NEW YORK – Gordon Gekko. "The Wolf of Wall Street."

When millennials look at the industry, that's who they see, not a planner helping clients achieve their dreams, wealth management executives say.

Goals-based wealth management? Millennials have never heard of it.

"I think we are second to the bottom in terms of them wanting to join the industry," Racquel Oden, head of advisor strategy and development at Merrill Lynch, said at a panel at SIFMA's Next Generation of FAs conference. In fact, many of the executives from prominent firms at the event fretted that the best known image of their business was derived from Hollywood caricatures of Wall Street.

It's no secret the advisor ranks are graying. But misperceptions about the industry have hindered efforts to bring in younger advisors.

To recruit more new advisors to the business, firms are refining their pitch. Executives and recruiters are emphasizing to college students and recent graduates what advisors really do and detailing how this can be a viable career path for them too.


Wells Fargo Advisors is using social media, particularly LinkedIn, to connect with millennials, said Angela Ruffin-Stacker, first vice president of Diverse FA Strategy and FA Integration & Growth at Wells Fargo Advisors.

She said that the firm recently questioned a focus group of college students and found that many didn't understand what financial advisors really do.

"I think some of the traditional ways that we've recruited might not be the best way to meet this generation," she said.

Wells Fargo is now trying to appeal to the emotional side.

"This is the business to help people, to really change lives," Ruffin-Stacker said. "So we are trying to figure out the right message to appeal to this audience and turn it into a mantra that they can understand."

Matt Doran, who oversees financial advisor career development at Edward Jones, said his firm will hire 500 recent college graduates this year. Successfully hiring that many has required the firm to reframe how it presents the industry to millennials, Doran said.

"When we explain the difference between defined benefit and defined contribution, and all the responsibilities lies on the shoulders of someone who may not be prepared for it, then they see themselves as a problem solver," Doran said.


Executives said that it's also proving necessary to outline up front what the career track is going to be for Millennials.

"Millennials want to know: What are you going to do for me? What is different about your organization than the one down the road?" Ruffin-Stracker said.

Mark Barickman, global staffing executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, noted that too many millennials don't know client communication is key to this business. They think, he says, that they'll be silently sitting at a desk making trades.

"We have to be really clear about what a career looks like and the variety of opportunities look like," Barickman said.

That means, in some cases, presenting internships that allow millennials to try the business out before signing on for a full commitment.

Barickman said that his firm has an internship program to place trainees with teams, which helps prove the career path is there. "They know that when they come into the program the end game for them and for us is to find them a space with that team."

He said that his firm has been becoming more active on college campuses and career fairs, trying to get the message out. This is an arena he expects to become more competitive.

"I think that's going to grow dramatically because I don't see all of our competitors on campus," he said.

If wealth management firms succeed in recruiting more young people into the business, the benefits should extend beyond the bottom line, executives said. This is a more diverse generation than their predecessors, which may help bring more women and minorities into the profession.

And younger financial advisors will also re-energize the business, said Wells Fargo's Ruffin-Stacker, noting it's something she's felt at her firm. She described a new energy and hearing new ideas on how to do business.

"It's absolutely awesome," she said. "We're instant messaging each other all the time. They are incredibly energized about what they do."

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