Turn Your Firm Into a Learning Organization

Training and education are hugely important to elite financial advisors

By Jonathan Powell

Key Takeaways:

  • You must embrace learning and turn your firm into a learning organization.
  • Look to participate in an expert study group or work with a coach or mentor.
  • Cross-train your team and encourage them to teach others what they know.

The pace of change in the financial markets and in the world of wealth management is positively dizzying these days. Client markets are constantly evolving, and new ones are emerging. Products and services are continuously being invented and reinvented. And laws and rules impacting your clients are being endlessly debated and revised.

You must keep pace with all this change if you want to be an elite financial advisor to the affluent. To do that, you must embrace learning and turn your firm into a learning organization. Here’s how.

Elements of a successful learning program

Organize your thinking about how to build a successful learning program into two parts:

1) Learning for yourself. Look to participate in an expert study group or work with a coach or mentor. And don’t forget financial institution partners. Without exception, if you choose to partner with a financial institution, you should choose one that offers technical support and training beyond what is required to offer its individual products.

Also pursue worthwhile designations. While most designations by themselves deliver little perceived value to the affluent, the learning experiences required for designations are still valuable. Be sure to pursue designations that are aligned with your specific goals and market. Such designations might include Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or one of the several Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA) designations.

Also tap industry associations. Many professional groups, such as the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and IMCA, have annual national and regional conferences, as well as e-learning programs in specific areas.

2) Learning for your team. For your team to provide your clients with world-class service, you must first provide your team with world-class training. By training team members to think better, play multiple backup roles and take the initiative, you will be rewarded many times over.

You may be able to take advantage of a few industry events that are designed for staffers. But to provide the most beneficial learning experiences for your staff, you will largely be responsible for providing the specialized learning experiences your staff needs. We have found that there are three highly effective vehicles for developing staff.

  • Provide robust cross-training. Cross-training ensures that if one team member is late, ill, absent or on leave, operations will continue to run smoothly and you won’t be forced into an inefficient and energy-sapping “emergency mode” that inevitably will detract from your role as the client-facing rainmaker. Cross-training can also help your staff to think for themselves and to focus on what the real problem is at any given moment. This lessens the likelihood that you and your clients will end up frustrated by ineffective attempts to answer the wrong question.

  • Encourage teaching. The best way to learn something is to teach it. A staff member who knows he or she will be regularly responsible for conveying important information to the group will almost certainly do a better and more focused job.

  • Conduct a focused learning group. The group should hold highly focused one-hour meetings on a monthly or bimonthly basis that address important issues and challenges. To sustain interest, each meeting should be a mix of lecture, discussion and Q-and-A.

You’ll also need to train yourself to welcome the attempts of team members to take these steps, anticipate needs and act. When you give team members the responsibility and permission to try new things, they will inevitably fail some of the time. When that happens, you must be understanding, patient and supportive. If you call people on the carpet after they fail at something new, you can be sure that they’ll never take the initiative again.


Being a learning organization means incorporating learning and education initiatives for yourself and your team on an ongoing basis. This type of formalized learning is essential for successfully serving affluent clients and building a world-class business.

About the Author

Jonathan Powell is a managing principal at CEG Worldwide, LLC in San Martin, California. Working with many of the nation’s top financial firms, he enjoys helping financial advisors transform their professional and personal lives by implementing CEG Worldwide’s research-backed principles.