The average advisor enters the business at age 40. Tamar Satov talks to five second career advisors about why they made the change and how they adapt to tough times.
Sean Ryder is in the middle of a job interview — which he is acing, by the way — when an unexpected thought pops into his head. Despite having spent the previous eight years in similar well-paying sales and marketing roles at large pharmaceutical companies, this is not the life he wants anymore. “I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this,” he thinks to himself, before departing for his newly purchased home, so he can explain all this to his wife. “I always wanted to be my own boss. I didn’t want to deal with all the politics in a corporate job. It’s too tiring and not for me,” he says. Fast-forward 13 years, and Ryder is in fact his own boss at Loreto Ryder & Associates Private Wealth Management, part of IG Private Wealth Management in Toronto. “I’m so happy that I made the change,” says the 45-year-old certified financial planner. “This is definitely my calling.” Ryder is far from the only successful professional who pivoted to become a financial advisor mid-career. According to research compiled by Advocis, the average advisor enters the business at age 40, many of them doing so after climbing the ranks in other industries.
Looking at the experiences of second-career advisors can be helpful not only as an example for anyone who may have recently made a similar transition, but also because they are experts at dealing with change. And change is afoot for even the most seasoned advisors, thanks to rapidly transforming market and economic conditions.
Given that reality, below are the stories of five second-career advisors who made good, and the lessons they learned shifting to financial advisory services from fields as diverse as telecommunications, teaching, and the military.
CFP, Former Telco Sales Rep
Landing her first full-time job out of university at Bell Canada in 1993, Jackie Porter got a quick lesson in change and resiliency, as deregulation in the telecommunications industry put an end to “Ma” Bell’s monopoly. Eager to please, she quickly transitioned from direct marketing to sales manager, and gained the respect of her supervisors. But five years later, she opted for a buyout package. “People there talked about ‘golden handcuffs’ and staying until retirement, but I realized I didn’t want to work for a big company,” she says.
When Porter met with a financial planner to discuss how to make the best use of her windfall, she spotted a career opportunity. “The planner was a woman — a unicorn back in the 1990s — and I saw there were a lot of people who look like me, who were women, who I could help to become wealthy,” she recalls. The 49-year-old advisor, who was named Female Trailblazer of the Year at the 2019 Wealth Professional awards, now runs her own business with five staff at Mississauga-based Carte Wealth Management.
JACKIE’S TOP TIPS
Be prepared for disruption. As Porter discovered from her telco industry experience, you can’t rely on the status quo when planning for the future. Disruption is the new normal, she says, whether it comes from a global pandemic, new technologies, or climate change. To help them thrive in the new reality, advisors must prepare clients — and themselves — to be financially resilient. “In the world we live in, how secure can you feel for the future? Recognize when the sun is shining, that’s when to save for a rainy day,” she suggests.
Demonstrate your value. Since the proliferation of robo advisors is also creating disruption and a paradigm shift in the financial services industry, it’s critical for professionals to show how they add value. “Some may have thought they could build a business just by providing a good rate of return to clients, but now that service can be outsourced and commoditized,” says Porter. Instead, advisors must think about the unique ways they can offer holistic advice, which will help them tap what she thinks of as an underserved market: women. “Many women don’t want the ‘masculine’ approach of ‘look how much return we got for you.’ They want more of a big-picture approach,” she says. “The advisors who do that well over the next decade will be successful.”
Listen. One way to add value is to take the time to really listen to your clients, as well as review their documents, and then see how those two stories align. For example, Porter met with clients who told her they had $2,000 in savings left over each month. But when she examined their budget, she saw they were carrying debt on a credit card. “I called them on it and asked why they haven’t deployed that money toward the credit card debt,” she says, adding that she tries to use humour as much as possible. “I want them to know that I know — that I’ve looked at their circumstances. Then they trust me, and I don’t have to ‘sell’ them.”
