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Journey Strategic Wealth

How to Successfully Integrate an Associate Advisor Into Your Practice

Advisor-leaders need to set clear, specific objectives for junior advisors.


If I ranked all the questions I get from advisors by order of popularity, “Why can’t I find the right person to be my associate advisor?” would place in the top five. Perhaps even top three.

I have found that the answer to this question has much more to do with the way advisors structure the role, rather than being an issue of the talent pool they are selecting from. 

Think about it this way: Our industry is obsessed with “rainmakers;” those who have a superior ability to sell and/or gather assets. We have taught advisors that if you cannot “produce,” you cannot be an advisor. As a result, advisor-leaders tend to have tunnel vision as it relates to what they want an associate advisor to look, think and act like.

In fact, advisor-leaders are almost always looking for an associate advisor … who is exactly like them. 

This approach to hiring is flawed for several reasons.

First, the industry has changed; the younger advisors of today are different from the advisors of yesteryear. Finding the young unicorn who can cold-call and hunt for new business from scratch (or who wants to, for that matter) is very rare. 

Second, if a team already has an exceptional rainmaker (hint: you), your best bet is to QUICKLY and CONTINUOUSLY create capacity for that person, rather than try to find their clone. 

Third, it takes a significant amount of time—years—to fully transfer relationships from one advisor to another. If you do not have a minimum of five years to integrate and develop an associate advisor, it is not worth betting your succession plan on that person anyway. In that instance, you would be better off looking for a practice to merge with, or a firm to acquire you, rather than trying to train an associate to take over and conceivably buy you out.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying that you should not look for an advisor who can bring in new business to you firm.

What I am saying is that oftentimes its unrealistic to expect your new associate advisor to be the one to fill that role. So here is how I propose advisors approach the associate advisor conundrum:

  1. Change the way you are thinking about who you want for the role. 

Successful associate advisors come in all shapes and sizes. Look for someone who has strong relationship management and operational skills and financial planning credentials. Oftentimes, advisors who have “failed” as new recruits at a wirehouse or insurance b/d are great candidates. You might also look for someone who is a salaried employee-advisor at a large advisory firm and is looking for an opportunity to have greater impact and flexibility.

  1. Set better expectations before the new hire starts and be clear on how you BOTH define success.

One thing I hear time and time again from advisors is: “I have a large book of business that the associate advisor should be calling on and mining from! I don’t understand why he/she is still struggling to hit their numbers!” 

My response is always the same: “How did you articulate the objectives of the job to the new hire? What key results are they tracking so that they know they have achieved those objectives? What step-by-step process have you co-created with them to help them attack the opportunity in your book?” 

Most of the time the answer I receive back is: “I hadn’t thought of any of that.” 

As an industry we have grown accustomed to hiring and developing talent according to static job descriptions and task lists. Leaders simply do not spend enough time articulating for a new hire, or for themselves 1) how they are defining success for the role or 2) how they will know success is being achieved.

I recommend every leader co-create the objectives and key results for a new role, with the potential hire before he or she begins. This way, they can ensure that the expectations are crystal clear and that they have “buy-in” from the new hire.   

Here is an example of what an objective and its corresponding key results might look like for a successful associate advisor:

Objective 1: To create capacity for the senior advisor.

Key Result: Senior advisor can hold five additional meetings added to his/her calendar a week.

Key Result: Team has identified segment of clients to be transitioned and has crafted the language for those meetings.

Key Result: By end of Q1, associate is sitting second-chair in every client meeting.

Notice how different, and specific this is, compared with a typical job description for an associate advisor.

  1. Make sure the compensation package is aligned with the behaviors you want to incentivize AND with the team member’s personal preferences.

Especially for advisors who themselves are on producer contracts, there is an inclination to structure associate advisor compensation packages using the old “eat what you kill” approach.

Remember, your associate advisor’s primary responsibilities are to manage relationships, service clients and create capacity for you. Their compensation should be split between a salary and incentive compensation tied to key performance indicators like client retention and additional assets from current clients. If you are set on having the person develop into a new business role, show them how compensation might change in years 2, 3 and 4, as they develop their business development skill set. My suggestion is always to wait and see if the associate advisor displays those skills before moving them into a rainmaking role and tying their incentive compensation to new business goals. 

The Bottom Line

If you are in the market for an associate advisor or have one on your team who is “underperforming,” take a step back and think, big picture, about what you are trying to achieve. This line of thinking may bring additional clarity and may take you in a new, successful direction.


Penny Phillips is the co-founder and president of Journey Strategic Wealth. 

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