Embrace change. Don't lose the forest for the trees. One size rarely fits all. Here are the highlights and top takeaways from our webinar on the dos, don’ts, and best practices of compliance training for your employee base
"You have to embrace change. It's all too common to have the mindset of, 'we always do things such and such a way.' Certain ways of thinking and operating may have worked in the past, and gotten you this far, but you can't always count on the old ways to get you through."
So offered Alex Krenke of Quest CE in conversation with Star's Tim Ward on the recent Star webinar: Strategies To Improve Your Employee Compliance Training Program. Alex is Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing & Client Services at Quest CE—a company that specializes in training courses and technology for broker-dealers and investment advisors. Tim is Star's Director of Product Strategy & Marketing. Together they covered the dos, don’ts, and best practices of training your employee base and maintaining a cohesive learning experience with employees spread across different cities, countries, time zones, and jobs. Following are highlights and top takeaways from the discussion.
Tim: Alex, tell us some of the challenges firms have in keeping up with regulatory changes and training their employees in general.
Alex: The first challenge is keeping up with the constantly evolving industry. When you factor in all the various state and federal agencies—which don't necessarily operate in harmony—it's a challenge to wrangle all the information flooding out into a cohesive, understandable format. Another challenge for firms is limited resources, and finding that balance of how to effectively offer the right training to your reps within the budget. I can't think of many instances where clients tell us their training budget has tripled. That just doesn't happen. And, unfortunately, budget restrictions aren't going to get you much sympathy in an audit.
A third challenge is accessibility. We set this webinar up well before the pandemic, but it's always important to offer training to your reps that's convenient to access. You need flexibility in your training plan. The final challenge is fighting against the ‘this-doesn't-apply-to-me’ perception, which can happen when offering a one-size-fits-all training program. You do get a consistent message, but the truth is not all of your reps are the same. Some have been in the industry a lot longer than others. And maybe not all of them sell the same products. We've found that one of the fastest ways someone becomes disengaged is when they're required to complete training well below their experience level, or on something they don't need to know.
Tim: What different methods do you see firms using to overcome these challenges and train their employees?
Alex: When Quest CE was founded in 1986, all we did was live training. As technology has evolved we see that online, web-based training has taken over a lot of that space, and it's become more of a 50/50 split. And as things evolve even more, webinars are becoming popular training options. It’s seen as a way to strike a balance between live and online. Every method has its pros and cons. With in-person training you get the human touch. You get better group participation. But live training can pull people from their jobs. There can be scheduling conflicts. And it's not as easy to get role specific.
With online you get the flexibility of anytime, anywhere. You get real-time learning reporting, and you can customize training to the individual. The cons are, it falls on the user to complete the training, which could create more work for you in the long run: having to hound people to finish. With webinars, you still get that in-person feel with lower costs than what's associated with live training. You are, however, reliant on everyone having a good internet connection, and sometimes it's difficult to track user engagement. What we've seen is, most companies are adopting a blended approach. One size rarely fits all. We offer a range of training options, and companies are taking advantage of them: targeting them to the needs of specific user groups.
Tim: Are there any areas you're finding it particularly challenging to train employees in?
Alex: AML. As you can imagine, AML is never going to go away, so how do you keep it interesting? We try to author around 40 new courses per year, and the request always comes through: we want a new AML course. Back to the idea that one size rarely fits all, you're going to lose people if you keep things too simple. The senior people you're speaking to don't want to do "Introduction To AML.” They'll think: "My firm doesn't get me. I don't need to sit through the basics." So a lot of our clients either start the year or end the year with a needs-analysis survey. They ask the reps what type of products they sell, how long they've been in the industry, etc., just to figure out with greater certainty who they're trying to train right now and what level they're at.
Tim: What are some of the more unique or creative training approaches companies are taking?
Alex: A friend from a broker-dealer told me his company is rolling out modules that are kind of like choose-your-own-adventure scenarios, where there isn't really a right or wrong answer; instead, they gauge how people might react in a certain situation, or where they would fall on a certain issue. So it's about taking a creative approach that isn't just scrolling through a slide deck to get through a course. It's taking modern cases and presenting them in a way people haven't seen before. In one of our newest courses, the course author referenced the Netflix series Ozark, just to catch people off guard and get them to focus. Gamification is also in the mix, as an engaging way to test knowledge and thought processes.
Tim: Do you see firms pilot programs to small numbers of employees, to see if they have the balance right before they roll it out to the wider population?
Alex: Many larger firms will pilot training programs with their principals or a group of advisors they trust and ask them to provide feedback. Because while something may make sense to you, it may not make sense to an outsider. You have one shot to get the training right. Yes, you can always update it, but it's better to get everything right the first time around.
Tim: With new and still evolving regulations like the California Privacy Act and the GDPR, do firms take an iterative approach where training materials are updated with ongoing, key changes?
Alex: Most firms will do an addendum course as things change. At the end of the day, you do want to make sure you have records of employees having been trained on changes. You want to make sure you can prove you provided the necessary training. If a dispute ever arose, you can show you did what you were supposed to do.
Tim: Do you see differences in approach to training based on the size of the firm?
Alex: Initially that was the case, but it's changed a lot. Ten years ago, most small firms were very off-the-shelf. We would create bundles of core competencies firms would take as-is and deploy to their users. And for the most part—when an auditor came in and saw they offered the basics—the firm got a pass. Larger companies that had more people on staff had the luxury of taking a more tailored approach to training. Now it seems that most companies, regardless of size, want to tweak their training at least a little, to fit their firm polices and culture.
And vendors like Quest CE can help small firms customize their material, which can help create that culture of compliance, but it's a balance. You want to offer the best possible training you can, and you want everything to be the Cadillac solution, however not every situation calls for that. You don't want to get yourself into a situation where you're continuously customizing, and it all becomes very costly and time and resource intensive just to do an update. Better to address a change in an addendum. You don't want to have to scrap your program every year and start from scratch.
Tim: There's a lot written about Millennials and the younger workforce, and how they prefer to learn and consume content. Do you see content-tailoring based on demographic groups?
Alex: The stereotype is that Millennials want things quickly and easy to digest so they can move on. You certainly don't want to ignore trends. We're starting to see feedback that 15 minutes is too long. That you might lose people beyond that. You need to do whatever you need to do to keep people engaged. If that means bite-sized bits of information then so be it. Reducing the cognitive load and the perceived burden of learning can be a help to any demographic.
Tim: Where do you see training and delivery going in the future? What kind of metrics are firms using to make sure their training is successful?
Alex: I see firms using employee feedback to figure out where to focus. Some firms are having success by adding a survey at the end of training, which means there will always be a feedback loop. The audience you have in front of you is your best guide for creating a good training program. Knowing your own employees and tapping into that knowledge. If you keep the lines of communication open to your employees, that's how you're going to create the program that works best. I also think more companies will continue to embed training as part of their overall business processes, and deliver at the point of need. This way it's not as intrusive. It's more organic for employees, and the firm is still getting what it needs.
Another good metric, for lack of a better word, is behavior. Are you seeing changes at the firm over time? What kind of red flags keep appearing? What red flags have gone away? Are audit results getting better? Don't lose the forest for the trees is another way of putting it.