Attention seeking

It is a sad but all too frequently encountered fact that it is the urgency of a matter rather than its importance that is the main, although not necessarily the only, determinant of how quickly it is dealt with.

The “ascendancy of the urgent” is, of course, completely understandable. We will all, well, most of us, associate with this. You only have to consider the inbox and the mobile phone. How often do you respond (to either), perhaps deferring other more important work because it is not so urgent – or is not seen as such. For some, the flow of “urgent” is so great and never ending (think overloaded inbox) that nothing else ever gets dealt with – especially if you chuck a back-to-back meeting schedule into the mix as a perfect complement.

This is not to say that calls, emails and meetings can never be important – of course they can and often are. But not every call and email needs to be responded to immediately and not every meeting needs to be accepted. If you do, when do you get to “do the work?”
OK, enough of the soapbox. What’s it got to do with regulatory and business change? In the current year, the urgency factor attached to both of these will have reached an intense level. And not only will these matters be urgent, if your business survival depends on dealing with them, they will also be very important. Urgent and important is a powerful and irresistible combination. Inevitably, attention, intellect and action will be attracted to addressing these issues.

A concern, against this maelstrom of important urgent attention and action is that other matters may not be getting the attention they deserve and, in another time, would otherwise get. This is not a criticism of anyone, just an observation that in relation to the allocation of our time and attention, we could be said to be “overweight” in regulation and business change and “underweight” in tax, legal and product changes that affect clients.

Aside from all the RDR-driven change, adviser and provider businesses also have to assimilate, understand and respond to tax, legal and product changes. These changes may seem less pressing as they do not directly affect the business, the way it is run and its profit model – but they do affect clients and they do affect the adviser’s core competence – financial advice supplied to clients.

Just consider the immense change to pension taxation on input and withdrawals. And then there is the generally increased burden of income tax (for high earners) and National Insurance. That is before we look at, on the face of it, less radical changes, including the increase in the Isa limit, the launch of the Jisa, the change to CGT entrepreneurs’ relief and the scheduled reductions to corporation tax, to name a few.

None of these changes directly and immediately affect the way an adviser runs their business or “complies” and this is why they may be seen, in the scheme of things, as slightly less important and certainly less urgent.

It is quite possible even, given the more “business-pressing” nature of the regulatory and business transition changes, that these other changes may be seen as something of an imposition. Something you know you need to be aware of to properly advise your clients but something that is getting in the way of creating and/or implementing your business transition.

In another time, when the regulatory and business burdens may not be so immense and pressing, these changes to pensions and tax may have a better chance of being welcomed by advisers. Welcomed as a means by which all important proactivity and resulting client engagement is possible.

We are all bombarded these days with all manner of “interruptions”- by email, cold-call and ordinary mail. And that is leaving aside the less intrusive means of poster advertising and newspaper ads. Let’s also not forget TV ads – classic interruption.

When the interruption is without “permission” – there being no existing relationship – then it is getting increasingly hard to make yourself heard. “Permission” is therefore incredibly valuable – ask Seth Godin, the multi-talented author of Permission Marketing. With “permission” – earned through past acts engendering trust – you have a potential fasttrack to the heart and mind of your target. A trade route to be valued, cherished and jealously guarded. But even with permission, your message, your interaction, needs to be relevant and current. It needs to mean something to the recipient. Ideally, it needs to show how your “target” can improve their financial well- being based on what you are telling them or suggesting.

Returning to the importance – and perhaps “under messaging” – of the opportunities arising from tax, legal and product changes, the opportunities for relevant, current interruptions are impressive.

Most would agree with Godin’s recommendation in relation to communication/ interruption – namely that the effectiveness of “interruption” will usually stem from “selling the problem”.

And oh what a store of problems we have to dip into. We have pension, income tax, NIC and inheritance tax problems to name but four. All very relevant and all very current.

Selling these problems and the financial services and financial advice-based answers to them offers a fantastic basis to secure attention – with or without permission. Although getting attention with permission is always to be preferred.

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