When Raymond James launched a new financial advisor development program in October, it was designed to turn professionals like firm employee Rachel McNeil into a financial advisor.

McNeil has spent the last several years at Raymond James working on retirement income planning, where her clients were the advisors. Now, as she transitions to working with the Mustard Seed Advisors team in Saint Petersburg, Fla., she is starting to work directly with clients in her new financial advisor role.

McNeil is one of 35 participants in Raymond James’s new training program, called Advisor Mastery Program, or AMP. The program officially launched on Oct. 1. Its participants are based in Raymond James branches in California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Texas.

The two-year program targets participants who have at least five years of work experience and a college degree. The trainees are required to pass the Series 7 exam and undergo rigorous sales and technical training both on the job and in three hours of classes weekly.

The idea for the program came up about four years ago after witnessing a couple of other boutique-size firms implementing training programs of their own, Raymond James Director of Education and Development Bob Patrick said. From there, the firm started a residency program in its Florida offices three years ago, he said, which ultimately served as a test for this program.

With the program, the trainees work with a mentor, regardless of whether they plan to work independently or part of a team. The salary component of the trainees’ pay has been extended, and the flat guaranteed grid payout they receive is set at seven years instead of five.

Those changes are aimed at helping the trainees cultivate real relationships as financial advisors, Patrick said, versus the mere six months’ salary he received when he started his career cold calling to sell financial products.

“That’s the shift that the industry has to get on board with, that this business is no longer about being an effective sales person,” Patrick said. “It’s about being an effective consultant.”

The training program’s goals also include helping new advisors succeed and established advisors find succession strategies, as well as attract more women to the profession.

McNeil, who started working with her new team just before the program launch date, is an example of all of those goals. She now works with veteran advisors Joe Blanton and Bob Hilton, who merged their practices together in 2008.

At 30, McNeil can help the team target multigenerational clients and contribute her expertise when it comes to retirement income planning. The team has $160 million in client assets under management and took in about $1 million in fees and commissions last year.

As a woman, McNeil also represents part of the 35% female enrollment the program has seen for its first class, which is high compared to industry standards. McNeil said she can see how the program might appeal to women because it does not have the immediate pressure to meet certain numbers.

“We are taking on a lot of risk,” McNeil said of the trainees. “It’s not taking the easy way out by any means.”

Patrick attributes the strong female enrollment for the first trainee class to one of the key skills emphasized by the program – relationship management. “I don’t think it’s any surprise to say that women are better at building relationships than men are,” Patrick said.

Plans for a second trainee class set to start in May are already under way. That class will likely also total about 35 trainees, Patrick said, and seek the same individual characteristics.

“We’re going to look for folks that have that aptitude, clearly are bright,” Patrick said, “[and] have the aptitude and nature about them to be involved with networking and build relationships and have shown the ability to overcome adversity.”