The average financial advisor in the U.S. is about 50 years old, meaning they were born around the same time the financial planning industry was officially launched, in 1969. Fortunately, being 50 hasn’t typically carried the same stigma for financial advisors as it often does for professionals in other industries because their wisdom is usually valued by their clients who tend to be, well, older.
Still, more advisors of a certain age are starting to realize it’s important to be seen as not only capable and experienced but also fully in touch and up to date with culture, current events, and the zeitgeist—especially if they want to attract new clients. This isn’t about 50 being the new 40 or even 30, but about finding a way to stay perpetually relevant.
This topic resonates strongly with Beth Walker, a Colorado Springs-based wealth advisor with Omaha-headquartered Carson Wealth Management and the founder of Center for College Solutions. Over the past year, Walker, who turns 57 next month, has taken many steps to boost her energy level, upgrade her image, and increase the quantity and quality of her connections to members of Generations X, Y, and Z.
Walker’s wealth management clients are typically in their early 60s to late 80s. Her college planning clients, mostly in their 40s and 50s, often ask her to meet with their high school and college-aged children, which she loves to do. Walker thinks about how to attract new clients to both sides of her business. Some college clients have become wealth management clients. She also brainstorms about events she can hold to attract millennials who are beginning to plan their financial futures.
To effectively stay current and relate to others, including clients’ children, “We always have to be a student, be a sponge and just accept the fact that we are in different generations,” says Walker, “but that we have to really be tuned in.”
Walker keeps her eyes and ears open when visiting college campuses and reads plenty to stay current. PopSugar, "Entertainment Tonight," and Daily Mail are now part of her media diet and help expose her to things outside her normal comfort zone.
After not recognizing any of the songs that others sang and danced to at the last two weddings she attended, Walker started tuning into iHeartRadio.
In general, “you have to be willing to change channels and be receptive to different ways to view things,” Walker tells RIA Intel. She also pays attention to how people receive information, noting, “We have to straddle the spectrum and meet them where they’re comfortable.”
Some of Walker’s older clients don’t want to use email. And younger ones often prefer texting so she’s actively learning texting acronyms. She has also spiffed up the Center for College Solutions website and added well-crafted videos to it.
In one narrated video that tugs hard at the heartstrings, children grow up and drive off to college against a backdrop of mountains and music. “It was a family project,” says Walker. Two of her nieces star in the video, which her brother shot and compiled. She also produces short “Beth Bite” videos in which she shares snippets of college info.
Walker makes a conscious effort to use age-appropriate references with younger clients and younger advisors—a lesson she learned about a decade ago when referencing an “I Love Lucy” episode to a brand new advisor in her office. She told the advisor “this is just like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory, and she looked at me like I was from Mars,” says Walker. “So I literally Googled it and sent her the YouTube clip, and she thought it was hilarious—but no point of reference.”
“Television references don’t work with 20-something or below, because they don’t watch TV,” adds Walker, the mother of a high school senior.
To stay current on what clients find appealing, Walker is taking an eight-week coaching course that thinks through all the elements of the client experience. “I’m investing time and money in that because I really believe that in a world where more artificial intelligence is going to take care of asset allocation and portfolio construction and very basic financial planning, the differentiator is going to be the client experience.”
She thinks that viewing office space through fresh eyes, much how stores use secret shoppers, is important for advisors who may not realize their existing digs are tired and old. She looks to Starbucks and We Work spaces for design inspiration and sits with clients at a round table rather than across from them at a desk. “It was very counterculture and very novel,” she says, when she rolled her table into the CPA firm where she’s leasing space.
Walker has also made a personal commitment to step up her physical activity several notches. “I realized that I have to remain young physically if I’m going to remain young mentally,” she says.
She now attends an Orangetheory Fitness studio at least four times a week and has dropped 21 pounds since joining last July. She hopes to eventually meet some prospects there—when she’s no longer too tired after class, she jokes. Walker, who comes from a large family, also goes hiking, fishing, canoeing, and paddle boarding with her son and about a handful of nieces and nephews who are young adults.
“I am constantly involved in doing things with them,” she says, “and that is so informative and so fabulous for keeping me in touch with what that generation is thinking and doing.”
Traveling has also been a great way to stay current, says Walker. She purchased new eyeglass frames when she returned from vacation last summer in Germany, where she had observed many people wearing cool eyeglasses.
Walker, who hates to shop for clothing and doesn’t have the time for it, has also updated her wardrobe by joining Nordstrom’s Trunk Club. A personal stylist periodically sends her a box of outfits to try out and Walker is now wearing things “I never would’ve picked off the rack in a billion years.”
Walker isn’t planning to slow down anytime soon. “The opportunity to serve the children and the grandchildren of my clients is phenomenal,” she says. “If I’m going to be successful and be the advisor to the next generation, then I have to form a relationship with them.”