Separating Veterans Eyed by Financial Firms

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Recruiting and developing military talent is one strategy the financial services industry is embracing to fill the middle management void that is likely to occur as Baby Boomers retire.

Financial companies are actively courting military veterans, including those who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They value the self-discipline, leadership and other professional qualities developed through military service, and believe necessary financial and sales skills can be taught.

Bryce Wynn, now a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch in Portland, Ore., pursued a financial career after returning from a 15-month tour in Iraq in 2004. The former U.S. Army sergeant recalls deciding upon his first civilian career was overwhelming, and says many former soldiers find the transition challenging. For a year, Wynn attended law school, but decided the field wasn't for him. He then enrolled in Merrill Lynch's U.S. Paths of Achievement Program, in which professionals transitioning from other careers - including the military - can learn to be financial advisors.

While the program taught the skills needed to be an investment advisor, Wynn still relies heavily on qualities developed in the Army. "Integrity is a big part and self-discipline is a bigger one," he says. "You have to be a self-starter and take care of things on your own."

That philosophy regularly draws financial firms to job fairs for the military community. Last month's "Salute our Heroes" job fair in Chicago, sponsored by the New York Times, attracted recruitment teams from Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Ameriprise Financial, ABN Amro, and other firms. Military.com and Hire a Hero, a project of the non-profit Armed Forces Support Foundation in Carlsbad, Calif., also sponsor numerous military job fairs.

Skills Line Up

The combination of management potential and leadership qualities that drive a sales career makes military candidates particularly attractive to financial services firms, according to Bill Scott, marketing director for Atlanta-based Bradley-Morris, the nation's largest military job-placement firm. "Higher level sales fields are really a hotbed for people with military experience. Those candidates have tremendous leadership experience - more than people at their peer age," he says. Scott notes that an officer's first assignment can involve leading more than 40 people and overseeing a multi-million dollar budget. That's a lot more responsibility than most college graduates get.

For many young veterans, the job search they begin on returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is the first they've conducted outside of the military. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a Minneapolis-based company that provides financial planning services to Lutherans, is one of numerous companies that recruits veterans because of their desirable attributes and then teach financial know-how later. Veterans' core values correlate with Thrivent's philosophy of stewardship, accountability, integrity, growth and community, according to Jackie Hintz, director of career entry.

This year, Thrivent recruited at four Military.com career fairs, receiving between 15 and 20 resumes during each, says Mintz. Many candidates move on to a career assessment phase, in which the company more accurately evaluates their abilities.

'Common Sense and Discipline'

Former Air Force pilot Jim Sandbothe, an Edward Jones investment advisor in Farmington, N.M., had limited financial experience upon retiring from his 23-year military career in 1999: He'd invested assets in a grandchildren's educational trust set up for his children and 14 other nieces and nephews. Sandbothe enrolled in the CFP Professional Education Program to develop skills for the task. He interviewed with Edward Jones, the St. Louis-based investment firm, just after passing the Certified Financial Planner exam.

"It requires a lot of common sense and discipline that I learned in spades through the work I did in the Air Force," says Sandbothe. He says flying and financial planning are similar because both are conducted within the framework of an extraordinary amount of regulations and rules. Still, in both fields getting a job done requires significant individual decisions and initiative.

San Antonio-based USAA, which provides banking, investing and insurance to six million active and retired military personnel and their families, offers extensive training programs to teach recruits about financial products and services, says David Zammiello, a company recruiting executive. "It's important to bring in a population of individuals who have an appreciation for military lifestyles - especially with people who are deployed and spouses dealing with complex financial situations," he says.

USAA trains military recruits without financial experience for entry-level call center positions, servicing homeowners and car insurance policies and banking products. However, career development programs offer opportunities to ultimately obtain Series 7 and Series 63 licenses, says Zammiello. The company also works with military installations to assist separating service members, including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, transition to civilian life.

Training complements the multitude of skills that are ingrained through a military lifestyle. The military "teaches you to make decisions on your feet. That's what corporations are looking for," says Scott of Bradley-Morris. "If you're in the field and you're leading the motor pool, you can't have paralysis by analysis."

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