We have all seen it: someone new comes in – whether it is a boss at work or a manager of your favourite football team – and things change. Sometimes the changes are well overdue, but other times a bit of tinkering here and a tweak there gives the impression of change for the sake of it, or just to signal the arrival of a new regime.
That is not the way new Worldwide Financial Planning managing director Simon Funge wants to do things.
Almost two months into the role, Funge is taking the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. But that is not to say he will hold back from bringing in new ideas where appropriate for the firm, which has just notched up 20 years in the advice sector.
“Worldwide is a well-established business. My role is to develop it working with the existing team, but hopefully I will have some experience to bring as well,” he says.
“Coming into a business, the first thing you need to do is understand it. You need to understand the proposition and try to add to that from your own experience.”
Worldwide has three offices: there is the head office in Truro, plus two in Southampton and Belfast.
“The culture and feel of the business is driven by Truro and out to the individual advisers. We want clients to have similar experiences whether they are in Truro, Southampton or Belfast, because they are all part of the same brand.”
The market is an exciting place to be if you have a strong proposition. We have ambitious plans for growth
Joining Worldwide from Birmingham-based mutual Wesleyan, where he was head of financial planning, Funge has relocated back to Devon for the new role.
“We had been living in Devon 20 years ago when I was working for Lloyds and had always wanted to return. So, we had a house built on the coast and came back in early February this year. It tied in quite nicely,” he says.
Having spent the last couple of months finding his feet and examining the culture at his new firm, Funge does not feel there is any need for a radical departure from its current way of doing things.
“It has the right feel about it and the right culture. My job is to build on that. The market is an exciting place to be if you have a strong proposition. We have ambitious plans to grow the business. We are looking at some new partnerships or acquisitions but I am also keen that we build the business within the local community and internally, too.”
Making clients and prospective clients more aware of the full range of services Worldwide offers will draw on the strength of the relationships it has built over the years.
For Funge, the thing that sets advice businesses apart is the quality of their relationships with their clients, particularly since the RDR changed things for the industry with its ban on commission, leading many firms to focus on lifestyle financial planning rather than selling products.
“The transactional way of working is not the right way for us. The market that we are in is lifestyle planning, not product planning. It is long-term relationships that will drive the business, so we want to build on that,” he says.
Given his views on the importance of client relationships, it is no surprise to hear Funge sees robo-advice as unsuitable for high-level financial planning matters.
He points to the FCA’s recently published report into automated investment services, which identified shortcomings around suitability, fee disclosure and identifying vulnerable clients.
“Robo-advice has a place but it should be limited to non-complex advice. Clients with complicated financial circumstances are best dealt with in a face-to-face business relationship.
“Our client base values face-to-face advice the most. There will be times, going forward, when they might prefer a review by telephone or Skype, but I would be very surprised if the vast majority did not want to stay with a face-to-face arrangement. Sometimes the best advice is for clients not to do anything at all, and that is often discerned best face-to-face.”
Like many others in the industry, Funge knows clients value the comfort factor that receiving complex advice in person brings; having someone there in front of them to provide reassurance as well as advice.
Talking to people face-to-face was one of the reasons he started out in financial services. With a keen interest in business, he joined the industry straight from school.
Having spent a large chunk of his career in banking, including time at Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, he believes there is a place and an opportunity for banks in the advice market.
“They have good client relationships and they have got great distribution. I think there has been a gap in the market since many of the high street banks pulled out of ‘core advice’ under the old bancassurance model. It’s left a gap in areas like protection.”
Sometimes the best advice is for clients not to do anything at all, and that is often discerned best face-to-face
In his previous role at Wesleyan, Funge’s focus was on a range of professions such as doctors, dentists, teachers and lawyers. Does he think there is a need to provide more specialist advice to certain groups?
“Traditionally, there have always been specialist advisers but that gap has closed a bit as general technical knowledge has improved. There will always be a place for specialist advice but products have become more sophisticated, so highly technical advisers who are not specialists are also available to help. It’s more about giving clients a choice when it comes to the right advice and the right product.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Listening is a skill.
What keeps you awake at night?
Very little. I try to plan ahead and predict any issues or problems we might have.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the past year?
Mifid II. It will challenge firms to review their operating model and deliver a step up in the level of service.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Focus on re-engaging clients around basic protection.
Any advice for new advisers?
Continue in professional development.
April 2018-present: Managing director, Worldwide Financial Planning
2016-2018: Head of operations, strategy and proposition, then head of financial planning, Wesleyan
2013-2016: Client relationship director, Doran Scott Williams & Company
2007-2013: Managing director IFS then head of advice transformation, Royal Bank of Scotland Group
1989-2007: Various roles including regional director, Lloyds TSB
1987-1989: Manager, Chartered Trust
1985-1987: Assistant mortgage manager, HFC Trust & Savings