NEW YORK – Wealth management executives worried about where to find new talent may have a simple solution before them: Embrace senior advisors who want to work past traditional retirement ages.

"When it comes to advisors at age 65, people make it sound like they are on their last legs," said Brand Meyer, head of Wells Fargo Advisors' independent brokerage group, at SIFMA's annual meeting here on Monday afternoon.

Meyer said that the issue of advisors being too old was "overblown."

'LIFE LEFT IN THEM'

Both Meyer and Jim Kerr, president of regional brokerage firm D.A. Davidson Companies, said that attitudes toward retirement are changing, and advisors are increasingly working long past 65, particularly as many have or are joining teams and adopting junior partners.

"They've got a life left in them and I think it's an opportunity to have them stay with us and to recruit a younger partner," said Kerr, noting that every firm has advisors approaching the traditional retirement age but who want to extend their careers.

However, attracting younger advisors remains a necessity -- not just to replace aging advisors, but to partner with them so that they can keep working at the pace they want. About 65% of Davidson advisors are on a team, according to Kerr.

Kerr said his firm, which has about 400 advisors in the Northwest and California, is trying to find ways to better attract college graduates and career changers, especially in light of how few trainees stay in the business.

"We're trying to be very thoughtful about how we train people given that the industry results are so tough. We focus on apprenticeship programs," said Kerr. "We're proactively trying to go out and find those individuals in the market place and convince them that Davidson is a great place for a second career."

IMAGE PROBLEM

Meyer added that the industry needed to update its public profile to appeal to the next generation of financial advisors. "I think there is still an image that people need to be Type A, sales people for lack of a better term. And that's not the business we are in today," he said.

Lisa Kidd Hunt, executive vice president of international services and special development at Charles Schwab, agrees that the industry has an image problem, noting that the appeal of a career in financial services among college graduates has fallen sharply since Hunt finished her university studies. "In the early 1980s, Wall Street was a real destination – it was a place where people wanted to come and work and help build the economy of the United States," she said.

Hunt noted that many of today's brightest college graduates pass on Wall Street jobs and instead go work for Silicon Valley startups -- depriving financial services firms the chance to tap the nation's top talent.

"Together as a group, we need to restore the nobility of financial services. We provide and serve a really important function in the economy. We're losing the opportunity we really had to capture some of the best and brightest coming out of our universities. We need to get back to a place where this business can attract the best," she said.

To improve that image, firms could become more active in their communities and offer more volunteer activities to their employees, suggested Kim Tillotson Fleming, chief executive officer of Hefren-Tillotson, a Pittsburgh-based brokerage firm with about $10 billion in AUM and 80 advisors.

"One of the things we've found is that this younger generation really likes to be involved in volunteer activities," she said.

Creating those kinds of opportunities has real value for the firm, its employees and the community, she said. "It's one of the reasons that our interns really like the culture, see the opportunities and feel excited about the business."

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