When shopping for a financial adviser, people most often seek someone with experience and expertise. Yet don’t rule out mid-career professionals who’ve changed careers to become advisers. While they may lack experience in the financial services industry, their diverse work history can be helpful in meaningful ways.
“So much of being a financial planner is soft skills in dealing with clients,” said Sara Stolberg Berkowicz, an assistant professor at the College for Financial Planning, who is also a certified financial planner. She adds that mid-career newcomers who worked in helping occupations, such as psychologists, teachers and nurses, may possess strong interpersonal skills that enable them to explain complex ideas clearly, forge bonds with clients and earn their trust.
“They’ve had to solve different kinds of problems so they’ll take the knowledge and skills from their past interactions and look at a new problem in a different way,” she said.
These career-changers enrich the profession, Berkowicz said. They can apply training and skills from their prior job to become better advisers. “They will help build the field [of financial planning],” she said. “They can help their team pick better investments and treat clients better. A diversity of opinion helps improve decisions.”
Veteran advisers, meanwhile, refine their communication skills over time. They learn to listen more rather than regale clients with their technical know-how. They also accumulate a wealth of anecdotes to illustrate key points and become captivating storytellers.
“Longtime financial planners have a long-term perspective that helps guide their advice,” Berkowicz said. For example, “They’ve seen tax law changes over the years. They’ve seen many different market cycles and how we’ve bounced back,” so they can reassure anxious clients.
Seasoned advisers are also keen observers of family dynamics, she adds. They learn how to manage delicate situations such as handling a client with early signs of dementia or facilitating civil discussions between bickering couples.
Reflecting on her experience as an adviser, Berkowicz knows that longtime practitioners also can get stuck in a rut. Years ago, she inherited a book of business from an adviser who had passed away. She noticed that the clients all had the same type of portfolio with the same sorts of investments.
“We call it status quo bias,” she said. “We like things to stay the same. But markets do change and people do change. If you’re using an old set of eyes on a new problem, you may not see new opportunities or new dangers.”
When selecting an adviser, consumers are often less fixated on asset allocation, proprietary trading strategies and other technical aspects of portfolio management. Instead, they want to feel a rapport with their financial planner. Better yet, they want the adviser to treat them as an important, high-value priority (even if they don’t possess vast wealth).
Advisers who are former airline pilots, police officers or professional athletes, for example, might attract clients in those fields. Some investors like the idea of working with a financial planner who appreciates the nuances of their occupation.
“As a consumer, there’s some comfort is knowing an adviser understands the issues that matter to you,” said Jason Watt, an instructor at Business Career College in Edmonton, Alberta. “If you can find a career-changer who shares a background with you, you can talk shop.”