A thirty year veteran of the financial services industry, Sam Albanese has dedicated the past four years to spearheading the development of Seneca College’s Financial Services Practitioner programme. To help address the industry’s need for new advisor training, Mr. Albanese is ready to deploy this program in colleges across Canada.The only stumbling block to implementing this vision is lack of funding, says Mr. Albanese, who is the college’s Industry Director, Insurance and Financial Advisement. “I would like the industry to come together and put together some kind of a fund that we can draw from, somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 over the next three to four years.”
How would the expansion of the program benefit the financial services industry? “When fully deployed…We estimate that we could probably generate about 600 new people coming through the system a year,” he says.
Students in this 28-week program become licensed and trained in life insurance and mutual funds.
As an Ontario Ministry program, the Seneca program was launched in 2008 and is now entering its fourth year. As of this spring, the program had produced 129 graduates. “The best we can tell at this point is everyone is still in the industry. They’re in distribution,” says Mr. Albanese.
Distribution is where the industry has the biggest recruitment and training problem. “On the distribution side is where the grey and bald people predominate. What we’re trying to do is bring in new blood…the average age of agents today Canada-wide is 60.”
Focusing on Ontario
Mr. Albanese says he has received a number of requests from colleges in different parts of Canada to establish the program, but at the moment he is focusing the expansion on Ontario “because that is our backyard and it’s cheaper.”
The program was scheduled to be launched at Northern College in September but this launch has been postponed until January 2012 due to a strike at 24 Ontario colleges. Mr. Albanese is also hoping to introduce the program at St. Lawrence College in Kingston by January.
To expand outside of Ontario, he requires funding to finance his travel expenses and other costs. “The problem is the lack of funding to get me there and work there. You can’t just send them a box of books and say ‘You’re on your own Charlie’. They need training. They need to find the instructors.”
Recently the Canadian Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies (CAILBA) contributed $5000 to promote the program both at Seneca and help toward the expansion of the program across Ontario, he noted.
Mr. Albanese says he feels very passionate about this project. “I know that this is a needed product and the steps that we have taken are the correct steps because we are producing a highly qualified 21st century advisor, not just a person with a license and out they go. We are really training this individual A to Z.”
Graduates come out with their licenses and “all the stuff in between as well. We verse them on compliance, CFP credits, CLU credits, they learn all the company products, all their software…We’re trying to create a standard.”
Mr. Albanese says new advisors require training beyond what they learn studying for their licences. “Today the consumer is more complex, more educated…We also have more complex products, much more complex than when I got started.”
Is he frustrated by a lack of concrete and concerted action in the industry with respect to recruitment and training? “Yes, it is frustrating,” Mr. Albanese admits. He believes insurance carriers and managing general agencies (MGAs) are still wrestling with what to do about this urgent problem.
Shown appreciation
He says he does feel appreciation from the industry for what he has accomplished at Seneca. Many have shown this appreciation by supporting the program’s design and development so far. “In the past four years I’ve raised a little over $400,000.” However, he doesn’t believe the industry has fully bought into his proposal to address the training issue by expanding the financial services program. He believes the industry is still asking itself whether “this is the solution or one of many solutions?”
Mr. Albanese firmly believes that the college program approach is “is the solution. The industry can’t afford to continue to simply license a person and throw them against the wall and see what sticks. It’s just too expensive.”
MGAs, he added, are burdened by increasing compliance challenges and, with some exceptions, do not have the time and resources to train new advisor recruits.
His message to MGAs is “You don’t have to do it all. You can send your people to a college and let us do the training for you. Then we’ll send them back to you fully trained. All you have to do is recruit the person.”
An obstacle in convincing MGAs to send new recruits to a college for training is that they do not want to “lose” the recruit for 28 weeks. Instead, they want the recruit to be productive as soon as possible. Mr. Albanese says this is a misperception. After seven weeks in the program, the new recruit will be licensed and could be available to work for the MGA in his or her free time between classes. “Even though he’s coming to school, he does have a license. It’s really an earn and learn approach.”
How much does the program cost for MGAs? Nothing says Mr. Albanese. The total cost of $5000 is to be paid by the student. Some MGAs may help a student finance the tuition if they desire. “At the same time, if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine too. There is no obligation. The student recognizes that this is a career…and they have to pay tuition to go to college.”