We reached out to some of the previous winners from our Top Program Managers raking and asked them the following three questions: 1) What are the biggest challenges in being a program manager in the bank channel today; 2) What are the biggest changes you’ve seen as a program manager over the past two to three years; and 3) What’s your best piece of advice for rookie bank advisors? Here we present the best answers (edited for length and clarity.)

Britt Woods
(Fifth Third Bank, #1 in 2013)
Challenges: Regulation and compliance. Our advisors have more scrutiny than ever with documentation and regulations. It is an ever changing industry and getting strong type “A” personality advisors to embrace it is always a challenge.  Changes: Less bank traffic inside our branches. We have seen a 10% decline in bank transactions. Banks are doing a good job training our clients not to come in the branches. Advisors have to understand that we need to drive appointments since this is happening.  Advice: Integration with the bank is crucial. If a bank feels that an advisor really wants to be on the team, it will refer clients more quickly to a rookie advisor. We are a guest in the retail branches and the faster we integrate into their team the advisor will be set up for success.

Ken Wren Jr.
(TowneBank, #1 in 2011; #13 in 2012; #20 in 2013)
Challenges: The biggest challenge for me is being a producing program manager.  There are many demands with management of a steadily growing program – compliance, recruiting, management meetings, operations – in addition to meeting the needs of clients. Changes: The evolving use of technology. Technology is important in every part of our business. It has automated many compliance functions, which has been a big time-saver while also having its limitations. There is not a formula or algorithm that can truly “know your client” as thoroughly as a personal relationship.
Advice: Always, always put the best interests of your clients first in your decision-making and advice.  It will serve you well over the long run.

Paul Restante
(Community Bank, #5 in 2013)
Challenges: Continuing to grow business internally when competition for shelf space in the branches becomes more complex; plus the reduction in branch foot traffic. Advice: You have two distinct client bases: 1) those you work with from branch referrals and your book; and 2) the branch partners themselves. Both need to know that you are committed and care. Once your bank partners understand that, they will work with you and provide a steady flow of highly qualified referrals. Over-communicate back to them, they need to know that you are adding value to the relationships that they had already established with these bank customers.

Vance Richard
(Iberia Bank, #4 in 2011)
Challenges: Driving organic revenue growth in a low-growth economy and highly regulated industry; compliance duties and cost of complying with the multitude of regulators and new regulations; using technology efficiently to drive growth; increasing referrals in the world of post Reg R and decreasing branch traffic; finding top talent.
Advice: Don’t sit back and wait for business to find you. Be proactive and look for opportunities to find new clients. Don’t make excuses.

Gary Collier (Pinnacle Bank #17 in 2011, #16 in 2012) 
Challenges: One challenge is in recruiting talent and identifying the right type of person. We seek out producers that have an entrepreneurial skill set but also those who feel they can add value to their business here, and not just looking for a place to receive referrals. Geography is another challenge for program managers and being able to  visit  face to face more frequently with direct reports. Changes: The biggest change I’ve seen is in how advisors prospect for new clients. These days, FCs need to be astute at social networking sites and be knowledgeable on how to research existing clients for meetings. A requirement is learning to play detective. Keep in mind, our prospects are checking us out too.Advice: Become a master networker with a high level of organization with a personal touch. Also, develop a niche that differentiates you, like exit planning or Social Security, etc.

Dan Anderson (MainSource Bank, #5 in 2011; #6 in 2012)
Challenges: Recruiting continues to be one of the biggest challenges as a program manager.  You need to have engaged retail and business bankers to be able to compete in the recruiting arena. Changes: The increased focus on retirement distribution planning.  Clients’ expectations in this regard have increased dramatically. Advice: New advisors would be well served by developing a business plan, with the assistance of their program manager, at the onset of their roles as bank advisors. New bank advisors should realize that they will be building their practices like any other advisor and they need a plan to achieve their stated goals. 

Jack Nelson (Johnson Bank, #18 on 2013)
Challenges: The biggest challenge is finding quality advisors to serve the growing demand. This is a two-pronged challenge.  The first is finding new talent that can be developed into tomorrow’s experienced advisor. That gets expensive, which leads to the second issue: recruiting experienced advisors from one another. Changes: The accelerated speed at which new products are brought to market.  Advice: Spend more time developing a process for understanding and uncovering the client’s goals and the financial issues that support or challenge those goals.

Jules Mbogi
(UN Federal CU, #14 in 2013)
Challenges:  The different cultures between advisors and the bank. Reconciling the two is not necessarily evident. Advice: Be Patient. This business is a marathon, not a sprint. Most successful financial advisors are those who have managed to develop a sustainable business strategy over the long run. Specialize in a target group. Avoid being a jack-of-all-trades.

Matthew Snively (Eli Lilly Federal Credit Union, #11 in 2012)
Challenges: Obtaining shelf space in the credit union and encouraging the staff to refer members to the investment program. Ongoing effort is required to keep the investment program top of mind for our employees and members.  Changes: As interest rates have declined, all institutions have begun to focus on non-interest income to maintain or grow revenues. And the shift to asset/service-based revenue should accelerate as the typical advisor’s audience shifts from Baby Boomers to Next Gen investors.  Advice: Working in a bank or credit union provides access to prospects, but rookies should still focus on the fundamentals of building a book, such as hosting seminars, sending out newsletters, and call campaigns.