Training Program for the Account Executive Position with Company X Retirement Services

©2001 Kathy Wise

edited 1/24/09


Company X is a major provider of insurance and investment vehicles. They are a company with approximately 800 employees with a heritage of financial strength and stability. The company's roots date back to 1717. The group retirement services division was established 40 years ago. Since that time, this division, which sells group retirement plans, has grown to include about 30 people in a support function at the home office, and approximately 30 field personnel in about 15 field office locations throughout the US and one office in Puerto Rico. Each field office can contain anywhere from I to 6 persons, which would include one or more of the following:

Sales Representative - (responsible for selling group retirement plans to clients)

Account Executives - (responsible for servicing clients)

Secretary - (administrative work in the field office).

There are currently eleven Account Executives servicing the U.S and Puerto Rico. Each services a particular region.

The Account Executive Position

Specifically, this position is responsible for asset retention. Each Account Executive (AE) is responsible for retaining the clients that the sales force has sold our group retirement plan to. Each AE may service 100 to 200 clients whose assets total between 100 and 200 million dollars. In essence, the sales representative and the account executive are a team whose work was responsible for approximately 10% ($ 10 million) of the company's profits last year as well as retaining the $1.8 billion in assets under management. This position is often one of establishing relationships, and maintaining the client's satisfaction with the plan and service delivered to them and their employees. An AE educates the plan sponsor as well as its employees on the plan funds, and the specifics of asset allocation and other factors involved with investing in mutual funds. It is a very independent position that requires about 50% travel, intensive client service and the ability to provide solutions to client's issues. The position depends a great deal on the support of the administrative staff at the home office.

New hires will usually have a group retirement plan background or at least a financial background in mutual funds. They are required to have or obtain a State Life Insurance License as well as a National Association of Securities Dealers Series 6 & 63 registration. They should possess heavy client service experience. It is well-known in the industry that our competitors do not have representatives that provide the level of service that this position provides to its clients. Consequently, a new hire, even coming from the same industry, would probably not have experienced providing this high level of service elsewhere. Therefore, even for AEs with experience in this role with other companies, the procedures, materials, expectations and processes would all be significantly different, necessitating the same level of training for all new hires.

The Current Training Process

Currently, when Account Executives are hired, they are brought into the home office in Pennsylvania for two days. Day One - Spent in the marketing department where they are introduced to the marketing materials used, and made aware of the various reports/tools available to them. Day Two - Spent in the administration department where they are introduced to various people that they will be dealing with on the phone on a daily basis, and oriented as to each persons function in the department.

The Client Service Manager (a Home Office position) facilitates the above training process. After two days they are returned to their respective offices where they are given whatever training the Sales Representative in their office can afford to offer, and then left to orient themselves with the clients and information provided in each client's file. Because of the "baptism by fire" process, they are often slow to pull themselves from under reactively responding to issues, as opposed to exhibiting a more proactive approach with clients. The Client Service Manager, although trained as an AE and familiar with the requirements of the AE position, works in a home office capacity and does not perform the AE responsibilities. He will, however, provide ongoing phone support as needed. The secretary ftorn the AEs regional office will also provide assistance and helps to orient the AE on materials and procedures.

The current job description is very broad and leaves itself open to much interpretation. As a result, specific duties may be defined differently by each sales representative who is providing the training. The Client Service Manager is in the process of rewriting the AE job description that will provide more clearly defined expectations. In-person contact with other AE's occurs only at semi-annual meetings.

Job assessments are in place. These take place once annually and are given by the Client Service Manager who obtains input from various sources such as Client surveys, Sales Reps and formal reporting systems.


The Retirement Services Division is in a position for growth. Because we will be looking to add additional AEs toward the end of the year and next year, the division has decided to evaluate the orientation procedure for new AEs, particularly in light of the high turnover. The chart below lists features of the current training/orientation process, problems as I perceive them and proposed training solutions.

Sales Reps from various
Current Training Process Problem Proposed Training Solution
Two days spent in Home Office Overall dissatisfaction in the Field with training process Formal training program
implemented using AEs as
Poor quality orientation gives new hires a bad impression of Company

High turnover

27% in 2000
20% in 1999

Establishing relationship with peer trainers provides support network

Variety of trainers - variety of processes and procedures

Sales Reps from various offices providing the training One set of trainers plus training manual maintains consistency in process
Slow start-up/orientation to the job No real hands-on training or
professional training model followed
Hands-on training provided by structured training model
Lack of monitoring/feedback
Problems go unnoticed/unserviced Appropriate follow-up process/ongoing monitoring
Low confidence level Sales Reps request AEs help outside their region Formal hands-on training process should reduce
unproductive start-up time
Sales Representatives provide training Sales Reps are forced to cut into sales activity time Sales Reps can use time more effectively to sell
No feedback solicited from new AE on training/orientation experience No formal process to evaluate new hires orientation experience Implement survey on training experience

No contact with management
Company vision not conveyed Meeting with VP/company mission

Details For Proposed Changes

I -Establish one field office as the training center (Mid-Atlantic Office).

