CFO: What if we train people so well that they leave for a better job? 

CEO: What if we don’t train them well and they stay?

Recruiting and retaining, hiring and training (encapsulated by one of my least favorite phrases: “human capital”) are a major struggle for advisors. Today I want to look at a few simple structures advisors can put in place to help with your people-managing process. We’ll take a step back to your values and aim as a firm, then your rationale for hiring, and finally how to hold onto your best people. 

Start with Your Own Vision

Start with yourself and your vision. Why are you an advisor, and why does your firm exist? Knowing your “why” will make the who-what-where-when a lot clearer.  Chances are, your vision is broader than simply “to make money.” It encompasses helping people, giving families peace about the future, or even supporting a particular group like veterans or medical professionals. Having a crystal-clear picture of what you want your business to look like in the future will sharpen your focus in general and especially in the hiring process. Hiring for someone who’s on the same page with you here is vital. If you really want magic, your team needs to share your values and vision. 

Look at the mission/vision statement from Abaris Wealth: To inspire, motivate, and empower my clients to live their uniquely fulfilling life.0

If a potential hire doesn’t share that same vision and excitement around helping clients live their best lives possible BEYOND the numbers, it’s not a good fit. That person may be an excellent advisor (or other discipline), but lockstep with vision is vital, especially down the road.  Beyond your vision, it’s important to also work on yourself as a leader. This does take some ego-checking. The whole process does. Managing is its own art form, and there’s no “shortcut” to success.  

Research, coaching and leadership development are investments in yourself and your practice that will pay off for years to come. The biggest shortfall I’ve seen as an advisor coach is this need for investment in leadership development. Going from life as a successful advisor to running a successful firm is the difference between playing the violin and conducting a symphony.

Click here to watch our on-demand webinar, “Developing a Fool-Proof Hiring Process for Your Advisory Firm”

Attract and Retain the Right People

When it comes to hiring, come back to your central vision again. Why do you need this person? What do you need them to do, and how do they help you toward your vision? If you can’t come up with a tight, defined reason, it’s time to ask yourself a few questions.

WHO are You Looking for?

Defining your core values as a firm will help you further clarify your hiring process. You may have a candidate that hits all the levers for hiring – skill set, experience, education – but there’s just something about them that doesn’t quite fit. Taking your vision to a more granular level and coming up with a finite list of company values will give you clarity in this kind of tough call. Often a mis-match of values is one of the biggest reasons a team member doesn’t work out. They do the basics of the job, but not in the way that aligns with your vision.  

If your vision is to “create a forward-thinking firm that redefines financial advising for the next generation,” an employee that doesn’t share your core values of innovation and embracing technology likely won’t be a good fit. Your vision rests on the shoulders of your values – what’s most important for you and your firm? These values will stick with you; you’ll always go back to them and they’ll shape what you do. Clarifying with the Advisor Blueprinting Guide (link below) and with your coach and peers will help you determine who shares your values, and shared vision and mission will follow from that. 

Every growing firm needs to plan and blueprint its path to success. Download the "Blueprinting Guide" today

WHAT Do You Want Your New Hires to Do?

The need for other hands on deck will become obvious, especially when you’re first starting out. Tasks need doing: from papering clients to rebalancing portfolios to sending emails. Make a list of these tasks, and then identify the ones you could take off your plate.

Making general trades is quite possible for an associate advisor, legacy planning for a $5 million client you’ve known for a decade is not. Once you have those tasks determined, a job description may present itself to you right there. The issue with hiring, especially when you’re overwhelmed and busy, is that it comes to you as a compulsion – we need more people, we have so much to do. 

Slow down, keep your vision in mind. If the job description isn’t clear, take some time to clarify with your coach and your team. You don’t want to spend the budget on an MBA if what you really need is a project manager; a tax-preparer is best a CPA, not necessarily a CFP®.

Once you have a values-driven, specific job description, you can use it to draw up an assessment plan, as well. How will you determine if this is the right fit down the line? Structuring this ahead of time is important. The more you can point past your “gut feeling” to a thought-out list on a piece of paper, the better. Even more so if that paper has your new hire’s signature on the bottom of it already. 

HOW Will You Welcome and Onboard Your New Hire?

I’ll never forget coming on with Carson Group – I was actually on vacation when I got the call. After I accepted, I immediately received an email from leadership welcoming me, and when I arrived at home, there was a note with a Starbucks gift card waiting in my mailbox.

