As head of advisor strategy and development for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management business, Racquel Oden plays an integral role in attracting and retaining some of the world’s top financial advisers.
Overseeing the firm’s practice management development (PMD) training program, Oden hires approximately 1700 advisers a year while also coaching and training current advisers within the company on the growth of their business and client acquisition. After spending more than 11 years in the financial industry, Oden came to the Merrill Lynch family in 2010 and has placed a special focus on helping the company to diversify the pipeline of talent they secure with the launch of a new internship program in 2014 geared toward exposing college juniors and seniors to career opportunities at the firm.
In addition to helping the company graduate about 35% of the nearly 4,000 trainees who go through the PMD program, how do you work to keep these hires within the firm?
For every PMD hire that we have there is an assigned mentor. What we do is ensure there is someone on the outside that can give guidance, feedback, and support to those going through the program. So not only do they have coaches, which is a very separate thing, but we actually assign them a mentor which is an existing adviser who is already here and can give them the guidance they need.
For young professionals who may not have a program like PMD, do you have tips for how they can go about getting on someone radar’s to be their mentee?
First, it will really start with one having an understanding of the industry itself and then figuring out what it is you want to do in that space. Secondly, you want to find the leaders that are known in that space so that you see what they are doing and ensure that you have an understanding of the role. Outreach is always tough because everyone is always busy, so be deliberate about what you are asking if you try to make the outreach. But when you go in pretty focused in those conversations, I personally have found that, from this industry, people have been very supporting and willing to give their time.
How valuable is the firm’s internship program in helping to find younger diverse talent?
We created an internship program that allows a younger generation of millennials to know about our business, think about our business, and enter it. [The internship program] has a really strong focus on diversity because the one thing I love about campus recruiting and going to colleges is that it really represents the new America. If you can find that talent early as an organization then you are in a pretty fortunate place.
What role do you play in ensuring that a fair share of ethnic minorities and women are recruited?
Fifty percent of the class has to be either women or people of color in all of our internship programs, so there is a deliberate focus on diversity from gender, race, and then of course age. To ensure that we actually do that, we have a very strong focus on partnering with HBCU schools across the country to help feed our internship program and ensure that African American hires, specifically, are a part of this program.