Perhaps no other area of bank investment program management is as important, or misunderstood, as training.

From product information and sales techniques to continuing education and big-picture practice management, the need for training is critical.

But with today’s competing need to cut costs and improve efficiency, investment programs are taking a hard look at how they train and, more specifically, how training is delivered.

In the face of changing economics  it appears the days of multi-day training sessions at off-site locations (and frequently exotic and luxurious locales) are long gone.

And while there’s no question that web-based training is popular, there’s still debate about how to best use the Internet to achieve training goals.

One thing remains very clear: Program managers and industry executives agree that training is more important than ever, and it will only become more so in the future.

“So many factors are at work shaping what we train, how we train and the increasing importance of providing impactful training,” says Dennis DiMambro, vice president of Advisor Development and Technology Adoption at LPL Financial Services in Charlotte, N.C.

“The increasing complexity of the global marketplace and the products themselves, along with clients’ expanding needs for innovative solutions, are all making training more important,” he says. “And, with an ever-increasing need to be certain that FAs and programs are fully compliant with all regulatory and compliance requirements, training is and will continue to be critically important.”

While there is consensus about the importance of training in the advisory space, there is some debate on the details. Indeed, there is even disagreement about what separates “training” from “informing.”

Mark Stone, marketing strategist with Insurance Insight Group, a marketing and training firm,  believes that too many managers confuse those two ideas and think they are doing a good job offering training when they actually are missing the mark.

“I believe the definition of training has been stretched, and there is confusion as to exactly what training actually is,” says Stone. “Providing an overview of a product’s features isn’t training. Real training occurs when, along with information, you provide direction and advice on how to use that information to improve the professionalism of the FA to ultimately benefit clients,” he says.

Howard Hammond, managing director of Fifth-Third Bank in Cincinnati, agrees. “Some programs are fooling themselves into thinking they’re training, but they’re just educating. They don’t understand the difference. Educating is just going over the basics. But when you train, you’re making an FA better and helping them see how to use that education to actually solve client problems.”

In the past, much of the responsibility for training in the bank channel was delegated to the product manufacturers. But in recent years, the relationship between vendor and bank investment program has changed.

“We’re developing more of our own materials,” says Sean Casey, director of Business Development at Cetera Financial Institutions.

“Our product providers have been terrific partners in developing and delivering training to our FA and will continue to be. But we do supervise their interactions with our FAs and clients more closely. In the past, we may have given them more freedom on content and access. Now we work hand-in-hand to make sure we’re delivering what we want, not only from a product information standpoint, but from a regulatory standpoint as well. Plus, we make sure we’re consistent in our sales and marketing approaches,” Casey says.

DiMambro at LPL says that having their vendors integrate technology or compliance requirements into their materials and presentations is a win-win.

“Our vendors are very receptive to a partnership approach since ultimately it means better informed FAs, more business and fewer problems for both of us,” he says.

Without question, there’s been a dramatic increase in the use of web-based training. “There are several good reasons for the large increase in web-based training,” Stone says. “First there’s the economics—it’s far less costly to log on to train, rather than move people from across the country, take them out of production and keep them in a room for a day or a week.”

But economics and convenience aren’t the only reasons. “Training has to be delivered in a format that meets the FAs’ needs,” DiMambro states. “We now live in an on-demand world. People are used to checking their portfolios online, on their smart phones and at midnight. And we know that people learn at their own pace and in their own ways. Web-based training meets these needs.”

For its part, Fifth-Third has gone to a modular approach to web-based training. “We just launched Brainshark, a cloud-based company that makes video and other presentations available on-demand to wide-ranging networks of users, and the reaction of FAs has been tremendous,” Hammond says.

“Not only does this allow us to deliver exactly what FAs want and need,  and allow them to access it when they want, but it also gives us almost instant feedback for FAs to change, adjust and modify content to make it better,” he says. “But, we’ve found that it’s important to keep the modules short, no more than 45 minutes to one hour max. FAs don’t have the time and they lose focus when the sessions are too long,” he cautions.

While there is wide consensus as to the value of on-demand web-based training, others felt there were still good reasons to have live-hosted sessions and face-to-face training. “We believe a blended approach to delivery is best,” says LeAnn Rummel, EVP and national sales manager at Cetera. We believe in leveraging the web for the obvious reasons, but we recognize the importance of live training.”

Stone also feels that live-hosted web training was critical to having productive sessions. “Training has been compromised somewhat by convenience—quick and easy solutions—by just putting stuff online and letting FAs use it when they want. FAs do better when on-demand training is combined with live and interactive sessions. They pay more attention and absorb more when they’re engaged, and live sessions do that better.”

Hammond at Fifth Third took a different tack. “Our FAs are professionals and as such are “willing learners.” They want to become better at their craft,” he says. “We need to make certain that what is delivered on-demand is succinct, focused and has perceived value to our FAs.”

At LPL, DiMambro believes a combination is best: on-demand, live on-line instruction along with traditional instructor-led training.

Paul A. Werlin is president of recruiting firm Human Capital Resources

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