Mentoring a young adviser involves passing wisdom to the next generation – but the mentor may learn a thing or two as well
Aristotle had Plato, King Arthur had Merlin and the Karate Kid had Mr Miyagi. The mentor is a central figure in these stories, the old hand guiding the young and eager.
In an industry like financial advice – with arguably low minimum education standards and a growing emphasis on people skills – mentoring is particularly valuable, MIS Taylor Wealth Management partner Peter O’Callaghan suggests. While formal training matters, he believes what you learn outside the classroom can shape the kind of adviser you become.
“In any degree that you do, you’re always going to learn the theory behind things but it’s the practice that’s going to make or break you as an adviser,” Mr O’Callaghan says.
“It’s how you interact with clients, it’s how you relate to clients, it’s how you understand and gain trust.”
He suggests mentoring also introduces young advisers to new business models and strategies: “One is the ability to get access to people who have been around and seen a bit, and who may have a different view or different perspective on what the profession looks like,” he said.
Sarah Riegelhuth is a testament to how mentoring can supercharge a career. The director of successful practice Wealth Enhancers, she pays tributes to industry veterans – including her late father – for guiding her along the way.
“Having those kinds of relationships is enormously beneficial and can leapfrog you in your career,” she says.
A two-way street
Experienced advisers, busy with their own practices and clients, might ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ But according to Evalesco Financial Services director Jeff Thurecht, mentors gain as much as mentees.
“A lot of people who are mentors get to a stage where they feel like they have reached a level of success and they have something to offer,” Mr Thurecht said. The ability to give something back to the community ends up being highly valued.
On a more practical level, he suggests advising a newcomer involves reflecting on your own strategies, including victories and mistakes.
“Sometimes that reflection allows you to remember things you used to do that were really successful that you’ve stopped doing,” he says. “Or it creates a conversation with the aspirant which makes you reconsider how you’re doing things or what’s working.”
While Mr O’Callaghan believes advisers have an obligation to give back to their profession, he also thinks mentors can feed off their mentee’s energy and enthusiasm.
“Often, when you have been around for a long time, you get a little bit stale in your ways,” he says. “[Young advisers] are brand new, they are wide-eyed, they are keen and want to learn.”
Ms Riegelhuth suggests mentors could learn new skills from the young guns. At 33 Ms Riegelhuth could hardly call herself old, yet she says her 19- and 20-year-old trainees often show her new applications for technology.
In addition, she believes new advisers often have fresh ideas about which clients to target, identifying demographics overlooked by more established advisers.
“Basically, mixing with people that are doing different things to you – whether it’s age, gender or something else – is always going to open your mind up to possibilities and other opportunities,” she says.
Tracking down a mentor
Mentoring is fundamentally about relationship-building – and like any relationship, finding ‘the one’ can be a challenge. Mr O’Callaghan encourages new advisers to identify an area they wish to work in and seek out someone with that experience.
On the other hand, Ms Riegelhuth suggests focusing on skills rather than financial services experience. If your weakness is giving presentations, for example, she recommends finding a great public speaker regardless of their industry.
Both suggest working with different mentors to gain exposure to a variety of skills.
“The main thing is proof everything and keep to the best,” Mr O’Callaghan says.
Ms Riegelhuth explains mentoring relationships can come about informally – asking a friend or colleague for advice – or formally, approaching a person you admire. Either way, she suggests getting to know them on a personal level first.
At the same time, she urges young advisers to be bold: “Never be afraid to ask someone to be your mentor.”
An alternative to the DIY approach is joining a mentoring program. Several licensees and industry bodies run initiatives that pair up newly-minted advisers with senior industry figures.
Mr Thurecht is heavily involved in the AFA mentoring program and believes this structure can help advisers achieve clear goals.
“One of the great things about matching the mentors with the aspirants is talking about what you can get out of the program and matching up with somebody who can help you with those particular areas,” he says.
In addition, he suggests the program might help young advisers who lack the confidence or contacts to approach someone themselves.
Maximising the benefits
Getting the most out of your mentoring relationship depends on your individual needs, Mr O’Callaghan believes. In some cases, a structured relationship with a defined framework is ideal; in others, mentees might benefit from looser, case-by-case advice.
From the perspective of the mentor, Mr O’Callaghan suggests they treat their mentees as clients. This means getting to the bottom of what the protégé wants and asking pointed questions.
“What is it that they need? What are they looking to gain out of this and how can I assist them with that?” he says.
He recommends focusing on soft skills that are difficult to learn in the classroom, like client engagement, practice management or managing client expectations.
Ms Riegelhuth believes mentors should act less as all-knowing oracles and more as a sounding board.
“It’s more about really thinking ‘what have I experienced in my life that I can share that will help them make a decision?’” she says.
She encourages mentors to set clear expectations, including what help they are prepared to offer, how often they wish to meet and what they expect from meetings. However, she also encourages mentees to take the initiative.
“From a mentor’s perspective, it’s very impressive when you have a mentee that is organised, prepared, sets meeting times and lets you know in advance what they want to talk about,” she says.
Mr O’Callaghan believes an open mind is the most important thing a mentee can bring to the table.
“You’ll get out of it what you put into it,” he says.
However, simply listening is not enough. Mr Thurecht encourages young advisers to implement what they have learned.
“Ideas are fantastic but when you put them into action is when you actually see the benefit,” he says.
Ultimately, he believes no one is ever too old to need a mentor or too young to share knowledge. The AFA has considered removing age limitations on who can sign up to be a mentor or an aspirant in their program, he adds.
“People in the advice community always want to improve what they’re doing and have some personal growth,” he says.
“Anyone who is of that mindset could benefit from mentoring.”
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