The new PFS president is intent on raising the image of financial services so it is an attractive career for young people and he believes that advisers will continue to raise the bar in terms of standards and qualifications Interview by Natalie Holt
Personal Finance Society president Eddie Grant says what attracted him to the financial services industry is not the way new talent should be brought in today.
The newly appointed PFS president’s route into the industry dates back to a newspaper advert over 20 years ago which simply asked ’Would you like to earn X amount of money?’ He does not remember the amount but it was enough to lure him and many others like him got into financial services in the same way.
“I had finished my degree and got married relatively young and the advert just appealed to me. The interesting thing is what attracted me into the market compared with where we are today. Back then, it was essentially all about selling endowments and savings plans. What attracted me in is not the right way of attracting people now.
“Today, we are all about attracting people in because financial advice is a career and a profession and it is that change of perception which I think is most important.”
Grant is a wealth solutions sales manager at Zurich running a specialist team across Southern England looking after pensions and investments but although his current role is with a provider he has spent most of his career in the advice sector, either as an adviser or in adviser support roles.
After a six-month stint as a manager at McDonalds, which his children still make fun of, he joined Providence Capital’s direct salesforce. From there, he joined Royal Insurance, initially as a broker consultant before becoming a team manager.
He went on to join an IFA firm and then a software company before joining Zurich. He started in the provider’s international sales team to develop the offshore business in the UK and develop the brokers consultant team. Between him and one other colleague, they managed to double the business for two years running.
Grant’s involvement with the PFS stems from a conversation he had with an IFA many years ago.
“This IFA told me that he was a member of the Herts and Middlesex Life and Pensions Society and said I could only come and talk to him if I joined. If ever there was an advocate, he was the guy.”
Grant dutifully joined the Herts and Middlesex Life and Pensions Society and went on to become an active member of several other professional bodies.
He was the London co-ordinator for the Society of Financial Advisers for about a decade, as well a member of the Life Insurance Association.
When Sofa and the LIA merged in 2004 to become the PFS, Grant joined the committee and progressed to vice-chair and chair, and then joined the PFS board in 2008.
“I have been involved with the PFS at every step of the way. I have come from the regions, so I am not someone who has come in just to have a go at being PFS president, I am a real advocate of what we do.”
Grant believes that the minimum level four qualification required by the FSA as part of the RDR will only be a starting point for many advisers and predicts a shift towards what he calls the “diploma plus” market, with many of the PFS and Chartered Insurance Institute members continuing to qualify beyond level four.
“I think level four is part of the journey. The problem is that I and other advisers would have done ourselves a lot of good if we had carried on and not stopped at FPC3. I am not criticising anyone for stopping, but if we had gone on we would have embedded professional development. A good proportion of our members have now gone beyond the minimum standards. The bar is going up but at the same time everyone is going up with it.”
A key issue that Grant hopes to tackle during his tenure as PFS president is the lack of consumer engagement with their finances. He wants to find a way to enc-ourage younger people into financial ser-vices and for it to be a profession that parents are proud for their children to go into. “My son had one of those career evenings five or six years ago and there was a big queue for accountancy, law, the BBC. There was a big queue for everything apart from the tumbleweed around insurance and financial services. That is what I want to change. I want people to aspire to join this profession. We are moving from an industry to a profession, and I think we do a tremendous amount of good. We have huge issues in this country in terms of protection and savings gaps, so there is a huge demand and need for what we do.
“Part of the challenge is how do we convince people to plan and to take ownership of their financial situation, as, in turn, some of those people are going to want advice.”
Grant sees the consumer having a much greater influence under the new upcoming regulatory structure of the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Consumer Protection and Markets Authority.
He notes that when the RDR first came out, consumer organisations were calling for level six to be the benchmark for IFAs and says the consumer voice will only get louder as the new regulatory regime takes hold.
“As we move to the RDR and the new regulators there will be points for discussion and they will be lively but the most important thing is how to tackle this issue of consumer engagement. We need to think about how we build trust in our profession and how we remove the tumbleweed from the careers evening.”
He believes that inspiration can be taken from innovative products such as the Wii and the iPhone in trying to make financial services accessible and engaging for the masses.
“We have to look at other companies and work out how they got that level of engagement because we cannot carry on with 30 per cent of the public engaged with financial services and 70 per cent that are not engaged. It is not something that I will change in 12 months but I do think consumer engagement is really important and I would definitely like to see that statistic turned round.”
Born: Paddington, London, 1966
Lives: Mill Hill, London
Education: Whitefields School, Manchester Metropolitan University
Career: 2002-present: wealth solutions sales manager, Zurich UK Life; 2001-02: IFA, Heath Crawford; 1990-2001: broker consultant and team manager, Royal Insurance; 1988-90: direct sales consultant, Providence Capital
Likes: Spending time with family, cooking, entertaining, Arsenal
Dislikes: Tribalism, in football and financial services
Drives: Volvo V70
Books: Likes audiobooks and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as I used to read it to my kids
Film: The Dark Knight
Album: Imagine by John Lennon
Career ambition: Did not have a career in mind at university
Life ambition: To build something and to look back and say I made a difference
If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…Probably in the restaurant business