Avoid jobs that lack training programs, mentors, a planning bent and a long-term horizon, the former Merrill brokerage chief counsels fresh-to-market hopefuls

November 12, 2012 — 5:55 PM UTC by Lisa Shidler


Masters-of-the-universe in the making, get-powerful-quick aspirants and vocational dabblers need not apply to the financial advisory industry — and if you choose the wrong job or employer out of the gate you could pay the price. Also, the right job is likely to have a clear mentor and/or a training program. See: Sallie Krawcheck talks tough — and with disarming openness — online about the glass ceiling and lip gloss.

Such were the elements of a light-hearted, upbeat address from Sallie Krawcheck as she put on her wise-elder hat Friday to address a virtual classroom of starry-eyed, young, would-be financial advisors. The former Merrill Lynch brokerage chief playfully delivered an overarching message of caution and mindfulness about an industry in flux. See: Next-gen advisor breaks the standard RIA mold to grow with her young clientele — many with $100,000 or less of assets.

“The business is constantly changing and I don’t think it gets [enough] credit for being as dynamic,” she says. “It started as stockbrokers and today it’s much more about understanding clients’ goals and helping people reach them. It doesn’t matter if we perform the benchmarks if a client can’t retire the way they want to.”

As a keynote speaker for InvestmentNews’ virtual job fair Krawcheck sounded as a much like head of the Garrett Planning Network as a former Wall Street flag bearer — decrying stereotypical brokers and instead espousing the merits planning and listening to clients. There were 1,423 people signed up for the online job fair.

First step a doozy

Krawcheck told her listeners that the first job they take is one of the most important decisions they’ll make in their careers as it will cue up their career for future success or put them woefully behind. She recalled that when she started her first job as a bank analyst she was fortunate to have a mentor whose office was next to hers.

“I became very successful because of a mentor and his help cut years off of my career trajectory. I could walk into his office 20 times a day and show him research I’d done and talk to him about client reports and it helped make me better,” she says. See: Extracting a mentor from retirement, Shirl Penney continues to make Dynasty look more like Smith Barney than Smith Barney.

Be short but work hard

Krawcheck recalled a coworker from her early days known for his quirks. “He was the one fellow nobody really likes that much. He was almost like the guy on Ghostbusters who keep coming out of his apartment. No one really liked him. But he was the most successful guy I knew because he worked so darn hard. After awhile, the social quirks were so endearing because he was a good person who worked his tail off.”

Krawcheck says she there’s no secret that press reports constantly highlight the short-term ups and downs of the market but says new advisors and students have to consider this a long-term career opportunity that will span decades.

She told students that despite what they’ll read about their own profession in the press, it’s important that they recognize the importance of client relationships. At Merrill Lynch, at least during her tenure, she said, the average advisor-client relationship spanned more than 10 years. See: Merrill Lynch brokers brace for sweeping comp changes as Sallie Krawcheck departs BoA and takes her advocacy with her.

Krawcheck also observed that many of advisor-client relationships were as strong in 2011 when the markets were tough as they were in 2006 and 2007 when the markets were strong. “What the research shows is when people go through tough times it can actually strengthen the relationship.”

Apple sauce

Krawcheck urged her listeners not to be discouraged by the highly publicized bad actions of crooked advisors. “You will read about some bad apples. People do know these businesses tend to attract good people but there’s a bad apple in every batch. I always would say, at least I know we’ve got 15,000 who are doing what they’re supposed to do and I urge you to look past the one case when this happens.”

Just knowing the ABCs of stocks isn’t enough in today’s market, she commented. Clients have complex situations and advisors need to know about hedging strategies and must be quite sophisticated about many non-related market funds.

Words to the would-be wise

Here are seven tips she imparted to the young job hunters:

1. Be trustworthy

2. Be quiet and detail oriented. You can’t read everything in books. You’re dealing with individuals who need to make tough decisions

3. Be ]contrary “If you are going to help clients make tough decisions or think about things like dying, you need to be prepared to make them talk about things they don’t want to talk about,” she said. Realize they need to make tough decisions and sometimes you have to give tough advice.

4. Think of it as a long-term job. “You need to realize that just because you didn’t win a client today, doesn’t mean it won’t happen later and it can be much later,” she added.

5. Short cuts aren’t worth it. “You have to realize you’re building your personal brand now and how you present yourself is important. “You have to watch the image your projecting even of the pictures you post on Facebook,” she said. See: Why sudden wealth at Facebook is gushing into a $17-billion RIA and triggered a merger of two DFA giants.

6. Be choosy. Don’t do business with people you don’t want to just because it’s a job.

7. Think hard and long about the first job. No step is as important as your first one. Are they offering training platforms?

Share your thoughts and opinions with the author or other readers.

Submit your comments: