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What Leaders Need to Know About Onboarding Financial Advisors

by Ryan Goulart

When we think about onboarding financial advisors, we think of it as their first day. It’s also the leader’s first day — the first real opportunity they have to welcome this new employee into the culture. The leader will help the new employee settle in and meet their co-workers, and embark on the path to success for their clients, the organization and themselves. Onboarding is your best chance to build trust, empower your people and create competitive advantage.

The data confirms onboarding’s importance. A structured, effective onboarding process increases new-employee tenure, productivity and engagement while getting them up to speed faster, according to research compiled by SHRM. A bad onboarding experience, on the other hand? You’ll quickly find yourself sifting through resumes, wondering how the new hire went so wrong.

Whether you’re a financial advisor making your first hire or an experienced leader building entire teams, getting onboarding right matters. We’re sharing advice for onboarding financial advisors to set them up for success and create alignment between values and behaviors from day one.

Understand What Employees Need During Onboarding

One of the pitfalls leaders can encounter during onboarding is the disconnect between their knowledge and that of the new financial advisor. Whether it’s the value proposition of your financial services firm, how to log in to software or even where the bathrooms are, you have knowledge that long ago became second nature. That’s not the case for the new hire.

“You have to step back, and you have to put yourself in their shoes and think about all of the things that you take for granted every day. They don’t know that,” says Kris Petersen, senior vice president at think2perform.

Another area leaders must anticipate for new financial advisors is integrating them into the culture. This is especially important for employees working from home, on a ‌hybrid schedule or at a satellite office. This cultural introduction starts with onboarding.

However, many companies have come to rely on virtual and video-based onboarding. While that approach can be helpful, it’s less personal. 

“When we only just observe across a screen from somebody,” says Elena Beckius, senior vice president at think2perform, “we don’t get some of those unspoken cultural norms or leadership norms that really make an organization special and really promote the way we want to show up as team members.”

This cultural alignment is crucial because new employees want to feel like they belong and that their work has a purpose. “Understanding where you fit in in the whole process is important,” Kris notes, “as is understanding, ‘What is the client experience we are trying to intentionally create for our target market?’ Many companies don’t have this clearly defined. The better companies do.”

Align to the New Financial Advisor’s Readiness Level

Onboarding is a form of training, and so you must adapt your leadership style to ensure that new financial hires have the support and instruction they need to do the job well. 

Every financial advisor will have a different readiness level. Experienced professionals might not need basic training on how to do the job, but leaders will want to check on how their usual processes intersect with the firm’s processes and values. The challenge for these experienced financial advisors might not be ability, but a willingness to change. 

Checking for readiness level is especially important for experienced advisors being asked to do something new. As think2perform SVP Alan Lennick said in an episode of Making the Ideal Real, “I want to set an environment where you feel comfortable saying what your readiness level is, — and that I won’t judge you negatively for being a lower readiness level than I thought or than I expected.”

“I would ask them to explain that process to me, just walk me through it,” Kris says. “Like I’m a prospect, how would you take me from beginning to setup? And then I would probably say, ‘That’s great. The only differences I see about how it is here is X, Y, and Z.’”

For brand-new financial advisors, Kris advises starting with higher-level concepts and practice sessions before letting them interact with real-life clients. You can also have them become a client of a fellow financial advisor so they can see the process firsthand. “You can understand, ‘What is it that we’re offering?’” she says. “How does it affect people? What is the end game? Is it valuable, and how could you make it better?”

No matter the experience level of new hires, leaders need to assess their skill set, Elena says. If new advisors don’t have all the necessary skills, “then you need to demonstrate it for them. I call it being hip to hip with somebody,” Elena says. “It’s no longer me across the table from you, telling you what to do. It’s me side by side with you, showing you how to do it.”

Connect Your Values to Theirs

The hiring process is a golden opportunity to talk about values — yours, the organization’s and the candidates. Ideally, you’ll recognize and avoid situations where the candidate doesn’t align with your firm’s values and goals. 

Onboarding is another chance to connect on values. Kris recommends walking new employees through a values exercise if they haven’t gone through it. “Understand what they value most in their life because you want to help support them in getting that for themselves,” she says.

Knowing the new hire’s values is only one-half of the puzzle. They need to know your values. After all, there are many financial services firms, and not all of them have the same values and goals. Elena advises being clear about your company’s value proposition, mission, who you serve and why you serve them. This has the added benefit of encouraging employee belonging from their first days with your firm.

“We know that when we’re clear about where we’re going, and it’s compelling, and it’s meaningful, and if it’s — even better — aligned with what’s important to them, we often get their best efforts as professionals,” Elena says.

Not every financial services leader received support and training along the way, Elena notes. They should use that as an opportunity to do better for their new hires, not an excuse not to get involved. 

“It’s not about learning based on the school of hard knocks, even if that’s how you had to learn,” Elena says. “It’s actually about creating a better onboarding process for your team.”

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