Today's Advisory Career

Perceptions Of Success

Most advisors see themselves as successful

A new study from The American College Of Financial Services delivers the insights to help firms and advisors better align for success. Download the complete study here.

In the financial services industry, the procession of advisors and agents into, through, and out of the business has created fluctuation. In a sector that is challenging for new professionals in many ways, FINRA finds just as many advisors exit the business as enter it each year. Finding solutions to overcome turnover continues to be a challenge.

As in any industry, employees who feel a sense of professional achievement and accomplishment are happier. But in financial services, the question of what defines “professional success” is especially complex. The usual benchmarks used in the industry to define advisor success are increased production numbers, higher premiums, and assets under management (AUM).

However, these metrics are only a small part of the equation – understanding what advisors think about success and how these views differ between men and women can help firms better align their recruitment, training, and business models for increased growth.

The Value of Specialized Knowledge

In terms of specialized knowledge and success, 77% of successful advisors have a designation. More specifically, 78% have obtained a designation from The American College of Financial Services, including the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®), Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®), or the Chartered Life Underwiter® (CLU®), demonstrating the value of advancing one’s education to professional success.

When addressing the challenges of the profession, advisors and agents were once again relatively uniform in their views. “Finding new clients,” “hiring qualified staff,” and “increasing productivity” were frequently cited as the greatest difficulties across demographics. In terms of working to find new clients, 71% of successful advisors surveyed said they used social media to actively market their business.

The Demographic Divide: How Perspectives Differ by Gender

While advisors and agents across demographics share many similarities, significant differences arose in how male and female financial professionals identify and view the challenges, personal attributes, support mechanisms, credentialing, and business models needed for success. More women (34%) than men (22%) self-identified as “less successful” professionals despite meeting established employer business goals.

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Women attributed their success slightly more often to external factors, such as “mentoring,” “team structure,” “work/life balance,” and “home office resources” than men (13% vs. 12%). Men also are less likely to rely on external marketing efforts, as only 7% of male advisors surveyed credit some of their success to marketing, compared with 11% of women.

When asked what have been the factors most instrumental to their success, women assigned higher importance to external factors such as “communication,” “community support,” and “marketing.” Conversely, men emphasized “individual effort” substantially more than women (33% to 25%).

Female advisors are more likely to identify “hiring qualified staff” as a significant challenge when compared to male advisors (77% to 68%) while men are more likely to view “finding new clients” as a bigger challenge than women (68% to 52%). Overall, women were more likely to identify interpersonal professional relationships and experiences as foundational to their career success; men, on the other hand, more frequently referenced relationships as a reinforcement to their already-established sense of success rather than as a contributing factor to it.

Implications For The Industry

Overall, respondents indicated success as an agent or financial advisor was related to education and credentials, personal perseverance, and commitment to serving clients. While women found more success in business models that included fee-only compensation models and independent business practices than men did, women are still looking for opportunities to grow professionally and expand their networks.

Among female respondents who identified as less-successful, over 50% wanted to be part of additional mentoring and study groups to help grow their business. In addition, women identifying as more successful identified several common factors contributing to that success, including access to high-net-worth clients and advanced education.

Clearly, the financial services industry has room for continued growth and expansion of professional development programs for women–and their male counterparts as well. The hope is the results of this study will encourage industry leaders to meet the moment and invest more time, money, and effort in making these important resources available to developing financial professionals of all demographics.


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