Ten to Watch: Craig Pfeiffer

Ten to Watch: Craig Pfeiffer

The Industry Trainer

You might compare the financial advisor industry to a college basketball team full of juniors and seniors. They probably have the talent and experience to win this year’s championship—but what about next year?

The average age of the advisor population was 49 as of 2012, says Cerulli Associates, pointing to the urgent need for the next generation of advisors—those sophomore and freshman players—to fill out the ranks. But where will they come from?

That’s the dilemma Craig Pfeiffer is trying to solve. Being on the inside at Morgan Stanley for 29 years, Pfeiffer realized that traditional broker training programs—with their low success rates—weren’t cutting it. “We needed a different paradigm for bringing in new graduates,” Pfeiffer says.

So last year he launched Advisors Ahead as a pathway for university students to enter the financial services industry. Through a three-step program—a preparatory program for current university students, a summer internship and a post-graduate residency phase—new advisors develop interpersonal and practical skills alongside the financial knowledge taught to them at school.

“The university population didn’t have a bridge,” Pfeiffer says. So he built one that acts as an apprenticeship program, much like those already in place in the medical, legal and accounting professions. Under his model, students train with current advisors, working their way up to a paid, supporting role within a firm as they gain experience and mentoring. Meanwhile, advisors get much-needed client support and a possible successor.

About 150 candidates have already completed the first stage, and a wide range of firms are interested in bringing on these students into a one- to two-year transitional residency period once they graduate, Pfeiffer says.

Deena Katz, associate professor of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University, says her students enrolled in the program now have access to the wirehouses, where in the past, a majority of students ended up at RIAs. “This has opened an avenue we haven’t been able to tap very well,” she says.

It also helps that Pfeiffer makes the connections for them, and students feel like they have a “buddy,” Katz says.

But this approach doesn’t work overnight. Unlike firms that hire career-changers with the necessary relationship-building skills and contacts already in place, Pfeiffer’s playing the long game. Brand-new advisors shouldn’t be working directly with clients, but rather mentoring and shadowing, he says. “[Pfeiffer] sees the future, and he knows we can’t just rely on someone with a Rolodex of contacts and a smooth sales story,” Katz says.  

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