CD, CLU, CHFC, Former Military Personnel
After almost 20 years, and a half-dozen postings, in the Canadian Armed Forces, Gary Weston retired from the military at the age of 37 with a pension and a bright future. That was back in 1987 — right around Black Monday and the largest stock market crash since the Great Depression. Nonetheless, Weston, who always had a head for numbers and business, pursued a career as a financial advisor in his hometown of Winnipeg. After a brief stint with Investors Group he joined Canada Life, and in 1996 formed the Gary D.S. Weston Financial Group. Today, he’s a semi-retired financial and investment fund advisor with Investia Financial Services Inc., part of Crescent Financial Group.
GARY’S TOP TIPS
Be reassuring in a crisis. Given his military background and the timing of his entry into financial services, Weston has some apt advice for advisors who may be hearing from clients in a panic over stock market volatility: “Be the calming voice that your clients look to to get out of this mess. If they ride out the storm, they’ll get their money back.” In fact, he recalls clients running into his offices the day after Black Monday because they saw the crash as a perfect buying opportunity — an important lesson for any new advisor.
Never stop learning. A former board member of Advocis Winnipeg and past president of the Winnipeg Chapter of Life Underwriters Association, Weston is a big believer in continual education for advisors. “Go to financial forums, Advocis general meetings, CE seminars, meet industry icons and ask them questions, and read everything you can get your hands on,” he suggests. “You won’t get ahead if you don’t learn.”
Stand up to bullies. Weston always puts his clients — rather than sales numbers—first, as that’s what grows an advisory business. “If you look after your clients they will like the service and will refer their friends,” he explains. But he doesn’t ascribe to the-client-is-always-right philosophy. “I fired two or three clients — something I learned from an older agent — because of the way they were treating me,” he says. “I have no time for that. Don’t be afraid to speak out. It’s your livelihood.”
CFP, Former High School Teacher
Although she loved teaching, Andrea Andersen decided to make a career change at age 36 to find an occupation with less rigid hours. “I kind of went into teaching for the family life it would give me, but I found out it didn’t give me much flexibility,” says Andersen, whose son was six at the time and at a different school with no after care. She turned to financial advising, which was a good match for her skill set and gave her the flexibility she was craving. Thirteen years later, Andersen is principal, Western Canada leader, and financial advisor at Edward Jones in Calgary. “My branch has three assistants, so someone is always in the branch to serve our clients if I have to be away.”
ANDREA’S TOP TIPS
Educate your clients. If you take the time to explain the basics about risk tolerance, time horizons, and how markets work, your clients won’t panic when they experience their first real bear market in a decade. “I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 10 years helping clients understand risk tolerance and long-term investing,” says Andersen, who had some investors get in touch after the market drop in March to ask about buying opportunities. If possible, try to communicate in a way that best suits your clients; for example, visual learners may better understand through charts or pictures, while mathematical or logical learners may prefer to see raw data or calculations.
Be empathetic. Clients are at their most vulnerable when they sit in front of you, and they want to feel like someone cares about them. When one of Andersen’s clients was diagnosed with cancer, for instance, her biggest concern was that her twin sons, who have special needs, would be looked after. “I can’t solve cancer, but I can take that worry off her mind that her sons’ financial future is going to be OK so she can focus on getting healthy,” says Andersen. “We set everything up with a guardian and executor.”
Leverage available supports. This can include any dedicated administrative or other support staff at your firm, printed or online resources of data and information, or professional mentors. “Tap into all that group knowledge to help guide you on the decision making for clients,” she suggests.
CFP, FMA, FCSI, Former Canada Revenue Agency
Kamal Basra’s circuitous route to becoming an advisor started as a University of British Columbia hospital laboratory research assistant, then six years as a stayat-home parent to her two kids, followed by part-time work in the credit division of Sears where she handled people’s bill enquiries. Next was a tax return data entry role at CRA (then called Revenue Canada), where she was promoted to a supervisory position.
