FA-IQ reached out to RIAs ranked on the Financial Times FT 300 list of top advisors to ask:

What are the top skills and attributes you seek in hiring support staff?

Allison Kaylor-Flink, of NFP Retirement in Austin, Texas, has been in the business 28 years and manages $1.3 billion:

When I hire for support positions, I think about the skills I can teach and the skills I can’t teach.

In my experience, you can typically educate a new employee on your company and your profession, help them learn about mutual funds, and get them licensed. But it’s very difficult to teach someone how to get excited about serving customers and making them happy. I haven’t had much success teaching people how to be compassionate, empathetic, patient or better listeners.

When you find a person with these unteachable skills, there may be a tendency to pass on them because they don’t know your business. Again, you can teach them what they need to know, so don’t miss out on a person who has that “hospitality gene” that is critical to delivering great service.

Allison Kaylor-Flink

It is also important for service people to be open-minded. While they may have a strong affinity for service, we want them to understand our process for service delivery. Look for a strong foundation for the “why” – good customer service is the right way to treat people – and a personality that’s open to the “how.”

I also believe you are either a sales person or a service person. Both have valuable skills, but trying to be both doesn’t get you the results you want. People who view a service role as a stepping stone to sales are not for me. I want service professionals driven by making customers happy and contributing to our ability to attract and retain clients, not a commission check.

Service is a meaningful differentiator for organizations, regardless of industry. Price and performance are always important, but when you deliver a level of service that demonstrates your commitment to customer success, you will be competitive over the long term. When you find good service people, don’t forget to do what it takes to retain them. You need to be more intentional about giving feedback and engaging them in ways that acknowledge their contributions and the importance of their role.

Chuck Bean, of Heritage Financial Services in Westwood, Mass., has been in business 29 years and manages $1.52 billion:

Chuck Bean

As well as core functions, our support staff provides the service and functionality to efficiently enable all client onboarding, custodial account registration, money movement management, and reporting requirements. This eases the client’s burden and interactions with all that is necessary to create and support complex financial portfolios.

Staffing this function has been an evolving process, as client growth has necessitated the addition of staff with sophisticated skills to support the increasing volume and complexity of larger portfolios with a variety of asset classes and managers, both inside and outside our primary custodial relationship with Charles Schwab. When we were a young firm with a smaller support staff, our wealth managers did much of this work themselves; processing and supporting money movement requests and handling all reporting aspects of the client relationship. But as the volume of clients grew, it became much more efficient to add skilled staff to support this function on a dedicated basis. Today, as a larger organization, we are working at a speed that requires a centralized team of talented professionals to assure efficiency and exceptional attention to detail.

At Heritage, the attributes and skills that are required for staff members to be successful in this role are an interesting combination of thorough administrative attention to detail when creating and executing client requests, and comprehensive knowledge of regulatory, compliance, and custodial requirements to assure that each aspect of the work flow can be completed as efficiently and as timely as possible. We also add to this high standard the requirement of a very professional and friendly demeanor, whereas our support staff interact with clients almost as often as our client-facing wealth managers, assuring them that their requests are being handled in a courteous and timely manner.

We continue to support our talented operational staff advancement with training to support their skills, and over the past year many have earned their Financial Paraplanner Qualified Professional designation, providing a thorough foundation of financial planning that enhances their ability to keep a continued focus on delivering full-service operational support.

Each week we ask Financial Times-listed Top 300, 400, and 401 Advisors to answer pressing questions on the minds of FAs. Responses have been edited for clarity and concision.