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Younger advisers and professionalism – Part 1

01 June 2022 Myra Knoesen

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisers facing human resource issues.

We thought it would be interesting to share this article, sourced online on Advisor Perspectives, with our readers on some of the issues facing advisory practices.

The out-of-touch older adviser

Dear Bev,

I hate to sound like an old adviser (I’m not even 50 yet), but I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the casual nature of the younger people we are hiring at the firm.

For example, answering phones – how is it professional to say “Lisa” and nothing more when you answer the phone? What happened to “Name of our firm, Lisa speaking, how can I help you?” And emails. They are short and far too casual. And if one more of these younger men calls me “Dude” (I am a woman), I am going to scream.

I realise that each generation has its own style and terminology, and each has their way they think things are right or not, but we are serving a largely older population. Like many advisory firms, a great deal of our client base is retired and over 65 years old. Some of them don’t even hear that well. I will often hear “Lisa” on the phone saying “hello? hello?” a couple of times. My suspicion is that the caller is stunned they are not hearing more of a welcome when someone answers.

I did have a client forward an email to me by one of our younger male advisers. The client is a retired CEO and has many millions with us. In the email he forwarded he wrote, “Who gave him permission to use my first name and to treat me like I am a teenage friend of his?”

I have talked with our owner about this and he tells me that I’m out of touch with this younger generation and to ignore it. Without his support I am aware I will come off as the complaining older lady. I realize some of this is how younger people are, but I also believe it is incumbent on us to mentor them and help them understand how this impacts our clients. Is there an approach I could take that would help them to understand without painting me as the out-of-touch older adviser?

M.U.

An opportunity to mentor

Dear M.U.,

The generational divide is misunderstood in many ways. Yes, there are differences between the generations that stem largely from life experiences growing up – your generation would have had much less of a reliance on technology, or might have had a different political experience, or might relate to jokes or sayings from certain television shows. The people you are dealing with will relate to other things. Generally differences are ascribed to technology, but these days most folks use technology (including a 70-year old woman who told me to follow her on Instagram yesterday, and an 87-year old one who told me only to text because she hates talking on the phone if she can avoid it!). Newer generations have grown up with technology. But differences stem more from our lack of shared experiences, how language changes over time, and how we interact with one another.

You work in a professional setting and you are allowed to have standards in how everyone answers the phone or engages clients over email. The “know your audience” rule applies here. Get your newer team members to understand whenever they are communicating that they need to consider who is on the receiving end of the communication. We all need to do this in our communications. I teach undergraduate students every semester and I can assure you I don’t engage 18 and 19 year olds, whose attention I need to capture and keep, the same way I engage a 50-something adviser client of mine – and I would shift my style for anyone in the middle. While we will each have our own individual background and experiences (this is not limited to age; it can be lifestyle, geography, education and so on), take the time to focus on the audience we are trying to reach and modify as much as possible to show them we understand them.

Ask your younger team members to describe an older, retired client of theirs. What do they think about? Care about? Know about? Help your younger team members get into the proverbial shoes of the client and consider what they know and don’t know about them. Then ask your team members how you think these folks would like to be engaged. Point out that it changes even with people the same age. Some older people like communicating in writing, some do not. Some like lengthy explanations via email, some like bullet points. Get your team members to talk and think about what it feels like or how clients think when they interact with your firm. It will help them see there is another way to deal with clients and they can learn adaptability.

Tell the person who calls you “dude” that while you are pretty sure he means no disrespect (I’m sure he does not) and that you would prefer he call you by your given name. Show the client email to the team member too, so you can help them understand this isn’t just you and your opinion.

It’s a learning experience – remember these team members are still new in their career and have a lot to learn. You likely made mistakes in your 20s too and needed someone to show you the way to be more successful. Instead of becoming frustrated, see it as an opportunity to mentor and support them.

In part two, we take a look at another issue.

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