When I Was a New Financial Advisor

Every once in awhile, we like to take a break from the six areas of financial planning and give you a look into the life of a financial advisor. Here’s another story from my early years in the biz. Well….my earliest days….

I was lucky.  I’d been warned about the hours.

The time away from my young family was a bitch, even in my last years as an advisor and sadly, many of those years are a blur (for those reading my stuff for the first time, I worked 16 years as an advisor for nearly 200 families at a time, and managed about $60M in-house, plus helped people w/ their outside portfolios of over $110M more). I spent so much time with my head buried on the task at hand that much of the “now” passed me by.

It went smoothly for me. The friend who’d referred me set me up with his boss and walked me through the entire hiring process. As a courtesy, he set up a dinner with the firm’s two top area managers at one of the nicest restaurants in town. I was sure it was to dazzle Cheryl and I.

The district manager, Jeff, was blunt that dazzling ME wasn’t the point.

“This meeting isn’t for Joe, because he’s going to be with me and we’ll take care of teaching him the ropes. This meeting is for Cheryl.”

“Oh?” she asked, wondering exactly where this was going.

“I want to answer your questions. This job is going to absolutely suck…and there’s no guarantee Joe will succeed. He’s going to be gone from home a ton. You should just kiss his ass goodbye for the next two years. When he is home, he won’t really be there mentally. Are you ready to be alone that long without him?”

Cheryl seemed like she’d been hit with a brick. We hadn’t been married six months. “Yeah, if that’s what he wants.”

“…and,” Jeff continued. “He’s going to work long weekends and may have to travel. Sometimes it’ll seem like he’s doing glamorous things, like golfing or taking clients to nice dinners at places like this one. Sometimes that makes spouses jealous. It isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Frankly, he really won’t enjoy it like he should because it’ll be all about business…and that business is just money.”

What a sales pitch, huh? At the time I thought he was exaggerating for effect, but he wasn’t. I still believe that dinner is why I lasted as long as I did. To this day I still believe that being completely blunt when something is going to suck is the best course of action. I was the same with my clients. No sense mincing the truth. People perform better under pressure when they know just how hot the fire is going to be.

He turned to me. “You ready to completely launch at this? You can’t be half pregnant.”

“Sure,” I said. I was excited.


I Got Lucky: New Financial Advisor With a Clue


Years later, I found out that my introduction to the financial advising business wasn’t anywhere close to the standard practice. I still can’t figure out why it isn’t. Over the years I dealt with young advisors who were coping with working late into Saturday afternoon while their young spouses, girl/boyfriends, and families were out enjoying the weekend. It turned out, most of them had been told a pack of lies:

–       This is a job where you can come and go as you wish.

While this is true for successful advisors, that’s because they were already bringing home the bacon. The management team watched new advisors like a hawk to make sure they were internalizing the practices it would take to be successful.

Everyone resented being watched over, but I get that part. Like those movies where you watch guys turn into werewolves, it takes time to morph into the mentality of a self employed business person. I felt especially bad for the kids just out of college who’d had a few part time cushy jobs. They had no clue what hit them. Within a few months, I got it. If I was leaving the office for any reason, you can bet that it was because I was meeting a client, a contact, or had some important money making task on the line.

–       We don’t cold call.

Luckily, I started when we COULD cold call and DID cold call. I know. I hated making cold calls as much as you hate receiving them. But, it was better than what later people had to do. They’d participate in “fishbowls.” In this marketing device, you leave a fishbowl at the counter in popular restaurants around the area, offering a free meal for you and your friends if you place your card in the bowl and it’s pulled out as a lucky winner.

Guess what happened? Every single person was a lucky winner. The meal was free, but it was shared with the advisor, who would talk shop the entire meal. Sound like less fun than a 10 minute call? It was SO much more painful for all involved.

Another trick was the “friends and family” seminar. This was even more disgusting. The advisor would give a financial planning seminar for friends and family, to “get feedback about the best ways to find new clients.” Yeah….it wasn’t about finding new clients at all, except the people in that room. By the end, family members realized that it was a sales pitch aimed squarely at getting them to sign on the dotted line.

Family members were nearly always my worst clients. They knew me before I was an advisor (shit, some knew me when I was in diapers!). They didn’t value my advice. They were just nice enough to help Joe succeed in his new venture. When it came time for real strategies that worked (refinancing, paying down debt, serious budget changes…God forbid if they were underinsured and we had to talk insurance…), many balked. They were hoping they could just buy a couple mutual funds from Joe and everyone would walk away feeling happy.

–       You can kind of dip your toe and see how you like being an advisor.

Several young advisors were told this. I still laugh at people I meet who are “part time” advisors. To be blunt, there’s no way to be great at financial planning and be part time, UNLESS you’ve been practicing many years and already have systems built to deal with all the client issues that arise. There’s just far too much to do. If you’re hiring an advisor, do you want someone who lives it all day or someone with just enough time to meet with a few people you don’t know and sell them some stuff? It sounds good, but like “passive income” and other “something for nothing” schemes, if it sounds too good to be true, guess what?

