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Case Study: Financial Services Firm

The Client

This client is a major investment-research and institutional-asset management firm with a primary focus on high-net-worth private clients.


A major New York-based financial-services firm that manages investment portfolios for affluent families, pension funds, and corporate investors wanted to identify the qualities that distinguish their top-performing Financial Advisors.

By understanding the qualities of their top performers, their goals were to:

• Select only the best job candidates

• Reduce turnover

• Minimize training time

• Expand their client base

• Improve client satisfaction

• Generate additional revenue

The Business Challenge

The firm had encountered problems on a number of levels when hiring Financial Advisors. Their most successful Financial Advisors fall into the “hunter” sales category, which indicates that they are aggressive in pursuing and closing new business but not particularly interested in following rules. However, this work style often conflicts with the firm’s strict guidelines and set procedures.

While many financial firms take a hands-off approach to managing their salespeople and only require that they hit their numbers, this particular organization has a rigid structure to which their salespeople must adhere. It is crucial that staff members do not bend the rules.

Moreover, because of the firm’s reputation, Financial Advisors must not only be adept at selling, but they must display the service focus to understand their clients’ individual concerns and address them appropriately.

This Financial Advisor role, with its unique set of requirements, was becoming increasingly difficult to fill, and this problem was having a direct impact on the firm’s ability to meet its projected hiring goals and sales targets. Candidates who displayed “hunter” sales dynamics often became frustrated by the lengthy interview process and dropped out of consideration. Those who came on board tended to feel frustrated by the guidelines and customer-service expectations, often falling short of their sales goals and then leaving the firm.

The Strategic Solution

An analysis of the firm’s situation indicated that the best way to help them meet their goals was to conduct a Top Performer Analysis. The result would clearly define the traits and competencies required to meet expectations in the Financial Advisor role.

This process began by partnering with the firm to identify those who were truly top performers, which meant determining specific performance criteria and applying consistent standards. First, Financial Advisors have to be strong in developing new business by identifying potential clients, setting appointments, and winning commitments. Second, they have to follow specific policies and procedures, so a review of their employment files should show a willingness to adhere to rules. Third, they must be able to develop and maintain meaningful relationships with their clients and display the service orientation required to do so.

All of the firm’s Financial Advisors completed the Caliper Profile in order for the traits of their top and marginal performers to be compared. After reviewing their Profiles and interviewing their managers, 32 Financial Advisors were recognized as top performers, and a benchmark established the traits and competencies that set them apart from the marginal performers.

These top Financial Advisors displayed “hunter” characteristics in that they were highly motivated to persuade others, assertive, aggressive, and resilient to setbacks and disappointments. However, they did not display the autonomous nature that sales hunters often possess, but instead appeared responsive to external structure and seemed willing to follow rules. Finally, while they were not necessarily service-minded, they exhibited the empathy required to understand their clients’ needs and provide appropriate responses.

After comparing the Profiles of marginal performers with those of top performers, it was clear why the former were falling short. While the marginal performers show the appropriate “hunter” style sales dynamics and made it through the strenuous interview process, they did not display the empathy required to understand client needs and engender trust. They were also more independent and found it difficult to work within the firm’s structured environment. Overall, while being a hunter was a quality common to top and marginal performers, it took a special combination of traits to succeed with the firm. Developing a Top Performer Analysis for Financial Advisors enabled the firm to fully understand the requisite personality attributes for this role.

The Results

Once the benchmark data was established and managers were educated on how to use it during the hiring process, it became the firm’s guideline for hiring Financial Advisors. In addition, a targeted interview process was designed to help the firm screen prospective Financial Advisor candidates, and each candidate that made it through a first interview completed a Caliper Profile. They were then compared to top performers, and any apparent deficiencies became the basis for additional questions in follow-up interviews. This process helped the firm reduce both the number and length of their interviews for this position, thus freeing their hiring managers to focus more time on their primary responsibilities.

This engagement was critical in helping the firm meet its ongoing financial goals. By focusing on the qualities that distinguish their top performers and then using the Top Performer Analysis to help identify high-potential job candidates, they were also able to reduce turnover and the time new hires needed to get up to speed. Furthermore, they were able to bring in significantly more new clients as well as increase their established clients’ level of satisfaction.

The firm then began work with Caliper to develop a benchmark for other critical roles within the organization to help them continue with their plan for substantial growth.