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Chris Daems on blogging, his Unbiased awards and designing auto-enrolment in a box

Principal Financial Solutions director Chris Daems says writing personality-led blogs involving his family have attracted clients to his firm and helped him promote the benefits of financial planning. 

Daems, a double winner at this year’s Unbiased.co.uk Media Awards, says he has focused hard on putting relationships at the heart of his business. So it is not surprising that he highlights the need for financial planning using anecdotes about his wife Cassie, who provides admin support at Principal Financial Solutions, and their daughters. A recent blog was about the Daems’ eldest daughter saving to buy a dog.

“People read it and they know it’s genuine,” says Daems. “It gives us the opportunity to build relationships. We didn’t think we could do that online but people have been coming up to us saying they’ve read the blogs. A new client phoned, said she had read the blog and wanted to know what to do with her pension – but first she wanted to know how Cassie and the girls were.”

Daems says his blogs were initially intended to market the business but have developed into a love of writing. “It’s about sharing an idea in a different way. Usually the inspiration comes from something that’s happened,” he says.

The blogs – written over the past couple of years – now span 50,000 words. Daems has used them as a springboard for a book, due for publication in September.

“It’s a unique take on helping people plan their financial lives but it’s a bit weird, like the blogs,” he says.

Daems was shocked to win both the Unbiased Pension Adviser of the Year and Bluebook Newcomer awards in February.

“I think the reason we’ve had some success is that we’re trying to break the rules a bit. I’m not going to talk about pensions and Isas. I’d prefer to talk about the nature of retirement changing because people are living longer, so a 60-year-old woman could feel like she’s 30 and live her life that way,” he says.

Daems entered financial services after realising that a career in recruitment was not for him. “A friend of mine who was a branch manager at the Woolwich said I’d be good in a bank. I was on the tills and gave non-regulated advice,” he says.

Following a spell with Norwich & Peterborough, Daems joined Royal Bank of Scotland as a financial planning manager providing tied advice, before becoming an independent adviser.

“I wanted to get independent experience so I moved to an employee role with Bluefin. For the first time I had access to the tools used for true financial planning, such as cashflow modelling, rather than product-based financial advice. Bluefin also bought a corporate benefits business that gave me experience of working with managing directors and finance directors of larger firms.”

Daems’ positive experience at Bluefin gave him the confidence to set up his own advice firm in 2009.

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“It was tough – I had a six-year-old daughter at home,” he says. “But what made me do it was a chat with a bloke in a pub. I used to work with him. 

I said: ‘How are you?’ He said: ‘I’ve only got another eight years to go until I retire.’ I thought: ‘Can I eke out an existence in a job where I have no autonomy or influence or do I need to set up by myself now?”

Daems decided it was now or never and luckily the risk paid off. He set up Principal Financial Solutions with an agreement for 50 clients to transfer from Bluefin. Others came through affiliate relationships with the Federation of Small Businesses and Essex Chambers of Commerce.

“I started the business with one eye on the RDR,” says Daems. “I was diploma-qualified already and had aspired to run a professional practice. I was looking at business models like accountants and solicitors and thinking: ‘What can we learn from them and incorporate into our business?’ So for us the RDR was not a big deal.”

Daems is already thinking about the possibility of the RDR II hiking the minimum qualification up to level six. Principal Financial Solutions has a chartered financial planner and Daems expects to achieve chartered status himself by the end of the year.

“It’s about future-proofing the business. I don’t want to work for the next 10 years, see RDR II come along, then struggle to build the business for the future.”

Principal Financial Solutions focuses on the personal and corporate needs of business owners but Daems says auto-enrolment was the reason behind this, not the RDR.

“Three years ago, I dug deeper into how auto-enrolment would impact our clients and larger clients that we were not working with. I wrote a white paper on auto-enrolment and got approached by a number of financial planners who had large clients and wanted help with auto-enrolment. So we partnered them on a consultative basis.”

Principal Financial Solutions’ auto-enrolment process was built from scratch and, because of this, Daems was approached by Santorini Financial Planning director Matt Walne and Financial Social Media UK director Bridget Greenwood to become a director of the Auto-Enrolment Advisory Group, which helps advisers to enter the auto-enrolment market.

“A lot of advisers know bits about auto-enrolment but don’t understand enough,” says Daems. “They see it as a potential market but don’t know the way in. 

“They need their own independent fee-based proposition rather than relying on product providers and they need to understand the technology for that market because the only way to make sure data is clean is by using technology,” says Daems.

He is currently working on a simple, low-cost proposition for small businesses. “It’s auto-enrolment in a box. They don’t get advice and consultation but they do get some software and are able to phone their accountant if they need to. It will cost them less than £100 a month,” he says.

Daems thinks technology will also play a big part in catering for the mass market.

“There are guys building apps that make the advice process easier. Picking your portfolio at the click of a mouse as part of a guided advice process without an adviser could be part of the solution. We don’t know how that’s going to look yet but the market is changing all the time.”

Chris Daems

Chris-Daems-in-purple-mood-700.jpg

Born: East London, 1977

Lives: Essex

Education: Eastlea Community School, London; Epping Forest College, Essex

Career: 2009-present: director, Principal Financial Solutions; 2005-09: independent financial planner, Bluefin; 2000-05: financial planning manager, Royal Bank of Scotland; 1999-2000: financial adviser, Norwich & Peterborough Building Society; 1995-99: various roles at Woolwich Building Society

Likes: Reading, writing and, most importantly, spending time with my wife and two daughters

Dislikes: Jeremy Kyle

Drives: Nissan Qashqai

Book: The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters

Film: Anything by Pixar but in particular Toy Story, WALL-E and the first 10 minutes of Up

Album: Abbey Road by The Beatles

Career ambition: Build a true financial planning and corporate consultancy business that our clients, our team and I can be proud of

Life ambition: To continue to learn, continue to contribute and continue to enjoy

If I wasn’t doing this I would be… Who knows? I’m just grateful I’m enjoying time doing this 

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