Tasked with learning the multiple skillsets required to succeed as a benefit adviser, young advisers say mentorships have been crucial to the learning process, and new research confirms in a high turn-over industry, mentorship can be the key to long-term success.

Seventy-five percent of financial and insurance advisers surveyed by LIMRA say they have a mentor, while 20% say they would have liked to have one but don’t, according to Emily Tracey, a LIMRA analyst. “Just 5% said they didn’t have a mentor, but they also said they didn’t want one,” she says.

While some companies have formal mentoring programs, most mentoring relationships (57%) developed naturally, the study found.

Early career support can provide a return on investment for companies in the form of retention. Ninety-one percent of young advisers who have been in the career for at least two years are satisfied in their career, with three quarters saying they will definitely stay for the next three years.

Tyler Polk, a senior consultant with Windsor, Conn.-based Fiduciary Investment Advisors, says his company offers an internal program in which young consultants are assigned a senior adviser mentor.

“It’s not a direct report, so that people can speak freely,” he says. “You’re able to bounce ideas off of them and talk about different ways to improve internal processes.”

Equally as important, he says, the mentor is able to help young advisers “build out centers of influence, get advice on working with clients, building out relationships, and answer questions about a challenge or obstacle that may come up — because typically that senior adviser has seen the issue before.”

Drew Leatherberry, a health and wellness benefit consultant with Green Bay, Wis.-based Forsite Benefits, says an early mentor in his career taught him three “critical functions” of the business, among other items.

“First, the necessity of being a consultant/adviser above simply delivering and negotiation on rates,” he says. “That was key in differentiating our approach. What many clients that we won were not receiving was quality strategic advice on program design.”

Second, he says, his mentor taught him about finding and addressing key health risks from an underwriting standpoint.

“Not only did we use this as a competitive advantage when advising, but it turned into a value-added advocacy program that we developed from scratch,” Leatherberry says.

“Third, he showed me tried and trusted sales principles. Time and again, those lessons resonate whether in client or prospect meetings.

Chris Free, an adviser with Tacoma, Wash.-based Rapport Benefits Group, says an agent mentor helped him with everything from networking to negotiating to closing deals.

“An agent who had been in the business for 30 years saw me as an innovative thinker and gifted communicator and ensured that his peers saw me in the same light. He walked me through many doors that were not immediately open for me. Those opportunities make up many of the foundations of my network in this industry today,” he says. “Having a senior, respected member of the professional community put me forward as a valuable member of his professional circle allowed me to quickly gain my own respect from other professionals. It likely propelled my career more than any action I could have taken myself.”

“One of the things I have learned is one of the simplest things: It’s OK not to know something. It’s OK to say you will find out that information,” says Polk.

Eighty-four percent of the advisers surveyed by LIMRA say having someone to turn to for questions is a top benefit of having a mentor.

“They said it was comforting to have somebody to talk to that had gone through their issues,” says Tracey.

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"You’re able to bounce ideas off of them and talk about different ways to improve internal processes."

“Mentors can help you play to your strengths and help you overcome your weaknesses,” says Mary Art, a research director at LIMRA. “They can make the most of what you have and overcome the problems you have.”

Two-way street

Mentoring programs can be beneficial to both the mentor and the young adviser, Tracey adds, saying the older advisers are learning new technologies and tools of the trade, as well.

“It’s a two-way transfer of knowledge,” she says.

“Sometimes the mentorship can be the younger to the older,” agrees Polk.

He suggests young advisers meet with a mentor regularly. “You don’t want to just reach out to the mentor when you have a need, you want to have a relationship with them, so it’s not just reactionary. It’s also proactive and building a relationship, a trust.”

Polk says outside of his office mentor, he was also mentored by his father and a close family friend. While they weren’t specifically in the field of financial or insurance advising, they still had skills to offer, he says.

“They didn’t do what I did, but that was beneficial. They were both great resources. They taught me about relationship management, networking, sales and balancing work and life. They all add a unique perspective to challenges,” he says.

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