Holding on to talent

Client retention is one of the issues frequently listed by advisers as among their highest priorities, but data released recently by recruitment company Hays suggest the retention of staff is becoming just as central a focus.

“Employers are realising the value of solid retention strategies in order to hold on to their top talent to combat the skills shortage,” Hays Banking’s director, Jane McNeill, told ifa.

“We expect the focus on retention to continue into 2013, with many forward-thinking businesses continuing to refine their retention strategies in order to hold onto their top talent in the coming years.”

This shift in focus is largely attributable to an increasing skills shortage in the financial services sector, particularly financial advice, Hays indicates.

Experienced and qualified para-planners in particular are highly sought after at the moment, causing salaries to increase for this segment of the workforce, especially at boutique firms.

Demand is being driven partly by a trend towards the centralisation of para-planning units within advisory businesses as well as by the additional compliance burdens being brought by the Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) reforms.

Given the new regulatory environment, advisers with demonstrable compliance experience and familiarity with policy issues are understandably in demand.

Hays has also identified a surge in demand for client services officers and other support staff to assist with compliance requirements, while Financial Recruitment Group (FRG) director Conor Donoghue recently told online news resource InvestorDaily that some advice businesses have even looked at recruiting specialised FOFA experts.

Philippa Sheehan, managing director at MyAdviser, thinks the problem is not so much a lack of regulatory compliance knowledge but an unwillingness by younger planners to “do their time” in the finance industry and develop skills over long periods of time.

“I think there is a shortage of newer financial planners who are prepared to sit back and learn from the experienced,” she says.

Finn Kelly, chief executive of planning business Wealth Enhancers in Melbourne, agrees: “The biggest problem with staff retention and recruitment is that in the finance industry people have an idealistic view of what having a finance job is like and once confronted with the actual reality, they get a rude awakening,” he says.

According to Kelly, experience is key. “There is a large range of people who call themselves para-planners and advisers … who are not capable of the position,” he adds.

“Advising is an extremely difficult job with a lot of responsibility which not many people are suited to or capable of taking on.”

In most cases, he adds, when an adviser departs it is not due to their being offered a better job, but because they found advising harder than they initially thought.

Centric Wealth’s head of HR, Gemma Mulready, says her company has struggled to find planning professionals who have a mixture of technical and relationship management skills.

Given these views about the quality of offerings on the market, it is little wonder efforts are being made across the industry to hold on to employees who are qualified and not afraid of hard work.

Hays has recommended a five-pronged approach to retaining quality staff, which includes regular performance reviews, employing motivating and inspirational managers, fostering relationships among employees, providing career pathways and undertaking training and professional development.

“Businesses can help reduce the rate of turnover by employing some of these simple retention strategies,” Hays Banking’s Jane McNeill says.

Of these, Mulready places most importance on managerial staff. “Hygiene factors such as providing clear direction through performance reviews, competitive compensation, staff benefits and training will fail without motivating and inspiring managers,” she says.

Philippa Sheehan accepts the benefits of these strategies in theory. “I think every business tries to follow the Hays approach to retention,” she admits. “However, the reality of this – when the financial planning industry is going through significant change and market turmoil – is difficult.”

MyAdviser has implemented a simple strategy that Sheehan feels is good for retention. At each weekly staff meeting, her employees are expected to bring for discussion “one thing they have done really well and one main focus for the week”, the aim being to seek feedback from colleagues.

This communal discussion and encouragement works wonders she says: “Recognition for both big and small achievements is key.”

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