2-Create a five-day training program that entails an initial three days of training to be performed by two/three of the AEs in that office. Two remaining days at home office with Client Manager.

3-One AE from the training office will work with the Client Manager in the Home Office, in establishing training checklist of items to be trained on, as well as establish Client Service Initiatives (Task that must be performed quarterly for each client).

4- Incorporate a short but meaningful meeting with the VP of division into the training emphasizing company mission, differentiation, quality service, etc.

5-Client Manager will hold an initial 'training the trainer' meeting to establish goals and review the process with the three trainer AEs.

6-Incorporate daily phone call support system (after the training), which can extend to longer time periods as the AE feels the necessity.

7-Create AE Manual of items covered in training for reference, which will include Client Service Initiatives, as well as any information that is specific to the particular region the training AE is from, such as vendors that they use in their region.

8 -Incorporate training into AE job description. (AE's who will perform the training in the MidAtlantic office were solicited and agreed to act as trainers.)

9- Visit by the Client Manager or a trainer AE to the new AEs office, two to three weeks after training, to answer questions, attend a client meeting with the new AE, review any problem areas, discuss solutions and review business plan.

10- New AE to complete survey at follow-up meeting on training experience/suggestions.

11. Client Service Manager to perform 6 month performance assessment. Assessment is based on fulfillment of Client Service Initiatives and other reporting processes, such as use of Contact Management System. If an AE is not performing well, the usual HR rules will apply including documentation, probation, etc.

12. Continue ongoing training practices which are the following:

Semi-annual corporate training seminars
Quarterly Investment Review Conference Calls
Continuing Education Classes

13. Establish back-up training office for emergency purposes. (Probably Charlotte, NC)


1) Hands on Training
Can be accomplished using three AEs in the Mid-Atlantic Office as well as standard Home Office

2) Establish Support Network. AE trainers as mentors

2) Reduce unproductive start-up time. More thorough training process has new hire performing duties in training.

3) Reduce Sales Representatives' training time

4) Maintain a consistency in job procedures taught.

5) Appropriate follow-up to address ongoing orientation.

6) Manual as reference.

7) Increasing AE retention.

8) Enhance the new hires' initial perception of the company and its dedication to its employees.

Schedule of Proposed Training


Day One Mid Atlantic Office (Checklist Items)

Day Two Mid-Atlantic Office (Checklist items)

Day Three Mid-Atlantic Office (Checklist Items)

Day Four A.M. Home Office (Contact Management System Training)

Day Four P.M. Home Office (Meet with core contacts)

Day Five A.M. Home Office (Complete training)



Secretary Office orientation (voice mail, e-mail, etc.)

Sales Client Specifics (Review each client's details)

On Own

Develop Business Plan

Begin handling workload

Daily phone call to trainer AE

Week 4/5 Visit from Client Service Manager/Trainer AE

Additional Cost

- Annual budget for AE training is approximately $16,000 and can be used at the Client Service Manager's discretion. This amount would cover the minimal hotel and meal costs that would be involved with one week spent in training for more AEs than would be training in a year. If need be, additional budget can be transferred from another category that hasn't yet been used.

Time to coordinate and plan the training process, review training objectives, create manual and review checklist. (Can be achieved during July and August - generally slow time in our industry)

Preliminary Checklist For Mid-Atlantic Office Training

Initial Job Review

Job Description
Client Service Initiatives

Quarterly Client Contact
Enrollments as needed
Report Card Visit
Annual Review

Janna - Contact management system (Hands-on)

·Review Training Plan - Uncover knowledge (Discussion)
Provide Manual
Present Task/Practice

Plan Installation Process
Client/Broker meetings
Review materials/paperwork
TPAs and websites
Enrollment Materials
How to create fund books (Hands-on computer creation) Excel
Video (Basics of Asset classes and diversification)
How to create enrollment presentation (Instruct and monitor hands-on process)
Enrollment Presentations (Powerpoint)
Creation, Demonstration and Role-Play (work on own)
Financial web tools (visual, hands-on)
First Rate System (work on own)
Other websites
Problem Solving (work on on - respond to client problems)
Developing a Business Plan

Monitor progress checks as proposed/get feedback


Since the Account Executive position has a major impact on customer satisfaction, influencing asset retention, as well as new assets being contributed by new enrollees to plans, a more comprehensive training process for this position would strongly benefit the division's objectives. Quality is the most visible front for financial services companies to compete today. Not only is it die best alternative by which to differentiate, it is the hardest for a competitor to copy. (Grasing & Hessick) Training AEs more effectively should effect the quality of performance, instilling a better understanding of the requirements and increasing the trainee's confidence level.

