Advisers should take pride in selling

Many years ago, I recall attending a sales development course at Royal Life’s training centre near Chester. Our first session kicked off with a debate over titles. The proposed change was from life consultant to broker sales consultant. Several objected to the inclusion of the word sales. These objections did not surface when they spoke of their sales figures – sale success or sales commission/override.

Recent comment by fellow columnist Nic Cicutti reminded me of their paranoia of the association with selling.

If you speak to the senior partners of the main legal, accountancy or management consultancy firms, they will say their partners need to sell their services if targets are to be reached. Those who do not are shuttled out. Journalists sell stories all the time, that is what freelancers do.

Nic – selling advice is not a bad thing per se but selling where your sole objective is remuneration is unprofessional. I have noticed this aversion to the word sales in the UK where elsewhere such anxiety does not exist. When we pitch our services to clients we are competing with their other spending. We need to persuade them of the necessity to prioritise now to deliver choice later. If we provided advice and left it completely to them, many would not get round to it. We act as a prompt, we act as a conscience.

Perhaps if people were better educated in things financial, then we could just put our services on display, but they are not and so we sell. I am proud to have been a successful salesman in several locations and roles. Ethics do not need to take a back seat and nor do they.

Talking of history, I recall when the Society of Financial Advisers developed a submission to form a trade body alongside its professional arm. We spent many hours on it but then found that the request for proposals was a sham, as the Association of British Insurers was driving the whole process. Garry Heath was to be sacrificed as the Government wanted trade bodies that would toe the line. They were able to do the deed and Aifa was borne. The life companies were firmly in the driving seat and I, among others, was approached to consider applying for the chief executive role that Paul Smee ultimately took on.

Some will point to Aifa’s successes, such as the menu, but that was again driven by the providers. We now have a new director general who is ex-provider. The ability to lobby is directly proportionate to the organisation’s ability to reach a balanced consensus. This is unlikely with independents being more clientcentric than other distributors whose focus is far more on revenue.

There is no doubt that other bodies may appear and jostle for position but if that new body focuses on the quality of advice then there is no crossover. Aifa has never understood that advice was the message, hence its current state.

If you like, they needed to sell their objective to those who shape our environment. Instead they have spent their time listening to voices rooted in the past with personal agendas and zero vision.

Those who do not sell their expertise, services or objective will not prosper unless they are incredibly talented and can do things of great value that no one else can. Therefore all successful professionals sell. Use the word promote instead, and all you do is to indulge in semantics.

Robert Reid is managing director of Syndaxi Chartered Financial Planners