Edward Jones plans to add about 8,000 advisors over the next eight years. If this ambitious goal can be realized or even approached, some of the success may be due to specialized efforts to recruit and acclimate new advisors from nontraditional backgrounds.

For instance, Edward Jones has had its Women's Initiative for New Growth Strategies (WINGS) in place since 2008, according to Amy Williams, the principal at Edward Jones who is responsible for the program. “WINGS has helped our firm grow its ranks of female advisors by 26% from 2008 to 2011,” Williams said. “This was done in the midst of a very challenging market environment.”

As Williams puts it, WINGS is a “unique field-based” program. It’s up to Edwards Jones advisors to carry out the initiative, and they do so as volunteers.

Over 200 of the firm’s advisors are WINGS recruiting leaders, one in each sales region of the country. Once female advisors are on board as trainees, the next step is up to 40 “early success coaches,” veteran female financial advisors at the firm. “We are able to leverage them to support new trainees in any part of the country,” Williams said. These coaches conduct weekly conference calls to help new female advisors prepare for their licensing exams; the calls also can establish a peer network group among women who are at the same stage in their careers.

“The coaches also use conference calls to help new female advisors get connected,” said Williams. “They go over concerns that women might be reluctant to express, such as how to balance personal and professional lives. At a time when new advisors are studying for their Series 7 exams, these conference calls with coaches help to maintain the perspective that success in this business is really about maintaining relationships with clients. Such efforts can reassure new female advisors that they made the right choice by joining Edward Jones.”

The success of WINGS has encouraged Edward Jones to launch another, similar program. The firm has introduced The Building Results through Inclusion Driven and Guided Efforts (BRIDGE) program, designed to foster recruitment, retention and leadership development support for culturally diverse financial advisors.