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Raymond James’ Scheme to Turn Associates Into Advisors

By Thomas Coyle February 20, 2014

In a bid to add female advisors and address succession issues, Raymond James & Associates, the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based employed-advisor arm of Raymond James Financial, is providing stepped-up training for some of its service associates, most of whom are women.

The Registered Service Associate Team Development Program, launched at the end of 2013, has several aims, says Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James & Associates. First, it’s supposed to “help service associates become better educated and more valuable to the advisors and teams they work with,” he tells FA-IQ. Next, it’s meant to give “service associates who aspire to become financial advisors the opportunity to enroll in our traditional advisor training program.”

To the extent it succeeds in feeding new financial advisors to Raymond James & Associates, the new program will “address two compelling industry issues: attracting more women into the profession and providing potential successors for retiring advisors,” the firm says in a press release.

At over 50, the average advisor is a good decade older than the average working stiff in the U.S., according to consulting firm Accenture. For some industry watchers, this means advice firms should get ready to replace their key people, who will be leaving the workforce at a faster rate than the general population over the next 10 to 30 years.

At the same time, some firms are looking to add female advisors. By some accounts, women are better nurturers and better listeners than men, which makes them a good fit — in theory at least — for a profession that’s supposed to be getting less transactional and more consultative. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 31.2% of “personal financial advisors” were women in 2012. By contrast, about 14% of the 2,430 advisors Raymond James & Associates employed at the end of 2013 were female.

Tash Elwyn

The full-service unit’s new program is restricted to service associates who have passed the Series 7 exam — or 675 out of a total of 1,150, according to the firm. For the first six months of the 12-month program, trainees spend three to four hours a month doing homework and attending lectures online. Then the focus shifts to getting the Accredited Asset Management Specialist designation. In an e-mail to FA-IQ, Raymond James & Associates says it picked the AAMS because the designation “provides an introduction to broader financial planning topics” such as insurance and estate planning, and because it “provides a solid foundation for those candidates who wish to pursue the CFP designation.”

Down the road, Elwyn expects some graduates of the Registered Service Associate Team Development Program to enroll in the unit’s two-year Advisory Mastery Program, about a third of whose graduates are women.

Not All Equipped

If Raymond James & Associates seems to be taking a slow approach to turning service associates into advisors, it’s probably for good reason, according to Adri Miller-Heckman, a former service associate who became a successful broker and now coaches advisors on marketing to women. Although some service associates are attracted to the advisor role, those who act on a whim can find it a difficult transition.

In particular, some former service associates have trouble bringing in new business, she says. So they may take refuge in what they know best — administrative work — and end up with feet in two roles with no clear career direction. “Not everyone is equipped to be a financial advisor,” says Miller-Heckman, whose business is near Hartford, Conn.

On the other hand, many service associates are keen to do more, says Kim Dellarocca, head of segment marketing and practice management at Pershing. “Like all of us, service associates crave opportunities, they crave insight into the big picture and to get a better perspective on their career development,” Dellarocca says. To the extent Raymond James & Associates satisfies these cravings, it may end up with happier and more effective service associates, some of whom may go on to become advisors.

A bigger lure for women may be in the perception that Raymond James & Associates is making a sincere, if gradual, effort to build a woman-friendly workplace — “though to really achieve that,” notes Dellarocca, “many other things have to change.”