It still is.

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  1. says

    Love the perspective. Both Mr. PoP and I have been approached by people who wanted to recruit us as financial advisors earlier in our careers and it definitely wasn’t a ride for us. But I understand why Cheryl was warned. At Mr. PoP’s work, management goes out of their way to thank spouses that let the employees work when they need to. The most successful sales people in his channel are the ones that are available for their clients whenever they are needed, and sometimes spouses have to give a little.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..What’s An Appropriate Level of Stockpiling?My Profile

  2. says

    Great insight Joe! I had interviewed with a number of firms to be an advisor but at the end of the day it was just not for me. The ones I ran into were too sales oriented. I’d rather be the guy in the office crunching the numbers and coming up with the portfolios. That said, you’re dead on about the hours. I have a few friends who’re advisors and they bust their backsides to do it. The thing is though, they love it and they love helping out families plan for their future…definitely not for the “passive” income.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Frugal Friday: Blog Posts That Ruled This Week, Top Ten EditionMy Profile

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing! It seems like a tough sell similar to a stock broker. I would like to think people are very choosy who they turn over management of their wealth. Maybe not!
    krantcents recently posted..I Am Broke!My Profile

  4. says

    While none of that might have phased me in my 20’s, the hours and time away from family sounds horrible now. Glad you guys got to go in with your eyes open. I have a hard enough time with deciding what to do with my money. I can’t imagine the pressure of doing it for someone else. At the same time, I think it is much less stressful to turn it over to someone who know what they are doing. If only there was some sort of Scarlet Letter system for the shysters out there.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..The Line Between Making Money and Being a Sell OutMy Profile

  5. says

    This is what other people misinterpret about financial advisors. This is not an easy job, it makes a lot of money, but you also need to understand that a lot are being sacrificed in the process. Financial planning is tough because hey, we are talking about money here. You need to know enough and be dedicated enough for other people to let you handle their finances for them.
    KC recently posted..Signs You May Be A Shopaholic And 6 Things You Can Do To Change ItMy Profile

    • Average Joe says

      Agreed, KC. That’s one of the main reasons I left financial advising after 16 years. The guilt of every down market and wondering “what could I have done better” gets to you after awhile. Even when you’d miss 70% of the downside, you still always wonder how you could have protected the rest. How can someone even have those thoughts if they’re advising part time?

  6. says

    I love the honesty of this article. Every time I hear about someone interested in becoming a financial planner I will refer them here.

    In the past, I played with this idea and almost took the leap. In many ways, I am not sure what kept me out of it – but after reading your article, I can see I probably wouldn’t have made it with a wife and kids. The time commitment is intense. If I was single, it would probably have been a different story.
    Jason Clayton | frugal habits recently posted..Increase your Giving with these 3 Simple MethodsMy Profile

    • Average Joe says

      Thanks, Jason! The single guys had it better and worse at the same time. They could afford the time away, but many of the single guy financial advisors I knew didn’t “get it” when it came to the goals of someone trying to pay the bills for a full family AND get ahead. I’d sit in the room with a young single guy and his client and they often would be talking two totally different languages.

    • Average Joe says

      Actually, it’s pretty funny. The people who are really good financial advisors usually don’t go into management. Most of my mentors were people who were awesome advisors, not managers. The reason for this is that the money and flexibility are much better (and the immediate reward of helping a real person achieve a goal) if you are an advisor.

  7. says

    I totally agree with you, if something is going to suck just tell me so from the beginning so I can be prepared. I’d also rather someone exaggerate how bad something will be so that it doesn’t feel as bad when it happens. It’s much better then being told how easy a job will be and then showing up and finding out you travel 90% of the time, am on call and don’t get vacation time. Financial planning definitely isn’t in my future.

    • Average Joe says

      Ha! From now on, KK, let me know when you’re coming by and I’ll start every blog post with, “This one is totally gonna suck.” Then every post will read like Shakespeare! Brilliant!

  8. says

    Great story and I see a lot of what I went through in there as well. I was lured into taking a Financial Advisors position just out of college and turns out we practiced most of those schemes you talk about. We were cold calling, doing fishbowl lunches and many other tricks. I hated it because I have a passion for personal finance and investing. I thought I was going to be helping people but it turned out my job was basically trying to get people in the door so that our managers could try to sell them on some financial plan with variable insurance products that they didn’t need. I didn’t last long and have since moved on to a much better career that fits my personality way more.
    Dan Mac recently posted..Kings of Dividend GrowthMy Profile

    • Average Joe says

      Great comment. That’s exactly what people fail to understand, Dan….it WILL BE a financial advising job, as soon as a) you know enough to advise; and b) you get enough clients to focus on the advice instead of where your next meal is going to come from.


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