Customer satisfaction has become a key component of success in the 21st century, mainly because potential customers are able to select suppliers from all over the globe, using advanced telecommunications and electronic mail to communicate their needs, complaints, and desires. Since customer satisfaction is a significant factor in being able to compete in today's marketplace, (Heilbrunn, 86), emphases on this component during training would effect the ongoing servicing practices in our division. By incorporating a standard of Client Service Initiatives into the training program, we'll be providing a benchmark for AEs to strive for in the area of service.

High performing companies invest more time and resources in training than other business organizations. (HR News, April 8, 1998) Because our sales continue to grow yearly, and we have further plans to increase the field personnel, we should invest in a more developed traiming program to ensure that we continue to meet the very progressive goals that we have set for our division.

Grasing and Hessing, authors of Achieving Quality in Financial Services Organizations, state that orientation should be conceptual. When an employee completes the orientation, they should walk away knowing that they have joined a company with a common purpose ... to meet customers' expectations. Based on the orientation, the employee should know:

*Who is the customer?

*What are the service standards the customers expect?

What are the key measures of accuracy for my job ?

To be effective the training should be structured to answer these questions. The orientation and the training should be geared around building confidence and self esteem in each new employee. Training should be designed to make them identify how their individual effort is important.

To get these important messages across, we must follow proven methods of adult training, such as those suggested by Shawn Adams, author of Five Principles ofSound Training. Lecture is generally ineffective as a teaching tool for adults, since adults remember approximately 10% of what they hear. However, when information is seen and heard, retention level jumps to about 50%. When adults are able to discuss their learning with others, their retention rate increases to approximately 70 percent. Finally, when trainees participate in the learning process through demonstration (both physical and verbal), retention increases to 90 percent.

Adults learn best by hearing, seeing, doing or reflecting. Trainers should use a variety of approaches to tap into the abilities of the learners and to help reinforce concepts. (Weinstein, May, 2000)

Karen Lawson, president of Lawson Consulting Group, a firm specializing in organizational and management development, and speaker at the Society for Human Resource Management's 51st Annual Conference in Atlanta recommends a five-stage training framework for on-the-job training. The preliminary checklist for training on page 6 has been modeled after this framework.

1) Plan

Review the job description
List major tasks
Establish standards of performance

2) Prepare

Assemble materials
Find out what the trainee knows
Review the Plan

3) Present

Explain how each task fits into the big picture
Demonstrate the task
Check for understanding by asking open-ended questions

4) Practice

Have the trainee perform the task
Provide frequent feedback
Allow trainee to work on his or her own

5) Monitor

Schedule progress checks that gradually taper off
Measure results against performance standards and objectives
Give the opportunity to give feedback to the trainer

To be most effective, trainers should try to incorporate as many of the following learning modes as possible:

Print (Traditional text and paper/pencil exercises)

Visual (Slides, videos, demonstrations, charts and graphs)

Aural (lectures and audio tapes)

Interactive (Discussions and question/answer sessions)

Tactile ( Hand-on activities)

Kinesthetic (Role playing, physical activities)

All of the above listed media have been incorporated into the training program.

By using this new training process, we'll also be following Lawson's advice to employers on including the following significant features during training:

Communicate job standards - Our Client Service Initiatives will communicate exactly what our expectations are as well as client expectations. We may want to further qualify the standards by considering quantity, quality, time, speed and accuracy.

Create a positive learning environment - By our providing a more comprehensive training program we'll convey a better image of the company, as well as our commitment to a positive learning experience for new employees.

Ensure Adequate follow-up - The phone contact with the mentoring AE as well as the follow up visit to the AEs location will ensure they're on a continued track for success.

Formalize the process - By creating the manual and incorporating the checklists, and survey into the training process, we'll have a blueprint for fiiture training.

Finally, the trainers themselves should also be made aware of the following training guidelines at the group meeting prior to the training program.

1) It's okay not to have all the answers. Trainers can offend learners if they act as if they know everything. No one knows everything. Find out answers and relay back to learner.

2) Show respect to learners. Address learners as intelligent, mature adults who possess vital knowledge and experience.

3) Present material enthusiastically and use humor to invite their participation. Adults learn best
when they have fun with the process.

4) Reflect on the training process and try to discover how you can improve the next one. (Weinstein,
May 2000)


Adams, Shaen J., Five Principles of Sound Training, Professional Safety, volume 45, no 12, December 2000, p 40-41

Grasing, Robert E. and Hessick, Michael H., Achieving Quality in Financial Service Organizations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press Inc. 1988

Heilbrunn, Jeffrey, Marketing Encyclopedia. Issues and Trends Shaping the Future, Lincolnwood, IL, 1995

Human Resource Management News, Ideas and Trends, Issue #464-6, August 11, 1999, Structured on-the-job training boosts individual, organizational performance.

Human Resources Management News, Ideas and Trends, Issue # 429-4, April 8, 1998, Training.

Weinstein, Margot B., Thirty-three world-class cotnpetencies, Training and Development (Alexandria, VA.) volume 54, no 5, (May 2000), p. 20-23.