"I'm just here to learn," Brandon Carroll told the older man to his right as he grabbed an empty seat at a table before the start of an education session at the recent Schwab Impact conference in Boston. He scribbled busily into his notebook during the session, which focused on succession planning.
Carroll, 22, wore a maroon long-sleeve, collared shirt sporting the logo of Virginia Tech's financial planning program. He also wore the look of fresh-faced youth, which seemed an apt juxtaposition to the mainly middle-aged and older crowd gathered in the room to hear about how the industry can transfer the reins to the next generation.
But is the next generation coming?
It's no secret the financial advisory industry is aging. According to a report this summer from Cerulli Associates, the average age of financial advisors is a shade less than 49 years, and roughly 14% are 60 years or older. By other estimates, the average age is north of 50 years. More important, says Cerulli, less than 25% of all advisors are age 40 or younger, and just 5.6% of advisors are age 30 or younger.
The industry needs new blood to replenish itself at a time when aging baby boomer clients will be putting greater demands on their advisors-many of whom will soon start their own retirements. But at this point, the next wave seems more like a ripple.
"This is essentially a stagnating industry, and at some point it could be a real problem," says Bing Waldert, a director at Cerulli, a Boston-based consultancy. Cerulli found there were roughly 334,000 retail advisors actively serving clients across all channels in 2009, down more than 1% from 2004.
According to Cerulli, one of the challenges of attracting-and keeping-new recruits is the increasing sophistication of the advisory industry as it shifts from a commission-based transaction model to more complex, consultative financial planning with a fee-based model. Although it was never easy to start a career the old-fashioned, cold-calling way with a telephone and phone book, Cerulli posits that the industry's increasing sophistication makes it even harder for newbies to hang their shingle.
"Investors don't just want to be pitched stocks," Waldert says. "They want to understand the recommendations within the framework of their overall goals. It's tougher for someone in their 20s to come in and earn a person's trust because clients' expectations for advisors are much higher."
Carroll understands that. He says his Virginia Tech studies have prepped him well for the real world, but he realizes he still has a lot to learn. He's willing to start as low man on the totem pole, learn the business, and slowly gain more responsibility. "I'd eventually like to get and bring in clients, and someday gain a piece of ownership," Carroll says.
But first, he's got to get hired and have the chance to prove himself. "Firms give a little at first by giving their time and training us, but human capital is a long-term investment," he says.