Lindsey Kilgour-Whitehead, a 29-year-old financial advisor with Investors Group Inc. in Sudbury, Ont., made an important decision concerning her age and lack of experience when she was starting out. “I learned early on that hiding from it didn’t work,” she says.
The turning point for her was an unsettling experience with a prospective client couple. The woman pulled Kilgour-Whitehead aside to let her know that there was no chance that her husband was going to work with Kilgour-Whitehead because of her age and her gender. “I was heartbroken,” Kilgour-Whitehead says. “But there’s nothing you can do to become a middle-aged man when you’re a young female.”
Although youth is revered in almost every aspect of our culture, being young often is cited as an impediment for people entering the workforce – especially in the financial services sector. The financial advisory business is one in which experience – both professional and personal – are considered assets. And as Kilgour-Whitehead learned, some clients will just reject you outright if they perceive that you are too young.
Landing that first job, let alone clients, can be equally daunting, as Annika Becker, age 24, knows all too well. When Becker graduated from the post-graduate financial services program offered by Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto less than two years ago, having already earned a master’s degree in economics, she met with several financial services sector insiders hoping to secure a job.
The issue that kept coming up among prospective employers was Becker’s lack of experience. “That was a big point for a lot of companies,” she says.
Humber provides internships for its students to help them gain some of that much needed experience, and Becker accepted two such placements while attending college. But young financial advisors still face a difficult battle in entering a sector in which the median age is around 50.
Fortunately, Becker did manage to get a position and now works as a sales associate with Sprott Private Wealth LP in Toronto.
Ageism – from both employers and clients – easily is the top challenge that young advisors face. And although young advisors can adopt the usual methods of addressing it – working hard and proving your chops – the issue of age can keep arising for advisors in this demographic are trying to build a book of business.
Lindsay Sawyer Fay, age 37, certified financial planner in Winnipeg with E. Sawyer Financial, which operates under the Manulife Securities Investment Services Inc. banner, has been in the investment industry for 11 years. Sawyer Fay, co-winner of the Winnipeg-based Knowledge Bureau’s Distinguished Advisor Conference (DAC) Young Advisors Award in 2016, jokes that she still lowers the average age when she enters a room full of her colleagues.
Being young was a big issue for Sawyer Fay when she began her career. She initially worked for her father, but still found her youth to be a hindrance in the eyes of clients: “The first question out of everyone’s mouth, bar none, was ‘How long have you been doing this?'”
– Instilling trust
As a young advisor, there are steps you can take to overcome doubts clients may have about your ability to manage their accounts. Kilgour-Whitehead says pursuing as much industry education as possible and demonstrating her willingness to work hard for her clients and prospects went a long way toward allaying their concerns about working with a young advisor.
She also learned of an important advantage to being younger: as a young advisor, you can assure your older clients that you still could be managing their account long after they – and older advisors – have retired.
Still, young advisors, like all advisors, will have to deal with rejection as a part of building their careers, according to Richard Kingston, professor and program co-ordinator for the financial services and financial planning postgraduate programs at Humber College.
“Getting ‘no’ thrown in your face every day is brutal,” Kingston says. Many of the co-op placements in which his students participate involve making cold calls for brokers. That can be an effective way to weed out the people who aren’t cut out for this kind of work, Kingston says: “Some students can’t take it and just leave.”
– The lean years
The financial strain of trying to manage living expenses when you are starting out in the financial advisory business is another significant challenge.
Many young advisors, fresh out of university or college, carry student debt, which is particularly hard to manage when you are paid on a commission basis. Kingston says that for the first few months, if not the first few years, most young advisors should not expect to be making the kind of money they desire. They need to have a plan in place to accommodate this lean period.
Entering the business with your own financial plan is critical, says Lucas Bentivenha, age 27, who works as an assistant advisor to a more senior advisor at Sun Life Financial (Canada) Inc. in Toronto.
“I have established different thresholds for myself,” Bentivenha says, adding that although he has money saved back in his home country of Brazil, he refuses to dip into it, preferring instead to take on weekend work (event bartending and updating a volunteer website) to pay his bills while he develops his career.
Darren Ryan, age 29, co-winner (with Sawyer Fay) of the DAC Young Advisors Award last year, is an advisor with Ryco Financial Inc. in St. John’s. He saved money by living at home while earning his science degree and MBA, then he chose to stay put for the first year in which he worked at his father’s firm.
“It’s a good idea not to have a lot of expenses that first year,” Ryan says. “You definitely need to plan and budget.”
Ryan took on some of this father’s clients, but Ryan Jr. also jumped in with both feet to build his own niche market. Because he had earned an undergraduate degree in biochemistry, he chose to target his former classmates who had gone on to medical school, building a book of business made up of young physicians who were just starting out themselves. Ryan managed to buy his own home after a year or so of working.
– Working with family
Another challenge that many young adIvisors face – if they’re fortunate enough to step into a family business – is dealing with the family dynamic in the workplace. For Ryan, there was a fairly smooth transition into his job. He gets along well with his brother, who joined the family business recently and also has a science background. Conversations during weekly family meals often touch on work, but the brothers are accustomed to this because their mother also worked at the family firm for years, Darren Ryan says: “We’re used to shop talk. It doesn’t just shut down for the weekend.”
However, working with family members isn’t always easy, says Sawyer Fay. When work stress mounts, basic courtesies are more likely to be dropped between people who are related. “You introduce big personalities and stressful situations, and you have to navigate that because everyone still has to see each other on family holidays.”
Being related to your boss can indeed complicate matters, but it can also ease circumstances if everyone recognizes they’re there for the same goal: to ensure that the business thrives. Says Sawyer Fay: “At the end of the day, someone always remembers how to be the adult.”
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Establishing yourself as the prudent voice of reason is not easy when you appear, in many clients’ eyes, to be little older than their children or even their grandchildren. But young financial advisors have many advantages over their older peers, and the best way to allay clients’ doubts is to highlight what you bring to the table:
The bar to entry to work in the financial advisory profession has been raised regarding educational requirements. This trend can work in your favour because you can demonstrate your qualifications to older clients by showing them your credentials. Highlight your achievements and explain to clients how your training makes you good at your job, says Richard Kingston, professor and program co-ordinator of the financial services and financial planning postgraduate programs at Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto.
– Youthful exuberance
Energy and drive are two of your best assets when you’re young.
“If you stay young and hungry, you don’t run the risk of complacency,” says Lindsay Sawyer Fay, an advisor with E. Sawyer Financial in Winnipeg who spent many weekends working and studying in the first five years of building her business.
Greg Walsh, an advisor with Sun Life Financial (Canada) Inc. in Toronto, agrees that devoting as much of your time as possible to your career is critical when you’re young. “Be the smartest person in the room,” says Walsh, who often speaks to graduating students who studied financial services.
– Peer support
Young advisors are accustomed to soliciting opinions and feedback from their peers through social media, a habit that also can help in building a career. Having access to colleagues was invaluable to Sawyer Fay when she was building her business. “I don’t think a day goes by when I’m not in touch with my [original] study group,” she says.
– Tell your story
Young advisors often take interesting routes toward their chosen careers. Instead of trying to make your situation fit a pre-set mould of what makes a great advisor, Walsh says, be genuine and upfront about your own journey. “It’s not how old you are; it’s what you’ve done,” he says. “People are looking for your perspective; not your age.”
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