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Advisor News Hiring top talent a challenge for financial services firms

Financial services firms need to do proper due diligence when vetting prospective employees in order to find the right one.

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Finding top talent in the financial services industry has never been easy, and the process has become lengthier and more rigorous as competition for strong candidates to fill financial advisor or senior-level roles is as high as ever.

Many have to be persuaded to leave for greener pastures.

“The biggest challenge with top talent is they’re rarely looking,” says Dave Kelly, senior vice-president, TD Wealth Private Wealth Management. “They tend to be successful somewhere already.”

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It’s challenging to find skilled candidates for professional-level positions, said 92 per cent of 300 Canadian chief financial officers (CFOs) surveyed by Robert Half Finance & Accounting. As a result, firms have to do proper due diligence when vetting prospects in order to find the right one.

The CFOs surveyed says it takes them on average four weeks to fill a staff-level accounting or finance position and five weeks to hire for a management-level role. However, hiring managers at several Canadian financial advisory firms – including TD Wealth, Edward Jones, Richardson GMP Ltd. and Investment Planning Counsel Inc. (IPC) – say it can take anywhere between three and five months to find the right candidate for a financial advising or senior-level role.

A lengthy process – by design

For example, at Edward Jones, the hiring process for a financial advisor is “lengthy by design,” with a step-by-step structure, says Ann Felske-Jackman, principal and head of financial advisor talent acquisition at the Mississauga, Ont.-based firm.

“We specifically designed a process that takes a little while, to make sure that when somebody completes it and comes out the other end, that we’re sure about them, and they’re sure about us,” she says.

The stages include interviews, a meet-and-greet with one of the firm’s advisors in the candidate’s region and a virtual assessment designed to show the candidate a “day in the life” of an Edward Jones advisor.

These steps are created, in part, to gauge whether a candidate brings the right combination of hard and soft skills to the firm, Ms. Felske-Jackman says. Although the role of an advisor demands concrete knowledge of market trends and portfolio management, working well with clients requires empathy and strong interpersonal skills.

And while every firm looks for a combination of skills hard and soft, each does so in varying degrees. At Edward Jones, recruiters put equal emphasis on “both the soft skills of identifying the client need and understanding the client,” and the “hard skills of matching the right investment to fit that need,” Ms. Felske-Jackman says.

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At a firm like Mississauga-based IPC, however, hiring managers put greater emphasis on communication skills to ensure that advisor candidates can retain a large and meaningful roster of clients.

“Many of the advisors at IPC would argue that they are in the people business and happen to work with money and financial planning,” Sam Febbraro, executive vice-president, advisor services, at IPC. “Other [advisors] at a lot of our competitors work in the money business and they just happen to work with people.”

Assessing cultural fit is key

Examining a candidate’s people skills means more than assessing their client relationships; it’s also important to get a sense of whether a candidate will fit with a company’s work culture. For Mr. Kelly of TD Wealth, these “intangibles” become even more important when hiring top talent.

“It’s less about the job description and remuneration and more about alignment,” Mr. Kelly says. “Do I think [they’re] aligned to the firm’s mission and the strategy, and do I feel alignment in terms of how they’re going about trying to be successful?”

Mr. Kelly and Ms. Felske-Jackman both suggest that hiring managers be clear and up front in defining a firm’s culture and values to find a candidate who will excel there. This starts with a concrete job posting targeted toward a specific pool of applicants. Additionally, a rigorous interview process can also help employers discover their candidates’ values and working styles – at TD Wealth, Mr. Kelly says, one stage of the interview process for senior-level positions involves a deep dive into a candidate’s life and back story, starting from early childhood.

However, Mr. Kelly acknowledges that sussing out these traits is a challenge regardless of how thorough the interview process is. Genuinely getting to know candidates and their day-to-day behaviour must start long before the job posting.

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“The latest individual to join my senior team, we’ve been talking for more than 14 months,” Mr. Kelly says. “The more interactions you can have with individuals in what I’ll describe as ‘real life,’ whether that’s coffee meetings or lunch meetings or just talking about the industry, gives you a lot of insight over time ... but it also gives you touch points that are outside the formal interview process.”

Mr. Kelly estimates that he devotes between eight and 10 hours a month to meeting new people in the financial services industry so that when it comes time to hire, he has a vast pool of contacts.

Similarly, Mr. Febbraro emphasizes the importance of being able to use existing employees’ networks when seeking strong candidates for an available advisor role. As such, IPC conducts regular advisor satisfaction surveys to ensure staff are happy working there and will be eager to refer their contacts should a position open up.

“Some of our best advisors have actually been referred to us by our own [existing] advisors because they’re well known in their communities and they can identify the like-minded advisors that will fit our culture,” Mr. Febbraro says.

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