While new degrees are steering university students towards financial advice, most of them still don’t know about the industry’s existence according to Alisdair Barr.

“Today I’m in front of 400 business degree students at Western Sydney University and there might be 20 that actually know financial planning is a career,” Barr says.

Financial planning courses are out there, but the industry just doesn’t have the immediate recognition that something like accounting or law does. HSC students applying for university courses aren’t aware of it, and it rarely comes up on the register of teachers or parents.

“A lot of people in the financial industry think young people don’t want to be in this industry because of its bad reputation,” he says. “But I interviewed 22 of them last week, and they didn’t even know there was a career path there.”

This is a problem, Barr reckons, for an industry faced with losing a quarter of its workforce due to a perfect storm of regulatory imposition, institutional retreat and declining practice values. There needs to be a pipeline of graduates coming through so that when the industry rights itself the next generation can be a part of it.

“I think the demand should be about 500 or 600 new graduates each year,” Barr estimates.

Most would know Barr as the founder of Grad Mentor, the placement program that uses seven-minute speed networking events to match university graduates with financial planning and accounting practice owners. Grad Mentor placed 70 candidates in financial services on the East Coast in the last financial year.

Now, to cope with the anticipated need for more talent, Barr has built on Grad Mentor to deliver a more scaleable, community-minded program bringing university alumni direct to advice practices.

Called Striver, the new program takes the concept online, so while business owners can still access the speed-networking events Grad Mentor has become famous for, being part of the Striver community means they get a constant stream of handpicked graduates without having to attend those events.

“People love the events, and we’ll still do all the mentoring that we do with the students in the coaching process,” he says. “We’re keeping all the hi-touch events, we’re just making it more scaleable.”

While both Grad Mentor and Striver are operating, Barr says the intention is to migrate the business so everything – events included – is under the new umbrella. “We’re aiming to fold everyone over from Grad mentor into Striver,” he says.

A few things separate Striver’s model from that of traditional HR placement agencies. There is an emphasis on coaching and mentoring – not just for graduates but for businesses vying to be the employer of choice. The profiling and algorithms used to match candidates with employers are tailored to the advice industry, and access to the speed dating events is another add-on traditional agencies won’t provide.

According to Barr, weighing the merits of Striver against jobseeker websites like Seek.com isn’t comparing apple to apples either. Seek is a “powerful platform”, he says, but people are often put off by the experience bolted onto it. “It’s a volume play,” he says.

Commercially, the old Grad Mentor and the new Striver have similar models. Businesses pay $5,000 for every placement, but if a practice wants to subscribe to the Striver community they pay a $950 fee and become part of the ‘tribe’.

“It’s not for everybody, though,” Barr adds. “It’s quite selective. You have to apply to be part of the Striver community.”

Tahn Sharpe is a Sydney-based financial services journalist with a background in financial planning. He writes on advice, superannuation, investment, banking and insurance issues, is a certified SMSF Adviser and holds an Advanced Diploma of Financial Planning.
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