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Balancing act

The IFA market is well primed to grow as the economy recovers

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I think that 2010 is going to be a very interesting year. First, as the industry gears up for RDR in 2012, there will probably be a shift towards recruiting better qualified staff and we are looking forward to seeing what happens this year.

So much has changed for the good since I started recruiting in the days of direct sales when you could start selling life and pensions without any qualifications or experience whatsoever. However, I cannot help think-ing that the industry still has a very long way to go before it is seen as a comparable career path to becoming a lawyer or an accountant.

Today, if you join the industry as a graduate and become diploma-qualified, there is no guarantee that your career will be mapped out for you.

A diploma qualification is not even going to guarantee you a job and there are people out there with exemplary qualifications who cannot find work. It is a long way from accountancy where, upon qualification, a whole load of doors will suddenly open for you.

Admittedly, I am making generalisations here and there are some excellent individual businesses to work for, particularly well established stand alone IFAs or those attached to accountants or banks that are used to training and development. But this is not the case across the industry as a whole.

The IFA market is made up of lots of small operations and the current feeling is that these operations could be the future of the industry. How are all these small businesses going to cope with training and development? It is a huge time and financial commitment for a small company to train someone who could leave at any time.

When we achieve the status of a better qualified industry, then the issue of staff retention will become an important issue. In accountancy, you have the big practices that train staff – who would fulfil that role in the IFA market?

And with a shortage of qualified staff, firms are going to have to work harder to retain their key players.

The second reason why this could be an interesting year is that, hopefully, we will see a greater demand for staff as the country emerges from recession and the economy improves.

On the whole, 2009 was not a bad year for us but there was nothing like the demand that we had been seeing in previous years when it seemed as though every IFA was potentially recruiting.

As I have said before, what we need is balance, with enough available candidates as well as available vacancies.

As industry qualifications become mandatory, this will only increase the gap between the two if demand for staff increases.

My personal view is that we will not see a huge demand for some time to come. The successful model of today’s adviser simply does not need the same level of staff numbers that it needed in the past and the recession has taught them all to look very carefully at their costs.

It would certainly appear that, with the IFA market made up of a lot of small firms, it has been fairly resilient and will be well primed to grow when growth in the economy starts again in earnest.

Simon Benstead is a director of James Associates

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