Practice Guide :

Too Young to be Taken Seriously?

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Five tips to overcome age bias as a financial advisor

I know the feeling. I started my career in St. Petersburg FL, working as an Account Specialist. I passed my Series 7 license at the age of 20, before I graduated college (and before I could even legally celebrate with a drink). On the sales desk at my firm, when someone was taking their Series 7 exam, the entire team would bet on what their score would be. The winner would simply have bragging rights, but it was something fun for the team and incentivized the person taking the test to study hard. For whatever reason, nobody placed bets on my score. Was it because I was young? Was it because I was in a lowly entry-level position? Perhaps it was simply because I was not a part of that team. Regardless, it made me want to prove that I was someone who should be taken seriously. Turns out I received the highest score of the group that year, but I didn’t get to participate in the fun and games.

I have a confession: I’ve always felt the need to prove myself to get others to take me seriously. Luckily, I’m not afraid of failure or taking risks, and failing forward and pushing myself out of my comfort zone has led to some amazing opportunities. However, these opportunities have placed me in situations where I tend to be the youngest and most inexperienced person in the room. When this happens, it is easy to start having feelings of self-doubt and to begin questioning your own ability because you do not have the experience of your peers.  This is also when my need to prove myself starts to kick in. I cannot allow my lack of experience to put me at a perceived disadvantage. So, what have I found to help?

Here are the five most helpful tips I discovered:

  1. Be the Most Prepared Person in the Room

Going into the interview for my current job, I knew I was likely one of the least experience candidates of the hundreds who applied. I knew I had to standout by being more prepared than anyone else. So, I memorized all employee’s names and faces to ensure I could address everyone by name as I walked through the office. I read the company’s entire ADV front to back, several times. (Now, that’s a good way to put you to sleep!) I prepared a written 90-day business plan. When the day of the interview came, I walked in with that plan in my purse and greeted the wonderful receptionist, Ann, by name. I asked specific questions about the different parts of the business that were listed in the ADV, but not on the website. When I was asked, “How do you plan to grow our firm’s relationships?” I took out my 90-day plan, passed it across the table with a smile on my face and talked through my ideas.

Being prepared for my interview was not the only reason I was hired. But, being prepared – really prepared – helped me to overcome my lack of experience and erase that perceived disadvantage.

First impressions matter. As a financial advisor, surprise your clients with how prepared you are. Do your research. Find out as much as you can about the client and use that information to touch on their specific needs or goals. Write down the names of family and individuals close to them – and weave those names into your conversations. You can use phrases like, “I know family is important to you, let’s discuss your financial goals surrounding college funding for Joe and Sally.” And lastly, draft and share an engagement plan for each of your clients – detailing out what they can expect from you as their financial advisor.

  1. Don’t Be a Know-It-All. Ask Questions.

As a young professional, one of the worst things you can do is immediately act like you have all the answers. One of the best things you can do is ask questions.

Sometimes people are afraid to ask questions because they think it may appear to others that they don’t have all the answers (which, by the way, is perfectly okay). More often, asking questions shows others that you are curious, detail-oriented, eager to learn, interested and engaged.

Ask questions of your experienced colleagues, consulting or support teams at your Broker Dealer or investment partners. You are likely surrounded by a seasoned team of industry experts – so utilize them.

Lastly, ask your clients questions! Asking your clients questions shows that you are interested in their goals and their lives. It allows you to show that you are engaged and committed to their plan. It will help you get to know your clients better and identify opportunities to help better serve them. All of this will help you to build a relationship and gain your clients’ trust.

  1. Schedule Time For Education

A common misconception is that experience equals expertise. However, time in the industry does not necessarily make a person an expert. Some individuals can gain more knowledge and expertise in a shorter amount of time than others may gain during an entire career.

Here’s a tip: Block off time on your calendar for education every week. During certain times in your career (e.g. when training or studying for certain industry licenses or certifications) the time you set aside for education weekly will likely be much higher. But, once you hit a point of “maintenance,” prioritizing education is key. This may consist of reading articles or research papers, watching webinars, or scheduling a call with a colleague or another industry professional to ask questions about a part of the business you do not understand well. Before you know it, you may be more of an “expert” on certain topics than those who have been in the industry much longer than you.

  1. Outsource When Needed

Let’s face it. This industry is complicated and sometimes no matter how much you prepare, how many questions you ask, how well you know your client, and how much time you invest in continuing education, there may be parts of your role that you (and your client) would be better off outsourcing.

Over time, the role of a financial advisor has expanded. There are many responsibilities included in helping a client achieve their goals and financial wellness – developing a financial plan, selecting investments, taxes, estate planning, etc. With limited hours in a day, it is not an easy task to develop expertise in every area.

The good news? You don’t have to do it all. There are experts who can help. As someone who may have to overcome the perceived disadvantage of being inexperienced, outsourcing may make your clients feel more confident in your plan. By deciding to outsource your investments to a professional investment management firm, your clients may feel at ease that your lack of time in the industry will not hinder their potential investment performance.

  1. Address the Elephant in the Room

It’s no secret that you are young. So, take control of the conversation and address this with potential clients at the beginning. You can say, “Look, I know I’m young and may not have as many years under my belt as others, but what I lack in years of experience I make up by X, Y, Z.” Change the narrative before clients have an opportunity to jump to (negative) conclusions. Take what could be perceived as a disadvantage and show them how it can be an advantage for them.

The Last Word

Be prepared, eager and engaged. Be committed to continual improvement. And leverage industry experts where needed. By taking control of the narrative and changing the perception around your lack of experience, you will be given more opportunities to gain the trust of your clients.

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