Beginning a career as a financial advisor can be challenging even in the most favourable of environments, but for advisors starting out during the COVID-19 pandemic, their first year has required an exceptional amount of persistence and flexibility as they navigate new, virtual models of training, mentoring and prospecting for clients.
Ben Cook, financial advisor with Edward Jones in Cochrane, Alta., had the unfortunate timing of joining the profession in early March. Within days, the pandemic was declared, not only requiring him to pivot to online training, but also reframe his expectations around how he would build his practice.
“It was definitely different than I had anticipated when I was hired,” Mr. Cook says. “There [was] going to be a little bit of travel involved, flying to our headquarters in Mississauga for training and even on a local level. That all went away and I was just basically in my house working on my securities courses.”
Despite the rapid shift to a remote training model, Mr. Cook says the transition was fairly seamless and the interactive, virtual experience has been similar to what would have been in place in-person.
Mr. Cook is in good company; he was one of 94 advisors in various stages of starting their careers with the firm when the pandemic hit, says Ann Felske-Jackman, principal and head of financial advisor talent acquisition at Edward Jones.
Since mid-March, a team of leaders and associates from across Canada has been working to support new advisors at Edward Jones as they completed online training that was being created and adapted in real-time, led by advisor feedback.
Thus far, Ms. Felske-Jackman says this pivot hasn’t impacted new hires’ readiness to begin practice – nor their ability to forge strong relationships with advisors mentoring them virtually.
At the same time, she says these new advisors are unable to prospect for new clients during COVID-19 the way veteran advisors did – face-to-face, through in-person seminars or going out in their community. As such, mentors’ advice on successful business-building strategies may not always be relevant.
“That person who is mentoring them doesn’t always understand the way new advisors will need to build their practices. That means we need to supplement that support through marketing initiatives a bit more than we did in the past and teach them to prospect for new clients in different ways,” Ms. Felske-Jackman says.
Initially, Mr. Cook planned to grow his practice by dropping into local businesses and meeting prospective clients at community events. Instead, his strategy in late 2020 involves tapping into his personal network and using social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook for Business to get things rolling.
The change in mindset around how to build a book of business has also proven to be a challenge for Catharine Kwan, sales associate advisor with Sun Life Financial Investment Services (Canada) Inc. in Cranbrook, B.C.
“Attending networking events or perhaps hosting events or going to something, those are all things that, as a new advisor, I would have thought, ‘That’s how I’m going to build my book of business.’ Well, those opportunities are no longer available,” says Ms. Kwan, who moved into an advisory role in July after working with the firm for four years as a part-time licensed assistant.
During that time, she worked toward earning her mutual fund licence, life licence qualification program and professional financial advisor designation.
In addition, Ms. Kwan says that choosing to start her practice during the pandemic has also come with a sense that she’s being pulled in three directions.
“Personally, it was learning the role of a financial advisor and networking, but then, at the same time, you’re also building your presence on some sort of social media platform, and then you’re learning how to be savvy while you’re in front of clients [virtually],” she says.
Instead of having to hit the ground running as she would have in a more normal year, Ms. Kwan has given herself permission to launch more intentionally during COVID-19. That has allowed her to determine exactly how she wants to structure her practice, how to combine technology with a personal approach and to shift her marketing efforts online.
Similarly, although Andrea Berestovenko, financial security advisor with Stepright Capital Planning Inc. in St. George, Ont., prefers meeting clients face-to-face, she had to shift quickly in the spring and learn to become adept at Zoom, using scanning apps and accommodate the non-traditional office hours of a flexible work-at-home model.
However, as someone new to the profession, Ms. Berestovenko, who joined the firm in mid-2019 and had a successful start before the pandemic arrived, chooses to view these challenges as opportunities from which she will emerge stronger.
“It has opened up my technology [use] and made me embrace what’s available. I think it’s made me a more diversified advisor. I’m able to rise to different situations,” she says.
Ultimately, Ms. Felske-Jackman says this group of “virtual trainees” has strong indicators of early success. Similar to trends seen during other times of crisis, advisors starting out during the pandemic will also likely forge more entrenched relationships with the clients they take on this year.
“Those relationships tend to be very deep and they tend to uncover more needs than they might have in a [better economic] environment,” she says. “When I started my career in 2009, I found the same – those clients and I had very close relationships because of what we needed to learn together [through the global financial crisis].”
Indeed, even without the benefit of face-to-face meetings, Mr. Cook says this period has been ideal to reach out, listen and provide guidance to clients as a new advisor.
“I feel like it’s a great time to be starting a career in this industry because I got into it to help people – and right now people need help more than ever,” he says.