Step-by-Step Guide: Constructing a Financial Planner Career Path Ladder

The Advisor Career Path is a way to structure your business, so it will continue to prosper without you. There will come a time when you need to step away from your firm. Whether it’s for an extended vacation, medical or family needs, or you’re just ready to retire—constructing a financial planner career path ladder will pave the way for you to delegate responsibilities through a seamless transition and put your mind at ease.

We spent over three years refining and developing a scalable career trajectory that reflects the financial industry’s best practices and the experience and research we’ve accumulated over decades of observing advisors within our own firms. A financial planner career path is essentially a rubric with objectives for your employees.

You can use your financial planner career path for everything from recruiting to coaching. It encourages employee retention because individuals can imagine their career years into the future with your company before they even get the job. That builds a sense of loyalty and commitment to firm goals.

What does a financial planner career path do?

  • Operates as an informal mentoring program
  • Supports better service to clients
  • Outlines the rubric for job advancement
  • Walks individuals step-by-step through their career projection
  • Acts as a unique recruiting tool for top talent
  • Facilitates measurables for annual reviews

5 Rungs of Advisor Career Path Ladder

We illustrate the Advisor Career Path with a 5-rung ladder. Each rung is broken down into three measurable steps, with a detailed scorecard, so there is no room for misunderstanding.

Financial Planner Career Path Ladder Rungs

One of the best things about a financial advisor career path is that both employees and their supervisors will always know what they need to accomplish to move to the next rung and ascend the ladder.

On a recent episode of the Rainmaker Multiplier On-Demand Podcast, Rob LaCivita, Chief Operating Officer of JL Smith, broke down each rung of the ladder in detail. Rob holds quarterly conversations and regular reviews, so he has the benefit of communicating with advisors often about the trajectory of their careers, future goals, and more to get a better understanding of how the Advisor Career Path works for different people.

Client Service Advisors and Paraplanners exist Backstage, meaning most of their work is done without interacting face-to-face with clients.

Advisors, Lead Advisors, and Practicing Partners are client-facing Frontstage roles.

Some people are hunters, meaning they have a natural inclination to hustle. They want to go out looking for new business and develop better customers. These people will want to move up the rungs at a record pace.

Other people are farmers who do their best work growing the business from behind the scenes.

Both hunters and farmers can be of immeasurable value to your business.

Backstage

It should be noted—not every single employee will want to move all the way up the ladder. And everyone moves at their own pace.

Some people are more comfortable mentoring and developing fellow employees than meeting with new clients all the time.

These people may spend more time in each step of each rung, but they help their peers succeed, and they do incredible work behind the scenes for both clients and the organization. They plow through the accounts to cultivate more business out of existing clients. As we all know, nurturing your client relationships is far easier and cheaper to accomplish than bringing on new business.

You may have an employee who never wants to go Frontstage. That’s okay.

If they’re happy in a supporting role that doesn’t involve a lot of face time with clients and they’re flourishing in that position, maybe that’s the best fit for them. You can still carve out a long-term career model for people who prefer to remain Backstage, and they can remain an invaluable part of the organization.

Ask your employees what their ideal career looks like, don’t just assume everyone wants to make it to Practicing Partner.

Does this person want to go out and find new customers and more business, or would they rather spend their time training new talent and building the team? Allow your employees the autonomy to find their niche and thrive in the role that fits them best.

Frontstage

In the Frontstage, you have Advisors, Lead Advisors, and Practicing Partners. Smaller companies may utilize experienced Paraplanners in the Frontstage as well.

In the Frontstage, there is a two-chair approach to servicing clients. First Chair Advisors consist of Lead Advisors and Practicing Partners. At the same time, Advisors or Paraplanners act as Second Chair Advisors.

First Chair Advisors are senior team members whose primary responsibilities include serving as rainmakers to feed the firm’s ROI. They close business, hunt for new prospects, run meetings, work with VIP clients, and counsel Second Chair Advisors.

First Chair Advisors are natural hunters who want to go out there, find new business, and meet new customers.

Second Chair Advisors play a supporting role to the First Chair Advisors. They are responsible for meeting organization and follow-up needs, plan design, and client communication.

1. Client Service Advisor

The Client Service Advisor role is an entry-level Backstage position with the opportunity to become a future advisor of the organization. They handle client administration duties and new business.

  • Handles pre & post appointment
  • Supports advisors
  • Maintains meeting materials
  • Processes new business
  • Manages client administration
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • 0-3 years of experience

2. Paraplanner

The Paraplanner position offers a transitional job for a more experienced Backstage team member to learn and build financial plans in preparation for advancing to the next rung. They handle financial and tax modeling as well as product recommendations.

  • Designs and drafts financial plans
  • Does 80% of the heavy lifting behind the scenes
  • Meets with Advisor to finalize deliverables before the client meeting
  • Participates in meetings
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • 2-5 years of experience

Jason L Smith spoke with Alex Hopkin from Simply Paraplanner on the Rainmaker Multiplier On-Demand Podcast, about how some people are happy in a Backstage role and want to remain a Paraplanner for the entirety of their career.  They started out focusing on Paraplanners, but now you can hire for any rung of the ladder if it’s a remote position. If you’re interested in hiring virtual team members, check out Simply Paraplanner’s online job board.

3. Advisor

The Advisor role is Frontstage and client-facing. The Advisor serves as a Second Chair support system to Lead Advisors and Practicing Partners with onboarding and servicing clients.

  • Supports Lead Advisor with large clients
  • Services smaller accounts independently
  • Implements advice based on analysis
  • May be responsible for same functions as Paraplanner
  • Sometimes referred to as Second Chair or Junior Advisor
  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • Working on CFP certification
  • 3-7 years of experience

4. Lead Advisor

The Lead Advisor leverages knowledge and experience to close and develop business. As a First Chair, the Lead Advisor will mentor and guide less experienced advisors.

  • Handles most valuable clients
  • Responsible for business development
  • Hosts workshops & seminars
  • Sometimes referred to as First Chair or Senior Advisor
  • Mentors and trains team members in lower rungs
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • CFP certified
  • 5-10 years of experience

5. Practicing Partner

Allowing your advisors to strive to the Practicing Partner level gives you the ability to attract, retain, and reward top talent. Practicing Partners have ownership and stake in the firm. They serve in a leadership role, helping to shape the company’s overall strategy. They are hunters and rainmakers who feed new business into the funnel.

  • Leads and manages firm from a visionary perspective
  • Oversees most valuable client relationships
  • Serves on the executive leadership team
  • Drives organizational growth
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • CFP certified
  • Recognized as an industry expert
  • 10+ years of experience
  • Some firms never offer this level

There are many ways to grow your business. It’s all about getting the right people in a position where they can thrive.

In addition to the step-by-step career ladder, the Advisor Career Path contains compensation structure information, Responsibility Agreements, and other tools you can start using in your business right away.

To learn more about constructing your own financial planner career path ladder, and how to implement the Advisor Career Path into your financial advisory practice, schedule a FREE 20-minute call.