Career development for financial advisors, Pt.1: The five stages of a successful career

By bmann6

Partners Advantage Insurance Services


In the 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow studied exemplary people such as Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frederick Douglass, and the healthiest 1 percent of the college student population. The results of his work were published in a ground-breaking paper entitled "A Theory of Human Motivation."

In it, Maslow detailed the five stages of human needs. He found that, while most people wallow in the lower stages of needs -- focusing on survival and safety -- successful high achievers progress beyond those basic needs and fulfill the highest level of needs, and therefore achieve confidence, respect and serenity.

Whether you have chosen a career as a financial advisor, or whether you have just stumbled into it, you should be aware that just as there are five stages of human needs, there are five stages of your career. Most advisors will wallow in the lower stages and spend their entire careers stuck there. They will see other advisors who have achieved the pinnacle of success and wonder, "Why didn't I get there?"

I don't want you to be one of those people who wonder why, I want you to be on the path to the highest levels of success. This is the first in a series of articles that will help you identify where you want your career to take you, and how to go about achieving that wonderful result.

The five career stages

With a nod to Abraham Maslow, let's take a look at the five stages of career advancement and success for a financial advisor:
    1. Survival -- In this stage, you are struggling to provide a reliable income for your family. You don't have prospecting and marketing methods that are consistently getting the type of results you need. If your career doesn't start to get better, you're eventually going to drop out and try another career. This is a common experience, as 88 percent of financial advisors drop out of the business within five years of entering the industry.

    2. Success -- You are getting good results and are providing a reliable income for your family. In fact, you are feeling successful and comfortable. But at the same time, your continued success is very dependent upon your ability to keep making new sales to new clients.

    3. Sustainability -- You are achieving an income well in excess of the industry average. Most of your income is coming from referrals and repeat business from existing clients. If you chose, you could continue to achieve this high income while only working in your practice on a part-time basis.

    4. Significance -- Since your income is both high and secure, your major motivation is to make a positive difference in the lives of others. You do this through enhancing the financial security and success of your clients, through mentoring and developing other financial advisors, and through making substantial contributions of time and money to causes which are important to you.

    5. Succession -- You reach this stage through either advancing age, being called to lead a larger organization, or by transitioning your practice to someone else -- perhaps to one of your children, a trusted colleague, or a chosen successor.
One of the best ways to start down the path to success is to evaluate where you are in the five stages. The fact is that the vast majority of financial advisors fail to survive in this business, so if you have reached stage two -- success -- then you are to be congratulated. You are already in the top 12 percent of the agent/advisor pool!

But do you want to stay there? Even if you have reached stage two, you must get out every day and hunt for business. Your survival depends upon your continued ability to prospect and close. While you have become proficient enough at it to consider yourself financially secure, when you reflect and examine where you are, you are still vulnerable. You read stories of wildly successful practices in industry magazines, and you think, "Wow, I'm not even close to that!"

How to assure you will reach higher levels of success

There is no magic bullet to achieving the higher levels of success, but there is a proven path to travel. One of the key steps along this path is understanding that there are five stages of success, recognizing where you are on this path, and figuring out where you really want to be.

Do you want to achieve an extraordinarily high income with most of your business coming from referrals and repeat business? Do you want to progress to the point where your major motivation to stay in this business is to help others? If so, you are going to need to change what you are doing, you are going to need to put in a lot of effort, and you are going to need to take your career development much more seriously.

Let me share with you a little bit of my story. At the beginning, my career probably looked a lot like yours. I started in this industry by working for a bank. They gave me a list of their customers who had certificates of deposit that were coming up for renewal. My job was to call these customers, help them with their CD renewal, and ask them if they would like to consider other alternatives, such as annuities. I learned a lot about products, customers and marketing during that experience, and I ultimately felt confident enough to become an independent advisor and start my own firm, First Choice Financial, in 1997.

Throughout the next 11 years, by diligently working the plan I will explain to you in this series of articles, I developed a sustainable independent practice, and in fact I still make a substantial income from repeat sales and achieve "Top of the Table" production levels even though I now do very little prospecting for new clients. I developed sales systems that allowed me to recruit and help hundreds of other agents to achieve success.

As my company grew, I was offered the opportunity to merge my company with a much larger organization. Now, as that company's chief marketing officer, I am able to help the combined companies continue to grow. In this role, I get to realize my dreams by sharing my knowledge with other financial advisors just like you. I spend much of my time coaching and mentoring independent agents throughout the country. At the same time, I get to play golf, exercise, read, travel, and spend quality time with my family.

It has been only 12 years since I left the bank, started from scratch as an independent financial advisor with no customers, and got to where I am today. Do I say this to brag? No. I say this so that you understand that if I did it, you can do it too, because the principles you will learn in this series can be repeated time and time again.

It is not a magic bullet, but it is a workable plan. Let's travel down this road together. In the next article, we'll examine how you move from survival to success.

*For further information, or to contact this author, please leave a comment and your e-mail address in the forum below.