My Journey as a Financial Advisor Part 1: The Fishbowl Financial Planner

My Journey as a Financial Advisor Part 1: The Fishbowl Financial Planner

My name is Tyler Emrick, CFP®. I am writing a story about my journey since 2007 as a financial advisor. I didn’t know what I didn’t know in the beginning and am still learning today. But today I know a lot more. My hope in sharing what I learned along the way will allow you to better understand the financial person you’re working with, including his or her incentives, and be able to better understand whether or not you are getting value commensurate with what you are paying.

I came out of college bright-eyed, eager, and passionate and perhaps naïve and overconfident (now having hindsight and perspective). I knew I wanted to be in the finance industry to help people achieve their financial goals. Yet, I had no idea how I was going to get there.

I interviewed with several firms for a variety of positions. The firm I chose was and still is one of the largest, ranked by licensed representatives, and known for hiring recent graduates. You’d know their name.

To start the interview process, I found myself in a room full of upcoming graduates listening to a charismatic, well-dressed presenter. He spoke of the financial opportunity  – “if you are here for three years you will have made it” and “all your financial dreams are about to come true”. I remember thinking, sign me up!

I went through a series of mock cold calls and meetings to see how I would handle talking with prospective clients. Following that was a thirty-minute session with the office manager where we identified people in my natural market. Of course, natural market just meant friends and family I could immediately start selling to if I got the position. A few days later I got the good news I was hoping for. I got the position!

The first day was much like every other day in the year I was there. Everything we did focused around finding our next sale … I mean client. The firm did not assign a mentor to learn from or have us support an experienced advisor in serving clients. Rather, the motto was: Go out and find your own clients, and then we will help you figure out what products they need.

Most mornings were set aside for sales training. We would go over our sales scripts and run role plays of the cold calls to come that evening. Our afternoons were filled with “fishbowl” marketing. If you’re not familiar, this entails putting a bowl at the front of a restaurant where people could drop their business cards … with the hopes of being the lucky one chosen to win a free lunch.

Every week I would gather fishbowls and business cards. Surprise! Everyone was a winner. I’d call each of them offering the free lunch to them and their friends. These lunches became the perfect event to discuss my firm and how I could help with their finances.

Our evenings were filled with cold calling lists provided by the firm with the goal of setting a meeting to talk through their financial situation.

Rinse and repeat – that was my life for just over a year. Some clients resulted from these efforts. We were commission-based advisors, paid by the products we sold. When clients invested in a mutual fund, we were paid a large up-front commission from the fund company and small residual ongoing. When we sold an annuity, the annuity company paid us a large up-front commission and a small residual ongoing.

On a weekly basis, we had wholesale representatives in the office presenting their products. I vividly remember one of the representatives pointing at me stating, “If you sell two of my products this year, I will take you on a cruise.” (If you are wondering if the fees in that product were outrageous, the answer – in hindsight – is yes.)

As I reflect, no doubt my first role was that of a salesperson and not an advisor. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Coming out of college green, I simply believed this large ‘financial planning’ company surely had the best interests of their clients in mind, right?

I didn’t feel right about trying to sell something that I knew so little about. Was this the right product? Aren’t these fees high? Why do I get paid so much more to get a new client than to take care of a current one? And why the heck is that wholesaler offering to take me on a cruise?

I did what I was supposed to do as directed to me from my manager. My naivete and enthusiasm began to wane. The rose-colored glasses lost their sheen. I didn’t like it. I had to make a change and get out of the fishbowl.

Next up: My life as a discount broker. Stay tuned…