The future is something that we feel very positive about and investing in our clients’ future is our first priority – the closing remarks from my last diary entry left me with a very exciting challenge but also a sobering thought.
It is all too easy to wax lyrical about how exciting the future could be as the Barry Fleming & Partners team gathers over a glass of wine at the end of a hectic week but the reality of getting to grips with those future plans on a Monday morning is somewhat different.
The challenge lies in the doing rather than the lyricising or, as my client said on Shrove Tuesday: “The trick is to be aware of the difference between panning the plancake instead of the waffle.
The business plan – simplicity is the secret
In our last article, we analysed our opportunities, identified our aims and outlined our business plan for the post- RDR future. Now we are in the process of implementing that plan in order to deliver it successfully, that is, to time, to cost and to quality.
So, where did we start? The advice I was given was to keep it simple. Simple is good, simple is short, simple is not time consuming or energy-wasting. Simple is transparent. Having a clear, structured, vision recorded on a simple document that is easy to review. How else will we know if we have truly delivered good service to ourselves and our clients?
Some form of project management system is an essential tool if you are to manage critical change effectively
Are we achieving those laudable aims with our project? When commenting on our diary article, Rob Reid gave us some sound advice –
to invest in some project management software to track progress (or lack of it). We agree. Some form of project management system is an essential tool to manage critical change effectively. We have developed our own computer-based back-office management system within which we embedded a project management tool that enables us to set up, review and track every aspect of a project, whether that project involves work for an individual client or for the business itself.
It’s not just about ourselves. We have taken our project management system one stage further and have enabled clients to monitor their work in progress as it passes through each stage. No pressure there, then.
Our project management system is accessible by all staff, ensuring that everyone in the firm is involved and aware of our aims and of how we are progressing through the project cycles.
In this way, we achieve effective communications with staff resulting in everyone staying positive. This constructive input always adds value to what we are doing. Making changes to any established business is a major project for most firms and just as we would advise our clients on the benefits of having a plan, a firm that seeks to make changes needs one too. Failing to plan is planning to fail – trite but true.
The RDR is about much more than just adviser charging and exams but I cannot resist the temptation to jump on my soap box and grumble about the impact of exams and the accreditation process. I have sat seven exams, including my CFP, in the last two years. I passed them all but it was essentially a full-time job. The time taken away from your day job and your family is immense. This is a huge issue for those who are embarking on this trail and one which, in my view, has not been sufficiently taken into consideration in the context of the imposed timescales. Meanwhile, on our experience, the message is “plan ahead and allow plenty of time”.
You may recall that our 65-year-old principal was in the throes of ’examining’ his options bearing in mind that he will be 69 when the new
RDR era erupts into the world in January 2013. Well, he has taken a positive approach and as part of our business plan sought accreditation for his achievements to date – those being Tep qualified (full member of Step) and Cert PFS among others.
The result was a bill for £180 in recognition of two advanced diploma-level accreditations awarded to him (30 credits per accreditation at £3 per credit). But because of the way the accreditation works, only one advanced diploma accreditation can be used towards his diploma so he still has to sit two diploma-level examinations (incongruously, at a lower level), in order to be able to advise in what he calls the post-RDR error, the same clients he has advised for the last 35 years.
The bill is unpaid while he reflects on whether the FSA/RDR team have completed a full fact-find/risk assessment on the impact of their recommendations on the livelihood of the more “experienced” section of the adviser community.
Our last diary article ended as we reflected on how we will service our long-standing clients who may not be willing or able to pay for fee-based advice after the RDR and on our statement that we shall not shed any clients. But as we work through our RDR project, and as issues emerge such as exams for the older advisers, it makes us wonder if it is us who are being shredded.
That said, we remain pragmatic and see these challenges as an opportunity to develop our business. Ongoing professional education (not just examinations) and development, com- pliance and TCF are all essential parts of good business and we intend to ensure that the whole learning process adds value to the services we provide to clients and to our business.
Keeping our business plan under review will ensure we do not miss any of those opportunities. At Barry Fleming & Partners, we have chosen to use much of the RDR as a catalyst for change, making a plan and making it happen.
First, it is encouraging to read that Lisa is being so focused in seeking to implement her firm’s business plan systematically. Rob and I actively encourage our clients to spend sufficient time in not only drafting their business plans but, equally importantly, resourcing and implementing them and then reviewing them at regular intervals to ensure the objectives are on course to be met.
It is comparable to building a house – the design must be carefully thought through. For financial intermediaries, the equivalent is to ensure that the process of developing and reviewing the proposition and then segmenting the client base are rigorous.
Lisa’s use of back-office software to help ensure the plans for the business and for clients can be effectively implemented is also to be applauded.
However, it is also very important that this software is designed to work in tandem with any existing back-office software to ensure there are not IT processing issues either now or in the future. Therefore, seeking this confirmation is an important step to take, not least to ensure that any contractual terms with other software suppliers are not adversely affected and in extreme cases, invalidated.
I also suggest that Lisa checks that she has a robust back-up on a remote server to limit any disruption in the event of an IT failure.
Ensure that the process of developing and reviewing the proposition and then segmenting the client base are rigorous
The internal communication that Lisa and her colleagues are achieving through access to the project software is an excellent example of teamworking. We find instances where business owners, or on occasion just one individual, rush ahead with change but fail to keep their colleagues informed and also sometimes fail to get the support of their colleagues. Effective teamwork during times of change is vital.
Turning now to the RDR and the challenges it poses to intermediaries, we agree with Lisa that studying for and passing the exams take time and can impact on underlying business levels and profitability.
However, the longer-term benefits need to borne in mind:
- The ability to continue to practice after 2012 we are doing. Making changes to any established business is a major project for most firms and just as we would advise our clients on the benefits of having a plan, a firm that seeks to make changes needs one too. Failing to plan is planning to fail – trite but true.
- Higher levels of professionalism will enable relationships to be made and strengthened with fellow professionals such as accountants and solicitors, leading to a likely increase in business
- A judicious choice of examinations also has the potential to enable intermediaries to enhance their propositions and their earnings as well as the underlying value of their business in the process.
With regard to the charges made by professional bodies for reviewing academic qualifications and documentation, it is a fact of life that administration costs money.
Whether the requirement for additional examinations is fair and reasonable has been extensively debated elsewhere and there is no purpose served in rehearsing the arguments here. We simply take the view that those wanting to commit themselves to a future need to act on the basis that the changes will happen and plan and act accordingly.
As Lisa says, it is best to be pragmatic and to look for the positives from the changes. They will enable intermediaries to build more professional businesses that are financially sound and have the potential to provide long-term benefits to both clients and themselves alike
Roderic Rennison Director, The Ideas Lab