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FPA chooses president-elect with the seasoning of young advisors in mind

Michael Branham says firms should set up medical-residency-like programs for young planners

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 – 4:25 AM by Lisa Shidler
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Michael Branham: I'm passionate about getting the younger generation entrenched into the profession.

Brooke’s Note: Remember when Brett Favre nearly won a Super Bowl with the Minnesota Vikings when it seemed he could barely walk. The key was his ability to “see the field” so much better than younger competitors who could run circles around him. There’s a similar dynamic going on with financial advisors who quarterback client finances. The good ones are older and they’re going to want to retire. Their upstart replacements will not have the seasoning. It’s nice to see that the Financial Planning Association is making a choice of leaders that helps address this monumental and short-term thankless challenge for the industry of seasoning a new generation of advisors.

The Financial Planning Association recently elected Michael Branham to serve as the organization’s president in 2013. At 37, he is one of the youngest planners to serve in this post. He is also the organization’s first president-elect from its national NexGen group.

Branham, an advisor with Cornerstone Wealth Advisors Inc. an RIA in Edina, Minn., is one of the founding members of NexGen, a national organization of financial planners aged 36 or younger. The group was set up as a place for young planners to get together online and in person to network with one another and learn more about the industry.

Out with the 'old’

Branham’s NexGen membership will expire at the end of this year because he’s turning 37.

“They’re going to kick my old body out of the group on Jan. 1,” he says jokingly.

Branham’s term as president starts Jan. 1, 2013. On Jan. 1 of next year, Paul H. Auslander, chairman and CEO of American Financial Advisors Inc. in Orlando, Fla. will take the helm of the organization, succeeding current the FPA’s 2011 president, Martin Kurtz. See: Martin Kurtz, president of Financial Planning Association for 2011, will take pragmatic approach.

Advisor Joel Pitzl, of Edina Minn., who worked with Branham on the NexGen group says Branham will be great in the position.

“He is never afraid to challenge the status quo,” Pitzl says. “He always does so in a respectful and constructive way. Mike is not one to avoid conflict rather he will dive right into the issue and ensure the conversation doesn’t end without resolution.”

Forest for the trees

Branham is one of few young planners who has spent most of his career in a fee-only environment, says Richard Salmen, former national FPA president, who served in 2009.

“I think he’s a great leader,” says Salmen, principal of GTRUST Financial Partners Inc. in Overland Park, Kan. who has served on FPA’s national board of directors with Branham. “I’ve watched him grow and mature in years I’ve served with him. You’ve got to be able to look at big picture and not get lost in the trees. You could get really focused on too many issues.”

Branham was president of FPA NexGen in 2008. He also served on FPA of Minnesota’s board and led its Career Development and Member Services Committees.

In a break with tradition, Branham takes office despite the fact he’s not the principal in a firm. He started out in 1999 with Waddell & Reed. Two years later, Branham joined Minneapolis-based RIA White Oaks Wealth Advisors. He left there in 2003 to join Cornerstone, which manages about $150 million in assets for 200 families.

RIABiz recently had a chat with Branham.

What will you do next year to prepare for your term as president?

Being FPA president is very demanding in terms of being an ambassador and traveling to all of the different chapters. I get an entire year when I can watch and learn from the current president. I’m planning to watch carefully and take a lot of notes.

What are key topics for you as FPA president?

I’m very passionate about getting the younger generation entrenched into the profession. I think we need to create pathways for getting the younger generation into the industry.

How has your firm gotten younger advisors involved?

We are one of the only firms I know of where we bring a college graduate to be a resident for three years. It’s like a medical residency and is designed to give them the work experience to get their CFP. We hired someone out of Virginia Tech in June 2010 and she’ll be here three years and at the end of that term she can start her own firm or go to another firm.

Do you intend to talk with other FPA advisors about your residency program and do you think it’s something other RIAs could mimic?

As a small firm, we can only have minimal impact on one person at a time. But we hope other firms can start doing something similar. If more firms start to do something like this, then there could be hundreds of firms doing this down the road. As president, I can use the bully pulpit and talk about what we’re doing. We’ve already had firms across the country watching what we’re doing and telling us that when our resident is done they want to interview her.

When you’re president of FPA will we see FPA using Twitter or Facebook more frequently?

FPA is really looking for ways to engage in social media. Part of my role is to expand and learn more about it myself. I have a Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn account but I’m not as functional as I can be. I need to get more involved in that.

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