An all-star roster

By Suzanne Sharma | November 6, 2012 | Last updated on November 6, 2012
6 min read

Sick of hiring the wrong people? Try poaching your internal talent pool.

That’s exactly what Phillip Richards, chairman and CEO, North Star Resource Group in Minneapolis, did during a search for a compliance officer—it saved him $25,000 annually.

He’d posted the job externally, interviewed candidates, and found two in the $75,000 range. But then, he thought, why not look internally and see if there was someone who could fit the role. He found an administrative assistant who was making $36,000 a year and eager to move up.

Richards asked the bright, loyal woman if she was interested in becoming both a registered broker-dealer and a principal. She passed the tests on the first try and saw her salary jump to $50,000. It was a win-win.

But, whether hiring internally or externally, one rule’s consistent: Be confident in your candidate.

Because career paths for administrative assistants and associate advisors usually vary, the qualities you want in each also differ, says Richards. Admin staff has to manage multiple projects and deadlines in a high-pressure environment. That makes them well suited to transition to fields like compliance. Associate advisors, by contrast, must have selling experience, be entrepreneurs and be competitive.

So to fill advisor roles, look for someone with tenacity and a thick skin because building business is difficult, says Jolene Laing, wealth advisor, ScotiaMcLeod in White Rock, B.C.

Her firm has minimum asset thresholds new hires must hit at 18, 24 and 36 months (see “Surviving the early years”). Often, candidates will scoff and set goals for $10 million a year, she says. But Laing remains wary of these people because unrealistic expectations indicate inexperience.

“Look for people who’ve done research into the industry and recognize it’s tough for the first three years,” she says. “Their goals shouldn’t be asset-based, but production-based.”

Laing’s developing advisors will host 12 to 18 financial seminars a year. About three weeks before the seminar, they’ll drop 5,000 postcards to targeted neighbourhoods. One week before they’ll do another mail drop to the same 5,000 homes.

Time spent on this effort—an hour to create the postcards, an hour to stamp and 15 minutes to mail—can result in 15 to 25 attendees.

Those who prefer to cold call are expected to make 40 to 50 calls a day, and book at least one client meeting daily.

This worked for Laing when she was new, adding that even if she booked a meeting on her second try, she’d still make 40 calls.

In her shop, an assistant can develop into an associate if he displays an inclination toward, and interest in, sales.

In such cases, says Laing, the transition takes three-to-four years, during which a manager will invest several thousand dollars for the employee to take courses, plus time off work for study days. (She suggests associates take one day off to prep during the week of a pending exam.)

Keep them on board…

After investing time and money training someone, how do you make sure they don’t leave?

When hiring junior or intermediate-level associates, Andrew Johns, lead advisor with Raymond James in Vancouver, usually pays under market value. But he makes it clear that salaries can double after two years.

Compensation isn’t the only reason his team of six stays loyal. Johns provides clothing allowances each quarter and does RRSP matching. And he refuses to let anyone work more than 60 hours a week. He makes it clear upon hiring that all associates are required to work more than 40 hours, but fewer than 60.

“When we’re here, we’re all working our asses off,” he says. “There’s not a lot of social or downtime.”

And Johns balances the intensity by taking his team on trips twice a year (past junkets include Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles), and providing catered lunches on Wednesdays. Without this structured social time, he says, it’s hard to stay connected with colleagues on a personal level.

Aside from perks, what else keeps staff happy?

Joanne Livingston, director, wealth management, Richardson GMP in Ottawa, doesn’t believe in gimmicks or contests, saying greater rewards come when staff take the lead in interesting tasks.

For instance, one of her associates is good at explaining investments, so Livingston often lets her lead client- education meetings.

“If you have someone only filling out paperwork and doing data entry, they won’t be motivated,” she says.

And don’t view younger staffers as threats, says Rui Barreto, a content development specialist at CSI who’s managed a bank branch.

“A lot of people in this industry forget that when your team member has success, it points back to you,” he says.

…Or help them disembark

Sometimes things just don’t work out. But before you decide to fire, why not see if there’s a better fit for the employee in another department?

Richards did. A new advisor had trouble prospecting and building his book, but was a hard worker. So Richards moved him into the brokerage side where he got involved in competitively pricing products. The employee would compare product prices and report back to clients.

“He blossomed,” says Richards. “He was smart enough to understand numbers and could explain that to customers and agents.”

If that’s not an option, have a meeting to discuss the issues, and also put steps in place to help the employee change. If you’ve exhausted all avenues and still have to let him go, adds Barreto, make sure you’ve given sufficient warning. Make the decision with human resources and your branch manager.

Management mantras

Livingston provides her team—an administrative assistant and two associates—with flexible guidelines for duties and goals. She revisits job descriptions each year, including her own.

In one case, Livingston had an associate in charge of both financial planning and securities trading. But she realized planning was becoming more complicated due primarily to changes in the pension sphere. Also, her associate was stronger in handling securities trading. So she split the position in two, let the associate focus on trading, and hired a new associate to manage financial planning alone.

Meanwhile, Laing, who’s also a branch manager, has a team of 22–11 advisors and 11 support staff—but she’s worked hard to build a small-firm culture. One way she does this is through a monthly newsletter that highlights staff accomplishments.

Laing gets together with newer advisors each September to document their goals for client meetings, assets, revenue, and community involvement. Then, she meets with them monthly to track and record progress.

With established advisors, she checks in quarterly. Their goals often differ from newbies—some are nearing retirement and may only have a few years left to build their businesses. Laing uses these meetings to discuss how they can boost the value of their books before selling, typically to colleagues who shares similar investment philosophies.

Richards also follows up with team members quarterly, and says, “If they’re not getting the right support, they’re not serving clients and it reflects on our [company and] profit.”

Suzanne Sharma