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Building bridges

Having spent most of last week with various IFA firms and their clients, I am optimistic about the future of independent financial advice. Zurich estimates that around 27 million people in the UK do not use a financial adviser and it is this huge chunk of the population that may be suited to the proposed money guidance or sales routes to financial security. But two million of this group are deemed high-net-worth and common sense dictates that they should seek independent financial advice – rare is the individual who can take a DIY approach to his financial affairs and be 100 per cent effective.

One consistency over my 26 years in financial services is how we do not shout from the rooftops about how independent financial advice can seriously improve people’s well-being. I can introduce you to hundreds of people coming off fixed-rate mortgages who are being told they cannot continue with their lender as there has been a change in status, such as a change of jobs.

I hate to point out the obvious but this causes sleepless nights. This is where an adviser’s knowledge of the market comes in and, as expected, the number of people seeking mortgage advice from IFAs has risen over the last quarter against a backdrop of fewer mortgages being available.

But should IFAs actively seek to attract the attention of the two million HNWs who do not have a financial adviser? I hear IFAs point to bodies like Sifa, IFAP, Aifa and the Personal Finance Society to raise the brand of IFAs but I ask you, is this the responsibility of these bodies when no two IFA firms are the same? I believe IFAs should raise their own brands in the markets they want to operate in, as no firm can be all things to all men.

I spoke to Georgina Partridge of London-based Perfect Day. She is one of the new generation of young graduate IFAs who will shape the future of distribution. She says: “In order to attract clients, it is all about building relationships. A large part of our marketing activity is focused on our existing clients to show that we do care for them and from this quality referrals come.”

Georgina is not alone as a quality IFA who believes that it is about the care offered to clients. Bruce Wilson of Helm Godfrey, Money Marketing IFA of the Year in 2008, says: “We believe next to our family and friends, one of the key relationships in our lives is with those who advise us on our financial affairs.”

Do not underestimate the power of this client relationship marketing strategy when some people would prefer to go to the dentist rather than disclose everything about themselves to a stranger in a suit on first meeting.

Never mind shouting about how useful independent financial advice can be and building strong IFA brands, what about trying to deal with some of the ridiculous stories that hit the news concerning IFAs? For example, see the story that claimed MPs are less likely to perceive the financial services sector as professional compared with other occupations, according to research conducted by the Chartered Insurance Institute. The survey of 121 MPs found that 18 per cent rate financial services as good or very good in terms of professionalism.

Why is the CII issuing this rubbish that does nothing to support its members and the thousands of people who sit CII exams each year to increase their professionalism? Are examinations and knowledge not key facets of professionalism?

Come on IFAs, the retail distribution review sets you up perfectly to build a lifelong caring relationship with your clients, using the whole of market title to market your services to the ideal new clients who suit your business plan.

kim@techandtech.co.uk

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