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Mentoring: An investment in our future

By Jim Ruta | October 20 2001 07:43PM

I applaud the efforts of the Million Dollar Round Table to promote mentoring, particularly at this year's meeting. Many will agree that our industry, of which I have been a part since 1977, is in danger of extinction for the lack of new entrants and full professional development. We need all the help we can get.

At one time we could count on insurance companies for preservation, promotion and propagation. Today this responsibility is up to the individual. We are finally approaching the "professional" status for which we have strived so long. But there are changes that have to be made.

Risking the accusation of blatant self-promotion because of the importance of the topic, I offer some observations on the personal and professional development of financial services professionals. While at a recent Canadian Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (CAIFA) meeting in Toronto it was noted that 100 advisors were in search of a mentor, that number is likely only the very tip of the professional development need "iceberg". We all need a "sounding board", advice and counsel. Many will never even look for the help.

Sadly, one of the unheralded casualties of the demise of the career agency system was the support provided to agents by its inherent infrastructure. Like it or not, the advice rendered in the 'corner office' had either a direct or indirect impact in organizing agents for success. The advice sought today from a mentor existed to a large extent as a normal course of business in the old world.

Today, we find we have traded this support for cash in the form of dramatically increased overrides. Where we used to have offices, colleagues, free staff and management support, we now have increased compensation on a per case basis. Yet, total compensation has not increased anywhere in proportion to the increase in overrides. Unfortunately, while the money was initially comforting, it has been little consolation in the long run. It turns out we need more than extra cash per case to be successful and satisfied in the long haul.

I contend that we need four types of development for sustainable success as a professional. Professional knowledge: offered by any number of designation granting institutions. Product knowledge: now aggressively offered by supplier companies. Advisory sales skills: unless you already have them, there are fewer and fewer places to acquire these skills. And organizational success tactics, which is how to organize yourself and your practice for prosperity, which, in my experience, is the missing link to professional success. These last two areas are the pursuit of most mentoring relationships.

However, if the extra override replaces the old support, why not then use some of the money to buy the support you need? Have we forgotten the old maxim 'If we stop getting better, we stop being good'? We have the money to get the help and it pays many people to invest it in themselves. This investment is tax-deductible, is usually CE accredited, and offers enormous returns.

One of the challenges of any mentoring program is to avoid circulating misinformation and faulty advice. It's one of the reasons PGA professionals don't just get together after every tournament to share ideas to get better. They, like all performance-based professionals (advisors are a tremendous example), count on coaches. These people know their business well enough to keep their "students" in the groove. There's a good reason Tiger Woods pays Butch Harmon a small fraction of what he earns for his guidance. Clearly it's worth the investment.

Financial advisors have been left with the same opportunity. The potential in this business is very near the same as it is on the Tour. But, we are not well known for investing in ourselves, as is the case on the Tour or in other countries. If this changes for the industry, the future will be as bright for all as it is for those who have taken up the challenge. We must create a new paradigm for self-development in the industry if we are to prosper under the new "rules".

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