The other night I got a call from an old friend and without endeavoring to stuff this blog with the lyrics of Billy Joel’s “My Life,” we used to be very close and he told me—not as sharply or as succinct as Mr. Joel—that a couple years ago he decided that he could not go on the American way.
He was working for a big bank since we had both graduated college in May of 2007 and it did not seem to be cutting it for him anymore. His wages had stagnated, he stopped getting the annual promotions that he had grown accustomed to (he maintains they were nominal for all intents and purposes) and he had become disillusioned with the organization's corporate culture.
With graduate schools saturated with students of all ages since the global financial crisis forced a tsunami of laid-off workers upon their doors, he left his job to get his Master's in Business Administration.
Two years later he was out of school, removed from the everyday inertia of the workforce, and “recklessly ambitious,” as he put it. The deluge of sexy jobs he had heard about in business school did not seem to be raining down on him, however. No tech start-ups knocking on his door asking him to move to Silicon Valley and giving him an energy efficient car and a six-figure salary upon arrival. The NFL, the NBA and the MLB were not hiring, either. Could the idea that earning an MBA will get you an executive job in the highly sought-after industries be wrong?
After trying his hand in the start-up beverage world—an industry in which companies rise and fall out of power and popularity like the Top 40—he decided, after being sold a life insurance policy, to get the proper licensing and enter the financial services world.
I read a lot of reports and hear a lot of anecdotal evidence that augur big trouble for the life insurance and retirement planning world if they are not able to kick up some new blood soon. Droves and droves of industry professionals are set to retire within in the next few years with only a trickle of incoming freshman to take their place. The “graying of the workforce” as it is referred to by industry academics is undoubtedly a troubling trend. And while many posit theories as to why there is such a dearth of young professionals entering the workforce, aside from some get-the-word-out type initiatives, I have not seen many actual plans put in place by the industry to court these young people.
So, I got the call and after hearing what he had been up to I asked him if he had inherited a book of business from someone at the company who was easing into retirement or if he was out there prospecting on his own, calling his friends and family and trying to drum-up business. Then he coyly said, “Well, that is why I am calling.” I chuckled but we quickly moved into setting up a time to have a chat.
Then another plague of the industry dawned on me: The underserved middle market and the lack of engagement the millennial generation shows in purchasing financial products. The ugly truth is that most of the people my age have no life insurance and aside from their company-sponsored defined contribution plan, they have nothing in the works for their retirement. Could this be the way to kill two birds with one stone? Have young people sell products as well as careers to other young people? I think so.
When he first started out he said that his company had him cold-calling boomers who had financial plans put in place. So, aside from the “What is this young person going to tell me that I don’t already know” mantra, he really had nothing new to sell them. Millennials, on other hand, are a blank canvas; a canvas that, although not courting the brush or the painter, realizes something must be done to fill them in.
He decided to pursue a career in financial services after he was sold to by young a producer. So, on and on could it go? Would it be possible to replace the gray workforce with young people who, after being approached by advisors their own age for planning purposes, have their interest piqued about getting into the industry? After all, young people are naturally entrepreneurial, energized and tenacious—all qualities that make up a fine producer.