“We’re finding that we have to offer our advisors a lifelong continuum training,” he said. “What’s important in the first years are different than during the middle years. For millennials, they need to see the continuum to know this is the place for them. For me, this has become more pressing with millennials joining our company in that they need to feel and see we’ll be investing in them throughout their career. That’s become a bigger part of their decision making.”        

According to Spiker, new advisors at First Command take part in an intense 18-month period where most of what the company teaches them isn’t answers, but questions.

“We don’t test them on getting the answers to the questions; we test them on whether they can get the questions right,” he said.

“We’ve massively expanded the support services we put around our advisors because they can’t know everything," Spiker said. "I’d rather have them spend the first 18 months in soft skills."

And as the rookies learn those soft skills, the company provides copious hard skills support—sales, financial planning, marketing, tech and practice management—to help them get established.

“That’s an expensive proposition,” Spiker said. “I think we’re kind of going against the rest of the industry as we make our value proposition richer and richer to support this ability to learn. But it all starts with the relationship skills, because without them you won’t survive.”  

Meanwhile, First Command provides a “modicum” of compensation and benefits, which means new advisors are employees for their first 12 months, and then they become independent advisors. But Spiker cautions that advisors who don’t achieve a certain base level of success are bounced from the company during that first year.

Spiker said the company used to have lots of turnover, but as it has got back more to its core client market and gotten deeper into the upfront soft skills training with plenty of hard skills support for new advisors as they learn the ropes, wash-out rates have markedly declined.

“We have about a 60 percent first-year survival rate and a 48 percent four-year survival rate, and that’s up about four or fivefold the past six years. And I’m pretty darn proud of that,” Spiker said.

Some audience members nodded their heads and murmured in agreement that indeed, those survival rate numbers are pretty good. And if that’s the case, it speaks to the challenge of attracting, training and keeping talented new advisors that the profession needs to grow in the 21st century.

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