GAMA

    Attracting Tomorrow’s Top Performers

    With retirement looming on the horizon for a tsunami of advisors -- the average advisor is 57 years old, white and male -- recruitment is taking on added importance.

    Indeed, in the next decade, 237,000 new advisors will be needed “and we’re having trouble recruiting,” said Susan Cooper, president and CEO of Empire Wealth Strategies, Penn Mutual’s career agency in New York City. “The most important thing is all about attracting the right people,” she said.

    Women as a demographic stand out, not just because there are so many women and their power is growing as decision-makers and business owners, but because the industry hasn’t done a great job of drawing them in. “It’s no secret that the life insurance industry hasn’t done a great job of attracting women,” Cooper said. “Today the number of women in the financial services industry is certainly very low and the industry cannot any longer be complacent about hiring and attracting women. We face this massive talent shortage.”

    In 2014, women made up only 34 percent of the recruits, which makes them a “huge opportunity.” The life insurance sales force, Cooper said, is on a continuous decline. “That’s not good news for any of us,” she said. “Except that we’re in a great position to change that.”

    To attract women, the industry needs to change its culture, which means no more 8-to-5 hours, followed by going home to work at night at your desk. Messages need to be developed that will specifically attract women. Barriers that confront women who might consider sales as a career need to be removed and the work environment needs to be changed. “Most importantly, it’s about us,” Cooper said. “It’s about our corporate culture.”

    In a recent survey, the most important aspect to work for women and millennials, which will make up the majority of the work force in the coming years, was helping people. Agencies need to ensure that their message to women highlights the aspect of helping others and making a positive impact. Women also prefer a family-first culture and work flexibility, not exactly the norm at most agencies, Cooper said. “When you find a winner, don’t let the old thoughts you had on how they need to come in and be successful deter you,” she said.

    Some women create their own barriers. They suffer from a lack of knowledge of the industry and many feel that “if they don’t have a background in economics and math or finance, they wouldn’t be a good match for the business. Don’t let that deter them,” Cooper added. “They need to know that their people skill sets, especially their relationship skill set, can be very important.”

    Women also see the term “sales” as having negative connotations. So don’t call the job sales. Find other terms. Call it, for instance, a career of helping people, of making a lasting difference helping others.

    It would also be wise to consider alternative compensation and training programs. Women, Cooper said, value education and training, need role models and mentors and like team work and collaboration. “Recognize top women performers,” Cooper said. “Send notes home. Let people know how they are doing. Women are not self-promoters. We are socialized not to do that.”

    The addition of more women to the ranks of advisors will have a positive impact on the industry, changing it for the better in many ways. Women, Cooper said, are excellent at building relationships, are strong communicators and naturally work in team environments. They have a sense of mission.

    There are plenty of ways to recruit women. Go to colleges and speak, for instance. Sponsor women’s groups. Penn Mutual sponsored collegiate female rugby. Rugby is the fastest growing sport in the United States, Cooper said. “We targeted that talent pool because they have the characteristics that we look for,” she said. The company even hosted 130 rugby players in the office. The young women had no idea that what they had as athletes could translate into a career in financial services, Cooper said.

    “We need to attract women to make it critical that we thrive and succeed in our profession,” Cooper said. And there are plenty of women who are available and who would make excellent advisors. “We just need to ask them,” she said.

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