Matt Dye, 36, a former U.S. Marine and avionics technician deployed to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, didn’t plan to become a financial advisor. After leaving the military, he worked in the private sector as a technician and field trainer. But when he sat down with an Edward Jones advisor to discuss his 401(k) money after suffering a serious non-work-related injury, he discovered a new career option.

“She said, ‘You can do this or that, or you can come work here,’” he recalls.

Dye, who had begun working toward a bachelor’s degree in finance through the GI Bill, learned that Edward Jones would soon be starting a program to train and develop veterans to become advisors. He joined the second graduating class of the “Forces” program, which launched in May 2012. It did not require prior financial services experience.

Last November, after working for a year with Edward Jones, he assumed the office of an advisor who left the firm. Dye, based in Asheboro, N.C., serves close to 400 clients.

More than 530 individuals have entered Forces, which is geared to veterans that have separated from the military within the past five years and to military personnel still active in the National Guard or Reserve. Also eligible are non-military individuals with advanced degrees and less than three years of professional work experience.

The program includes 26 weeks of intensive training plus five and a half months of fieldwork. “Attrition is very low,” says Chris Penrod, director of military financial advisor talent acquisition for Edward Jones, a dually registered broker-dealer and investment advisor.

The firm, founded by a World War I veteran, has always been committed to hiring former military personnel, Penrod says. Of its 12,500 advisors, 11% have military backgrounds. That’s a higher proportion than the number of veterans working in finance overall. Among the 70% of veterans employed by the private sector, just 4.6% work in financial activities, according to data from Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Being an advisor is “an exceptional fit for skills that’ll translate from the military,” says Penrod, who himself spent 10 years as a military personnel officer for the U.S. Air Force. “[Military] culture and integrity are foundational building blocks to build relationships and service clients.”

Penrod and others say that the military qualities of self-discipline, leadership and perseverance also serve a person well in the financial realm.

The veteran pool is deep. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in 2013 was 9% among the approximately 2.8 million veterans who served during the era after 9/11. With the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, more than 1 million service members are projected to leave the military between 2011 and 2016.

Basic Training
Ameriprise Financial and First Command Financial Services also have programs to attract, train and support veterans as advisors. Ameriprise is a member of the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a coalition of U.S. companies committed to hiring veterans. First Command has partnered with the Hiring Our Heroes initiative.

“It’s an important way to grow our business, and it’s important because we’re grateful for their service,” says Jay Johnson, vice president of talent acquisition and diversity at Ameriprise. He declined to disclose program participation figures.

Not only are veterans used to managing change in a fast-paced environment, he says, but “being goal-driven resonates with veterans and brings structure to the goals of clients.”

First Command, founded over 50 years ago by a retired Air Force officer, has $21 billion in managed accounts and mutual funds for more than 274,000 client families—77% of whom are active duty or retired/separated military. Approximately 70% of its 400 financial advisors are veterans and military spouses. The firm is about one year into its five-year goal of recruiting 2,100 advisors from the military population.

“This is a critically important subject in 2014,” says Scott Spiker, CEO of First Command Financial Services, “as many service members and their spouses are experiencing great anxiety over the need to find employment outside the military due to reductions in force, base realignments and closings and deferred promotions.”