For financial advisers, the traditional methods used to help members when it comes to their long-term planning needs may be going the way of the dodo bird.
That change was part of the motivation behind the launch of the Honors Academy from CUNA Brokerage Services. The year-long program has face-to-face sessions, numerous webinars, self-paced online courses, homework assignments, accountability check-ins and a capstone-thesis project at the end of the training.
“The training is multi-faceted,” said Hendrix Niemann, managing director of practice and wealth management for CBSI, the broker-dealer arm of CUNA Mutual Group. “Our advisers are held accountable for demonstrating they are using their new skills and knowledge on a day-to-day basis. That is how to bring fundamental change to their practices.”
Twenty-six advisers recently graduated from CBSI’s inaugural Honors Academy class.
The $533 million Freedom Credit Union in Warminster, Pa., has experienced a more than 25% increase in gross dealer concessions thanks to Brian Arrow, the adviser at the cooperative, said Anthony Silvi, vice president of financial services. Arrow is one of the academy’s newest graduates.
“The training has really crystallized his focus on efficiency and how his time is utilized,” Silvi said. “Brian has definitely become more effective in uncovering additional assets, building stronger relationships and turning prospects into clients.”
For instance, Silvi said Arrow is able to manage his time better through setting client expectations and follow-up routines. With each appointment, he now has an agenda of items he wants to cover with the member. Silvi said this allows him to gather more information in a timely fashion that will ultimately better serve the member’s needs. He is convinced that Arrow, already a great adviser, Silvi pointed out, will make him more successful with client relationships.
Ish Elmas, financial adviser at the $1.6 billion Apple Federal Credit Union has increased his revenue output by 50% from 2010 to 2011, said George Dusek, vice president at the financial institution in Fairfax, Va. The biggest advantage the academy offers is helping advisers better manage themselves and client base.
“It’s teaching them to look at their practice more as a business, and it gives them tools to be better advisers, and members are better off for it,” Dusek said. “Ish has moved from trying to fulfill expectations of members to setting expectations with his clients.”
Niemann said accountability is a big piece of the academy’s mission.
“We hope and expect that there will be a paradigm shift from transactional representative to full-fledged holistic adviser,” he explained. “This takes time.”
The first class of advisers attended the academy for free with CBSI paying for the expenses, Niemann said. Starting in June, advisers who work for a credit union’s dual program and are not CBSI employees will contribute to the cost.
While there are no hard and fast requirements, Niemann said the advisers are selected to participate in the program based on empirical criteria such as being with a company for two to five years and have a GDC between $200,000 and $400,000. Subjective criteria includes passion, intelligence, a willingness to adapt and change and commitment to the business and their credit union.
Niemann said one of the biggest challenges both in and outside the credit union industry is practice management; specifically, avoiding falling back into old patterns and habits. No matter how good the training is, the hard part is taking the knowledge and putting it to use.
“A member may come in and talk about one issue but you’re not addressing the full range of issues that their family may be dealing with,” Niemann said.
Through the academy, the adviser will be able to take a broader look and in the end, the credit union will do better at deepening relationships with members, he suggested.
The success achieved by Freedom CU and Apple FCU aren’t isolated examples, according to Jim Metz, president of CBSI. He said the first honors academy class achieved a year-over-year average increase in revenue production of nearly 25% at their credit unions.
“The motto of our program is, ‘Our Business is Growing Your Business,’” Metz said. “This is an example of our commitment to credit unions to do just that.”
There are currently two additional classes of advisers going through the training and Metz said CBSI plans to have up to three concurrent groups participating in the academy each year.