These small details helped confirm my decision to leave my old position and join Carson. Helping your people feel like they made the right decision is of utmost importance, especially up front. But it doesn’t end there. Starting a new job can be overwhelming, and a few extra touches can go a long way in helping your latest hire get their bearings. 

  • Leave a handwritten note on their desk along with a treat of some sort
  • Have all of their accounts set up on your different software so they don’t spend their whole first day just clicking confirmation links
  • Outline a training plan and calendar so they know what to expect
  • Compile any training resources in a physical or digital folder for them to read through or watch on their own
  • Give them a company calendar with important annual and quarterly events 

This doesn’t have to all be on you either — trust your team to give training and perspective to those who they’ll be working shoulder-to-shoulder with

Pay Your Team What They’re Worth

Compensation is another place in hiring for financial advisors to take a step back and look at the goal you have in mind. What kind of people are you looking to attract for the job you have available? This will affect your pay structure. If you’re looking for a dynamic business development person to grow your firm exponentially, variable compensation could play a large part. If you’re looking for an operations manager to tighten processes, a solid income at or above industry standards will attract the kind of steady hand you need for the job. 

Also, think about what kind of behavior you want to reward and encourage. Yes, you want to incentivize, but you can overdo it. If you don’t pay a healthy base salary to a business development advisor, they may be tempted to push sales or overextend promises to make the deal happen. This will leave you with unhappy clients and maybe costly losses in the future. 

Do Your Research

Compensation studies will give you insight on this. InvestmentNews puts out a comprehensive guide every two years, with updates for the years in between. TD Ameritrade publishes their FA Insight Study of Advisory Firms every two years as well. Advising expert Michael Kitces broke down the numbers by role in 2017: 

  • Support Advisors (about four years experience, incorporating 10% incentive) – $65,000 per year 
  • Associate Advisors (about eight years experience, 12% incentive) – $94,000
  • Senior Advisors (18+ years, 20% incentive) – $165,000

Hiring is not cheap, but if you want to hire the best, you have to pay the best. Doing your research on the current numbers will keep you competitive. 


Incentive pay is meant to reward and promote discretionary effort. Here again it’s important to have a job description worked out in detail. This will make it easier to identify discretionary, above-and-beyond effort. Completing paperwork efficiently and accurately isn’t necessarily discretionary effort for an operations associate.

But training colleagues in a new fintech piece to make the whole firm’s process more efficient is an above-and-beyond move that should be incentivized. When it comes to incentives and bonuses, encourage the culture that a rising tide lifts all boats.

If the discretionary effort of a welcoming Director of First Impressions makes a prospect want to stay (or better yet return!), even that small touch will eventually contribute to the bottom line. The “that’s not my job” attitude can be toxic to a firm, so the connection between team effort and healthy bonuses should be evident. 


Those of us of a certain age will remember the classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, in which the main character Clark Griswald is nervous the whole time about his holiday bonus. When he finally gets the awaited envelope, he’s crestfallen to find a membership to the “Jelly of the Month Club” rather than the money he was counting on as his bonus.

A low-brow move like this won’t help you keep good people! The amount of incentive pay should be impactful and worth looking forward to. Ten percent of base (and up) is the kind of annual bonus that will keep your people working hard throughout the year. Incentive is also dependent on role and individual goals, which should be worked out with supervisors. Rigid, one-size-fits-all answers won’t work here either. 

Click here to check out our webinar, “The Intentional CEO: Moving from Title to Action”

Giving Your Stakeholders Goals for their Game 

Although clear job descriptions are important, giving your employees a target — a goal to run for, will keep them performing dynamically. Rather than putting a bulleted list of their job requirements on their desk, give them an objective to achieve and the details of the job will come together. The stakeholder’s objective should be in line with the overall objective of the organization. If your firm is trying to hit the $100 million AUM this year, your stakeholder’s goals should reflect that effort. 

An associate wealth advisor should have a goal of getting X number of referrals within $X minimum of assets this quarter. This goal is consistent, aligned with the overall purpose, and measurable. A strong AWA will develop a plan to deliver a top-notch client experience, educate their clients about the company’s value proposition and ideal clients, and create opportunities for clients to make introductions.