But it wasn’t until an annual visit with her financial advisor in 1996 that fate really intervened. His assistant had just left and he offered Basra the job. “The whole thing was pure luck, but within about a month I realized how much of difference he was making in people’s lives and how his clients loved him,” she recalls. “He really cared for his clients, and I thought ‘this is something I could do.’ ”
Many courses and two firms later, she enrolled in the rookie advisor program at TD Waterhouse at age 41 and started giving free investment seminars to women to build her business. In 2008, she met another woman advisor, Tracy Theemes, who had been on a similar path, and together they created Sophia Financial Group of Raymond James Ltd. in Vancouver, where they successfully serve the needs of a mostly female clientele.
KAMAL’S TOP TIPS
Seek out mentors. During her four years working for her own financial advisor as an assistant, Basra didn’t see him as a salesperson she saw him as someone who took care of his clients. That mentor-ship laid the foundation for her entire approach to success. “Our industry measures us on how much you bring in assets each month, but that’s not how to build a business,” she says. “I meet with clients first, and make sure they understand the financial planning process, which is much better than bringing in clients quickly only to lose them through the back door.”
Find your niche. When she was in the TD Waterhouse rookie program, Basra had to develop a business plan that outlined how she would prospect for clients. She decided on educational seminars for women, speaking to them about basic concepts and leaving lots of Q&A time at the end. “They had been sold to too many times, and never had a chance to ask their questions,” she says. “They wanted to know, how is buying this mutual fund going to help me retire? Or help my kids? In an increasingly complex world with a lack of human contact, advice will always be valued. If I was just going out there peddling stocks, I wouldn’t do as well.”
Draw on experience. All of Basra’s varied work history contributed to her success as an advisor, from her ability to analyze data as a researcher, to effectively communicating with customers and staff at Sears and CRA, and walking clients through their investment statements when she was an associate. But she draws on her personal experiences, as well. For example, she can relate to women who’ve had male advisors ignore them, because the same thing has happened to her. And because she is a widow her husband died six years ago — she can empathize with clients who are in similar situations. “When women get divorced or become widows, that’s often when they’ll change advisors,” she notes. “Having been through that myself just adds to the credibility for them. I understand.”
CFP, CLU, Former Pharmaceutical Marketer
Success comes down to a few key things, and there’s no shortcut or easy way around it, says Ryder: “Keep in constant touch with your clients — especially in these tough times. Keep prospecting and trying to better yourself.”
After Ryder had his “I can’t do this anymore” moment, he considered pursuing financial planning — a topic he found interesting — and researched the industry. He attended a seminar at Investors Group and was sold. But then he had to sell his wife on the idea of being paid 100% on commission. She gave him the green light, especially since he had a sizeable severance from a previous layoff, and he got to work in late 2007, just before the financial crisis. “That was my trial by fire,” he says. By 2010, he became a division director, and today he has $236 million in assets under management and the seventh largest IG practice in Canada.
SEAN’S TOP TIPS
Maintain networks. Ryder found that he landed many clients from staying in touch with those he worked with in the pharmaceutical industry. Colleagues knew he had previously received a severance package, so when they were later laid off as well, they immediately thought of him to provide advice. “They figured, ‘You’ve been through this, and now you’re a financial planner, so who better to guide me?’ It was a good source of warm leads.”
Work hard. At the beginning, it can be a real grind building an advisory business, but Ryder always noticed how the top performers worked hardest. When he was division director, for example, he frequently turned down offers from his colleagues to go out after work and just kept going. “People who treat this as a job instead of a career will not do well. It’s a long-term play,” says Ryder. “It is extremely difficult to make a lot of money early in your career, but it is a great business [financially] once you have built it up.”
Don’t look for a magic bullet. Success comes down to a few key things, and there’s no shortcut or easy way around it, says Ryder: “Keep in constant touch with your clients — especially in these tough times. Keep prospecting and trying to better yourself. Have a good work ethic. Use referrals, put on seminars, and host client appreciation events.” Finally, he recommends making the most of the resources at your disposal. “I’ve got this massive company behind me,” he says. “If there’s anything I don’t know, they know, and I’m not afraid to ask.”
TAMAR SATOV is a Toronto-based editor and writer.
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