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Learning & Development Blog

Social Learning in Financial Services: Tales from the Real World

Shane, a veteran of the training industry, has encountered various levels of success with social learning and I asked him to share those experiences with us.
I sat down with Shane Raymond, Director of Training and Development at RBC Wealth Management, the US Wealth Management division of Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada, to discuss social learning. 

Rob: What is the audience you’re dealing with at RBC Wealth Management?

Shane: RBC Wealth Management has more than 2,000 Financial Advisors scattered through the country. The financial services industry has evolved a lot over the last decade. In the past, it was about stocks and bonds, now it is more complex than ever. There are many more investment vehicles out there and advisors need to be knowledgeable about areas such as life insurance, long-term care, charitable giving, trusts and estate planning, etc. Given the current economic environment and the turbulent times we are facing, the complexities of the industry are increasing.

Rob: Seems like a great opportunity for reps to share information – an internal wiki or portal.

Shane: This is true. Financial Advisors do love to share and learn from each other, but they prefer to do the sharing in person at things such as conferences and events. When it comes to web-based sharing vehicles, it’s a different story. We have launched a few tools that I would classify as “social learning” and the response and acceptance of these tools has been mixed.

Rob: What do you attribute this to?

Shane: To begin with, the majority of our advisors are seasoned veterans of the industry, with 20 to 30 years of experience and their passions are working with and spending time with their clients. Generally speaking, they are not looking for opportunities to learn and get involved with new tools and technologies, unless there is a direct client impact. During their daily routine they already work in several different systems and are not always eager to add to that list. These are people who prefer to be on the phone talking to their customers or meeting with them over lunch.

Another factor that comes into play is that our advisors are required to take several hours of industry mandated computer-based training per year. These courses are required to maintain their licensure, etc. While that might not seem like a lot to a training company, it seems like an eternity to those who thrive on activity and client interaction.

Rob: Specifically, how about social learning?

Shane: All that being said, our advisors are always looking for more ways to learn about best practices from their peers. However, I think there are a few inhibitors to social learning platforms along the lines of Facebook, YouTube, blogs and message boards. It takes time to write your question or thoughts and ensure that you are getting your point across. And time is extremely tight in the business. Advisors love to be receivers of the information posted, but don’t always want to contribute information. I’ve become this way myself. I read the posts of my friends on Facebook, but I rarely, if ever, post anything myself. I think advisors would prefer to simply pick up the phone and talk or chat at an event.

Rob: Are there any outside forces that make sharing information difficult?

Shane: Definitely. In this industry there are a lot of regulations and privacy issues that we need to be conscious of. For instance, if an advisor posts a best practice related to a specific product, it would need to be checked for accuracy in terms of policy before posting. Additionally, the advisor would need to be sure that each post maintains client privacy. These issues make it less appealing to submit a post.

Rob: Have there been initiatives in the social learning realm that have seen success?

Shane: Yes. We have found two social learning pieces to be very successful; an advisor profiling tool and structured best-practices videos. The advisor profiling tool allows people to post information about themselves and their business as a way to connect to others with similar business experiences. We also launched an internal website where we post 3-5 minute best-practices videos that feature advisors sharing stories related to a specific topic. These are similar to a YouTube video, except with a produced look and feel. We’ve seen a lot of success here.

Where we haven’t seen a lot of success is with message boards, blogs and the like.

Rob: That’s good. So the moral of the story is that you have to be mindful of the audience you’re dealing with when it comes to social learning, is that right?

Shane: Absolutely – like anything, you have to work within your constraints, analyze your audience and see what kinds of interactions they are comfortable with.

Raymond looks with some envy at those companies whose employees don’t spend much time in front of a computer during their working hours, for example, people on a manufacturing line. “They look at computer-based training in general as a break in their routine. They get to a warm room with snacks and treats on the counter”.

The moral of this short story is this: With social learning comes an opportunity for great sharing of information throughout many organizations, however, it doesn’t work for everyone. Social learning takes on many forms, and in some instances it works, while in other it does not.

Like so many other things, the acceptance of the concept depends a great deal on the people that make up the organization. Their interest in sharing information, their ability to share that information given outside constraints and their general attitudes towards technology, all have an impact on whether social learning takes root or not. 


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