If your associate wealth advisor spends all his energy prospecting recent grads from his local alma mater, his activities are out of alignment with your goal. Although promoting financial literacy with young people is a noble cause, your stated objective for this year is to pass the $100 million AUM mark, and your AWA needs to be working toward that end. 

Membership Has Its Benefits

Benefits add to the culture of retention in hiring. Again, you’re dealing with people, not lines on a spreadsheet. People have a variety of wants and needs, and honoring these can be a creative, often inexpensive, way to keep your best stakeholders around. 

Table Stake Benefits, These Should be Standard 

  • PTO
  • Holidays
  • Bereavement leave
  • Retirement plan
  • Health insurance
  • Life and disability insurance 

Get Competitive with Your Benefits 

  • Flex time
  • Remote work 
  • Unlimited PTO
  • Paid family leave
  • Adoption assistance
  • Pet-friendly workplace (we do Bring Your Dog to Work Day)
  • Student loan assistance
  • Charitable giving match
  • Time off for volunteer work
  • Educational/professional development reimbursement 
  • Free/discounted financial planning and investment management services 
  • Milestone anniversary rewards
  • Sabbaticals 
  • Wellness Programs

Clear the Path Forward for Their Future Career

A clear next step is a strong incentive for employees. A stakeholder who feels she’s reached a terminal position with no opportunity of advancement could let her performance slip or begin looking for other opportunities outside the company. Changes of title, responsibilities, and of course, salary will give your employees something to reach for.

Taking a career objective and breaking it down to a more granular level is a great way to build a clear path for advancement. If an associate wealth advisor wishes to become a senior partner, one step along the way to require is having their CFP® certification.

This is a longer-term goal that can help you in determining quarterly milestones (i.e. enroll in the education component, sit for the CFP® exam) and identify discretionary effort and reasons for incentive along the way. If your stakeholder is actively seeking CFP® certification with senior level in mind, performance is less likely to slip. 

Manage Performance

Now that you know your goal in hiring someone, and have given them their objectives, a clear job description should fit naturally into the process. A job description should always be focused on the objective so that every detail contributes to the end goal. 

Description details that prove to be less than necessary, especially with a new position in a relatively new, evolving firm, need to be reevaluated and perhaps eliminated. You may require all support advisors to have their CFP® certification within three years of getting hired.

This solidifies your team’s credentials, and it also gives them a stepping stone on their way to associate advisor. Make these “why’s” clear behind the requirement – for the firm as a whole and for the stakeholder’s future career. 

You can also make resources available so stakeholders can meet expectations. If you’re requiring CFP® certification of advisors, you should consider paying for the exams or giving them work hours to study. This little bit of skin in the game on the firm’s side helps the stakeholder know you’re serious and that you care about their future.

Touch base through regular one-on-ones to make sure expectations are clear between you and stakeholders. This can be an informal time to deepen trust in your relationship, celebrate victories and strategize for opportunities. If you and a stakeholder need to part ways eventually, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Regular one-on-ones and other meetings should reiterate expectations and discuss needs, and it should be clear to you both when parting company is the best plan. 

Key Employee Plans

You will, hopefully, find stakeholders you can’t live without. If your firm is successful, yours won’t be the only shoulders it’s resting on. Here are a few ways to give your MVPs a clear stake in the future of your firm. 

  • Revenue-share/bonus – this usually works for a smaller firm where you might have a “right hand” stakeholder
  • Profit sharing – This is a percentage of the profit, but not actual equity.
  • Equity – You can give it, sell at a discount, or other way. Always talk to a professional in your state before doing this as there are different rules per state. Reserve for people who are absolutely key and you need to stick around.

Creating a Culture of Opportunity 

We all have memories of first starting out: that first business card you couldn’t stop staring at, that first paycheck you handed to the bank teller. You got into advising to help people, and you’ve done it. Now you find yourself on the other side of the table handing out the opportunities and signing the checks.

Your object has changed because the game has changed. No matter how successful you’ve been as an advisor, leadership is a different set of skills. Investment in coaching, seminars and other leadership development opportunities will always pay off well. Work on yourself and your team will follow. 

Create a culture of opportunity for them. Your clear, prompt appreciation for your team creates trust and loyalty – both priceless commodities. When they have concrete incentive and a clear way forward, you’ll all be playing to win. 

Click here to access our on-demand webinar, “Developing a Fool-Proof Hiring Process for Your Advisory Firm”

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