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Making Multi-Generation Practices Work

Making Multi-Generation Practices Work

Branch managers increasingly find their offices filled with advisors from different generations. Here, a field guide to understanding what makes baby boomers, gen Xers and millenials tick.

Most of today’s FAs and branch managers belong to the Baby Boom generation—the roughly 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964.

Cerulli Associates estimates that the average advisor is just shy of 49 years old, though other sources suggest he or she may be as old as 54. And while this aging population, coupled with notoriously low success rates of ‘traditional’ rookie advisor training programs, have spawned concerns of a looming advisor shortage, experts stress there are still a number of Baby Boomer reps who say they cannot, or don’t want, to retire.

Not a few members of the “Silent Generation,” or people born before 1945, remain in the workforce as well. “This may be for financial reasons,” says Dorian Hansen, who heads FA Integration and Growth at Wells Fargo Advisors, “or part of an emerging’70’ is the new ‘60’ view on aging in this country.”

The bottom line, says Hansen, is that a growing number of office managers may find themselves managing as many as four generations of advisors at once—no small task. A 2010 survey by Lee Hecht Harrison, a Woodcliff, NJ career management firm, found that over 60 percent of employers surveyed said they were experiencing “substantial tension” between employees of different age groups.

To create a cohesive mutli-generational team, Hansen, who is responsible for the integration of younger reps into his office at Wells Fargo Advisors, says BOMs need a clear understanding of their advisors as both ‘generation members’ and as ‘individuals’.

For example, Hansen says, Baby Boomer FAs were typically hired and trained as sole practitioners. “They’re used to being autonomous—believing they can do all things for all clients.”  But, the industry has grown far more complex over the years, she says, as have the financial planning needs of clients in today’s economy. “People are outliving their retirement plans. They may be faced with having to take care of parents and children at the same time. For many, there’s a greater need for FAs to focus on the liability end of things, insurance, mortgage and tax credits, etc…” 

Teaming up with other ‘complementary’ financial experts can help them better serve these clients, she says

“Generally, we’ve found that about a third of older advisors have already adapted to this changing reality,” Hansen says; “a third are ‘considering it’; and a third plan to continue on as they’ve always done.”

Then, there are Gen X-ers: The roughly 59 million people born between 1965 and 197). “This is the great ‘unsupervised generation’”, says Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a management training firm based in New Haven, CT.  These were the ‘latchkey kids’, he says; the first generation with notable numbers of divorced parents who frequently had to take care of themselves. “They have a good amount of experience, and they want status. They don’t actively seek supervision; they typically prefer to be left alone.”

Gen Y-ers, or ‘Millennials,’ are the roughly 80 million people born between 1980 and 2000. Most are either finishing college now and entering an advisory practice—or are moving up from sales assistant and junior rep programs. “These people represent the most ‘over-supervised’ generation in history,” says Tulgan, who has written several books on the subject, including,‘Not Everyone Gets a Trophy:  How to Manage Generation Y’.

“When they were growing up, no one left them alone for a minute,” he says. “They have very high expectations when it comes to virtually everything, and they’re used to having very supportive relationships across the board.”

This “child-centric” generation grew up being told they can do “whatever they want,” adds clinical psychologist Alden Cass, author of The Bullish Thinking Guide for Managersand head of Competitive Streak Consulting, which specializes in the financial services industry. However, he notes, the economy has created a different reality.

“A lot of these folks who teamed up with older FAs expected to be senior partners by now,” says Cass. “Yet, their older colleagues may be working five to eight years longer than planned. Millennials need to realize certain things are simply out of their control.”

Having successful senior partners is still very beneficial to younger generations, Cass says. “After all, they’re working together to build what will ultimately be the younger rep’s brand.”

And the benefit is mutual, says Hansen. “Millennials grew up in a much more collaborative world than Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers did. As such, they can add a lot of value to a branch. Having them mentored by, or paired with, senior advisors gives them the opportunity to learn the ropes from the very best,” she says. “And, older FAs can benefit tremendously from their technological capabilities. For example, they can help expand marketing efforts via social media, which is likely attract a younger generation of clients—including the children of their existing clients.”

Though they’ve been pampered and nurtured since childhood, Tulgan says Millennials have also been programmed to engage in a slew of activities at once. So, while they may appear be high maintenance, they’re also high-performance multi-taskers.

But, they need to be managed a bit differently than preceding generations, he says. “Millennials expect to be given plenty of direction and supervision.”  This could be a problem for Gen X-ers who are used to being left to their own devices and are the least likely people to want to ‘hyper-manage’ young advisors.

Another potential problem with Millennials is retention, notes Tulgan. Traditional FA training programs devote a lot money and attention to them during the training process. But, once they’ve finished training, they’re often thrown into a sink-or-swim situation – like being asked to build a business on cold calls, he says. “You never want to put a resource you’ve spent so much money on in a situation like that,” he says. “Supervising and coaching them every step of the way can make a huge difference. So can helping them find other Fas with whom joining forces could be beneficial. (But, you cannot force pairings, he stresses. You can only help people find each other and try to establish relationships—looking at the business logic from both sides).”

Younger advisors want more real-time feedback from their managers, says Hansen. They expect to be continuously coached and advised. This, she says, may be good news for BoMs who used to enjoy that element of their jobs the most. “We’re trying to minimize the time our branch managers have to spend on administrative and compliance tasks so they can spend more time coaching the next generation.”

And, given the rapidly-changing world in which they grew up, this generation isn’t wired to view the long-term picture, Tulgan says. “Talk about a five-year plan with most Millennials, and they’ll think you’re trying to sell them a bridge. They want managers engaging with them on a daily basis”. Help them set short term goals-- day-to-day, month-to-month-- and give them rewards for meeting them, he says. Then, they can see how their efforts can create even greater success down the road.”

Millennials also value having a sense of balance in their lives, Tulgan says, so things like job location and schedule flexibility, telecommuting, task choice, and social capital can be equally important forms of compensation for them as money—particularly when they’re first getting started.

The key to effectively managing FAs of any generation begins with good communication, our experts say. “Take time to really listen to your advisors,” says Tulgan. Good managers know that everyone has different values, perspectives, motivation and skills, regardless of their age. Defining different generations “creates a lens through which to see where someone might be coming from,” Tulgan says. “But, you shouldn’t ask for someone’s driver’s license and develop a management plan there. Adapting your management style to each individual will ultimately yield the best results.”

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