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Tom Hegarty: Advisers need to talk to each other about best practice

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The financial services landscape has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 20 years – mostly for the better. However, adopting best practice has become increasingly challenging.

The UK financial advice industry used to encompass banks, insurance companies, tied-sales operations and small to medium independent firms, so the number of individuals providing advice was considerably higher.

This gave advisers the opportunity to have regular conversations with one another about what was working well, the challenges they were facing and ideas to evolve their businesses in the best way. Whether structured and organised or more spontaneous and informal, such discussions enabled business development ideas and best practice to spread organically.

Back in the late 1990s, I worked for a large London-based operation that had around 400 advisers working out of the same building. Every Friday afternoon, we would turn off our phones and hold a sales meeting. Dozens of advisers would come along and we would all take turns in hosting and deciding the agenda. This would usually be based around what we thought our individual strengths were, how we had been successful and what methods we had used to generate higher levels of business.

I found the meetings fascinating and there was always great variation in the subjects covered. Some were more technical and product-specific, while others covered topics around business development, such as generating referrals or obtaining more business in specific markets. However, the majority were centred around specific skills and behaviours that led to improved client outcomes, profitability and efficiency.

We covered how to discuss commission and adviser remuneration with clients, how to use questioning techniques in the factfinding process to gain a greater understanding of clients’ objectives and even how to position the adviser’s chair to enhance the body language throughout the face-to-face process.

“Adopting best practice has become increasingly challenging.”

Spreading the good news

These sessions were invaluable to the evolution of best practice. The organic spread of ideas led to an increase in our confidence and gave us reassurance that there were no major areas lacking in our proposition.

Of course, each of us adopted the individual practice methods we felt most comfortable with. This also meant rejecting those we did not think fitted with the way we wanted to deliver advice.

That created a variation of advice delivered from one of us to the next but, at the same time, gave a level of consistency in terms of what clients received.

The financial services sector today is represented by fewer advisers and most businesses are smaller in scale. Many firms are isolated, leaving advisers without the opportunity to chat with others. A number of organisations run their own CPD events, which do bring advisers together, but the majority of these focus on technical sessions rather than facilitating structured discussions around best practice.

With this in mind, I would encourage all advisers to spend as much time as possible with others to compare notes on working practices in the current climate. There is often a fear among advisers that they are out of touch with the consistent methods used by others. Meeting up and discussing best practice would bring peace of mind that others are facing similar challenges and looking for similar solutions.

We have run best practice meetings over the last few years, bringing advisers together to share ideas. There is a formal agenda but this includes two open forum sessions, which allows attendees to discuss specific challenges they face, as well as share ideas they have to improve business practices.

Tom Hegarty is managing director of New Model Business Academy

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