mentoring afterward (see “Course facts,” below).

This training approach can help avoid confusion. “The link is weak between the material included on standardized industry exams and most advisors’ day-to-day practices,” says Gordon. For example, textbooks and exams often include simplistic solutions to client problems, while you may want assistants to take extra steps to cater to client needs. Assistants can mix up the two lessons, so it can be better for them to take exams before you coach them.

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Course facts

  • The CFP takes two years or longer to complete. It requires prerequisite courses. You must write two exams and a financial plan.
  • The CFA takes three to four years to complete. It’s rigorous due to the technicality and volume of the material, which focuses on securities analysis and investment policy statements. To take the first course, you must be in your final year of college or university, or have four years’ work experience.
  • The CIM takes six months to a year to complete. It’s popular with IIROC-licensed advisors. The CSC and CPH are prerequisites, and you get work experience while earning the designation.
  • An options license can be obtained in three to four months.
  • The Financial Risk Manager designation takes a year to complete. It requires two years work experience.

Source: Brian Gordon, former advisor and founder of ExamSuccess.ca

Mentoring tips

It takes several years to properly mentor assistants, says Kathy McMillan, director of wealth management at Richardson GMP in Calgary, Alta. She’s been training two young staff members for the last five years. One has passed the CSC and CPH, and the other is pursuing her CFP.

The mentoring process has been rewarding but challenging, she adds, since both assistants came from non-financial backgrounds—kinesiology, and travel and tourism. She taught them about the industry by:

  • reviewing office procedures and providing lists of instructions to handle client questions and sensitive situations;
  • sending them to seminars, and inviting planning and tax experts to host educational luncheons; and
  • shifting from simply putting together procedure lists to then “teaching them how to prepare for meetings and use client notes, and analyze portfolios.” She says letting them help her prepare for meetings has saved time.

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McMillan will ask longtime clients if they’re comfortable with her assistants joining their meetings. She explains her assistants have helped her prepare and will be taking notes.

When first attending these meetings, “assistants should sit back and observe,” says McMillan. But once they’re registered and allowed to offer advice, “you can ask them for input at the end if you feel they can offer insight, which helps them establish relationships with clients.” Afterward, she schedules 10-minute discussions with her assistants to explain her client approach and answer any questions. They’ll often ask how she met clients and developed relationships, or ask for background on complex planning problems. During these discussions, she encourages her newer staff to constructively critique her body language and communication methods to help them figure out what works and what doesn’t—this can also help improve your own approach.

Once an assistant is registered and can take on clients, your job isn’t finished. For the first few years, McMillan suggests following up with clients you’ve transitioned to an associate. This ensures client expectations are being met. You can sit in on an associate’s first meetings and review their notes.

Also, step in to help if a newly registered team member gets difficult questions about portfolios, products and markets.

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This level of mentoring is crucial, she says. “Even with a finance degree, it’s hard to get started in the business. If you mentor assistants, they’ll see they have a future at your firm, [and] be more productive and focused in their early years.”

Katie Keir is content editor of Advisor Group.