For RIAs, “Help Wanted” is the sign of the times

July 1, 2022 Joseph A. Giannone
To meet today’s challenges and enable future growth, advisors must cast a wide net for talent.

Whether they’re based on the East Coast or in the Midwest, manage a few million dollars or many billions, independent advisors today agree on one thing: bringing on new talent is a top priority—and for many, their biggest challenge. 

Silver linings and second efforts were front and center when Schwab Advisor Services hosted its annual ADVANTAGE conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. The opportunity to meet face-to-face at Schwab’s first national advisor event since 2019 fueled an ebullient atmosphere among the nearly 200 principals representing firms with $300 million to $1 billion assets under management. 

Many of the sideline conversations focused on how business and everyday life had been altered by the COVID-19 pandemic—for the better, in many cases. For example, advisors and their clients learned to stop worrying and love video conferences.  

Yet there also was acknowledgment that the fastest-growing corner of the financial advice industry needs more financial planners, support staff and wealth specialists if firms intend to keep growing.  

“Our top business challenge is definitely staffing. We’ve had a position posted for six months and received no qualified applicants,” said Kacy Gott, senior financial planner at Meritus Wealth Management in Larkspur, California. “We used to face difficult decisions choosing between two or three top candidates. Now we’re lucky if we receive two or three applications.” 

As a result, advisors must dedicate more time and resources sourcing new talent. Kacy says he is visiting more college campuses to recruit soon-to-be-graduates directly.  

Such concerns about sourcing and recruiting talent are shared by many advisors across the industry.  

In Schwab’s 2021 RIA Benchmarking Study, nearly 80% of firms surveyed said they planned to hire staff in 2022.1 This year’s report, to be released in July, found that nearly 80% of firms followed through.2 Moreover, recruiting ranked as the #1 top strategic priority among firms3—for the first time since the annual study was launched. 

“Sustaining ourselves during a time of unprecedented change has touched all of us in some way,” says Lisa Salvi, head of Business Consulting and Education, Schwab Advisor Services.

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"Advisors and their associates have been forced to adapt to remote and hybrid workplaces. We experienced the ‘Great Resignation,’ now seen as more of a ‘great talent re-shuffle’, that has now evolved into one of the most competitive job markets in recent history."

- Lisa Salvi, Head of Business Consulting and Education, Schwab Advisor Services

It’s no coincidence that Advisors Services invests heavily to supply consultants, develop educational resources and host events to help firms identify, assess and meet these people challenges. Schwab’s most recent Town Hall meeting with independent advisors, in June 2022, was dedicated entirely to addressing talent issues. 

One thing that advisors learn at Schwab events is they can’t just think about having hands on-deck for today’s needs: they need to look years ahead into the future. The good news is many advisors are already putting those lessons to work.

“We’re hiring today in anticipation of what we need down the road,” says Michelle Sandt-Wade, CFP, a partner at Transitions Wealth Management in Denver. “I’m probably about 10 years from retirement, so we’re trying to find next generation talent that will enable us to make a smooth transition. The challenge is looking for and planning for that eventuality.” 

Lisa adds that the pandemic has realigned, at least for now, the relationship between employer and employee. “There are some shifts to competing for talent based on location flexibility, but many of us recognize that creating an enduring firm starts with its most important asset: its people,” she said.  

So as advisors basked in the Arizona sun and the comradery of their peers, they were also looking forward to a workplace that emerged stronger from the COVID storm. Which is one more reason advisors are eager to get their people and strategies in place as we emerge from social distancing and return to a mostly “normal” experience. 

“So much of the pandemic was really challenging, of course, but the move to remote work and virtual meetings has allowed our firm to develop, grow the business and deepen client relationships,” said Joyce Huffman, a partner at Mainline Private Wealth in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. “There have been huge benefits to remote work, such as greater flexibility, but in the end, advisors really missed those authentic, in-person interactions with clients.”

1. Results for all firms with $250 million or more in AUM. 2021 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab, fielded January to March 2021. Study contains self-reported data. Participant firms represent various sizes and business models.

2. Results for all firms with $250 million or more in AUM. 2022 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab, fielded January to March 2022. Study contains self-reported data. Participant firms represent various sizes and business models.

3. Results for all firms with $250 million or more in AUM that selected initiative as a top 3 priority. 2022 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab, fielded January to March 2022. Study contains self-reported data. Participant firms represent various sizes and business models. 

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