Raymond James has launched a new network aimed at helping financial advisors who are military veterans build their businesses and attract active duty or recently-retired service members to the industry.

The firm’s Veterans Financial Advisors Network (VFAN) launched last week with an event at the firm’s headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla., including Medal of Honor Recipient Ryan Pitts as a keynote speaker. With a total population of active duty service members and reservists in the millions, as well as those who’ve recently left, there’s likely to be many interested in pursuing a career as an advisor, according to Scott Curtis, president of the firm’s Private Client Group.

“When you think about those who are veterans and are still early in their career, not active but recently-retired, we think there’s a real opportunity there,” he said.

The event was held in conjunction with Valor, the veterans group for Raymond James employees. Curtis said interest grew for a network connecting veterans and veterans’ spouses who work in the independent space, typically operating in branch offices as opposed to corporate locations. 

VFAN is the fourth network under the firm’s Advisor Inclusion Networks, which includes the Women Financial Advisors Network, the Black Financial Advisors Network and Pride Financial Advisors Network. The womens’ network had existed for 25 years and the Black Financial Advisors Network for nine years, according to Renée Baker, the head of the Advisors Inclusion Network.

But Raymond James leadership decided the independent networks could benefit from centralized leadership and created the Advisor Inclusion Networks in 2019. It launched the Pride Financial Advisors Network in June 2020. Though Baker said they’d wanted to launch VFAN for some time, the launch of Pride, as well as bringing the networks together and the pandemic delayed it slightly.

As a military spouse, Baker said she has seen firsthand the challenges veterans face when transitioning to civilian life, often while continuing to serve in other ways.

“We wanted to create an opportunity to help support veteran advisors and their families. I think military family members sometimes get lost,” she said. “All of the networks are united and have a particular strategy, but each has their own opportunities to pursue and support broader communities.”

In addition to working with active or newly-retired service members on a career arc, the network will also support fundraising and philanthropic activities in conjunction with Valor, and will give military veteran FAs access to “customized skills programs, development opportunities and mentorships,” according to its website. 

The network is led by a council of financial advisors, including Matthew Pruitt, a senior vice president of investments and the branch manager of Pennsylvania-based Patriot Wealth Management of Raymond James. Pruitt said the council was drafting an operations plan that would offer an “immediate network of mentors and immediate process-oriented approach” to help military veterans be successful as advisors, and to work with their unique backgrounds.

“When we hire military people, whether two or 20 years in, their mentality is they need to be specific, precise to execute the mission. They’re taught that way,” he said. “Our industry, while it’s heavily regulated, it doesn’t come with a playbook. It’s very autonomous.”

In addition to two decades in the industry, Pruitt is a veteran himself, having served in active and reserve service for more than 25 years in the Navy before retiring with the rank of commander. Pruitt had served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and was recalled to active duty in 2002 for a year, receiving the Meritorious Service Medal. To Pruitt, having FAs with similar life experience can benefit new hires.

“Think about some of your closest friends and the things you’ve been through in life that allowed you to get close,” he said. “In the military you’ve done things that people haven’t done. I know the vernacular, the language, the walk, the talk, the good and the bad they’ve experienced. The veil of me trying to build trust with that person is immediately lowered.”

In considering how to find veterans interested in entering the industry, Pruitt recalled that he was originally sourced by a fellow reservist, and believed the network would encourage the hundreds of veterans working as Raymond James advisors to reach into their military networks to spread the word that the firm was actively seeking vets for financial advisor positions. He also said it would help to work with Raymond James’ sourcing teams, to ensure they know what they’re looking for and can decode the military jargon of a job performed or a rank achieved.

According to Curtis, reaching veterans as a talent pool for new hires could also address industry diversity, as the veteran community tends to be diverse in comparison to the financial services industry. For Pruitt, looking to veterans will also help best assist a diversifying client base, as well.

“Our client base is changing; it’s getting younger and more diverse in ethnicity,” he said. “When you get a military veteran, they’ve grown up in a diverse organization.”

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