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Care and care alike

I am a member of the Top Trak study group, a pool of 20 IFAs who meet quarterly to share ideas, problems and concepts to assist in the growth of each other’s business.

The opportunity to spend time with like-minded, progressive and positively focused IFAs has meant I have picked up many ideas that have guided my business. There is never a feeling of competitiveness, just a willingness to share.

I urge anyone who is not part of a study group to join one, or set one up with a group of colleagues.

Our last session coincided with the demise of Lehman Brothers and the fallout of AIG. The atmosphere was initially nervous and unsure, although it was nice to be among people who understood the issues and shared the inevitable concern for clients. But by the finish there was a fresh sense of optimism and a keenness to explore the opportunities arising from our discussions.

I was asked how I dealt with nervous clients in my role as their financial “architect” – how concerned were they about all the gloomy news?

I explained that my clients were not panicking. Instead, with us managing their expectations, they were behaving maturely, seeing this as an opportunity to invest more. The stockmarket is having a sale and now is a good time to buy.

I also explained how our holistic financial planning, branded as “wealth architecture”, takes our clients through an in-depth (non-financial) values assessment that establishes their future dreams, desires and aspirations, represented by their “financial home”.

Our role is then to furnish this financial home with creative solutions, innovative use of products and third-party relationships, which we describe as their “financial furniture”.

I also show my clients how, through clever tax planning, they can make double digit returns on investment. The point then being that I cannot see the point of taking the risk of losing capital for the sake of trying to make greater return, especially in the current market environment.

I am glad that my specialism is not around products, such as mortgages or investments, but in relationship-focused, holistic financial planning. Falling house prices and plunging stock markets do not negate the need for good financial planning – if anything it creates even greater urgency.

Simply understanding the need to be genuinely client-focused already differentiates us from a large section, perhaps the majority, of advisers. And as we progress further into the 21st century, it is very clear to me that successful advisers will be those that have sought to differentiate themselves among their peers – not necessarily being better advisers, just different.

There was a time when clients would seek the “best” adviser, using benchmarks such as qualifications, awards, price, location, experience and expertise, to name a few. These yardsticks are still valid, but, increasingly, clients want something more – an adviser who will enlighten them in their thought processes and strategies. They are aware of the need to plan and to buy insurances and investments, but they want to enjoy the process too.

They fear advisers who will confuse them or those fixated on selling a product. Instead, they want to have some fun along the way and a relationship with an adviser they trust to create a sense of direction with clear targets.

I am one of those advisers who has no problem in calling myself a salesman. But today, the subtle but significant difference is that I don’t actually sell anything, I merely facilitate the buying process.

Once we comprehend the nature of that collaborative, hand-holding role, it does not matter what happens to markets or house prices.

We may be in the depths of recession, values may be collapsing and stock portfolios crashing, but there will always be a place for creative, caring, client-focused advice.

Bhupinder Anand is managing director of Anand Associates

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