We feel that we have accomplished a lot in the last few months and are now succeeding in making the RDR a very positive influence on our business. We have been running our business for over 35 years and it can be more difficult to appraise it critically when it has worked well for a long time. However, over the last few months, the changes we have made have really refreshed how we feel about the industry, our business and ourselves.
The first eight months were slow and were all about business plans and exams but now we are finding that so much can be made of the RDR and we want everyone in our business to live, breathe and feel the reinvention of the business.
We wanted some tangible results that we could show to clients. All the changes we have made have been done in consultation with clients
and with our team. We now feel very strongly that they are on the journey with us.
A couple of months ago, we had what we call our Shirley Valentine moment. The name Barry Fleming in financial services goes back to 1970 and simply refreshing our identity has had an important effect on all of us. Everyone feels re-invigorated and more confident. We have a crisper, cleaner image. We have redesigned our stationery, with a new, modern logo and typeface and the image has been rippled through everything we do.
The last thing that we have to do is refresh our website. It has all the content there but it is client-oriented information and lacks a few marketing-oriented “Welcome” pages. This is a most important element in bringing everything together.
When we sort out the website, the biggest focus will be on our people page. When we have worked with consultants, we have said that it is really all about the people but we were not saying so on the website. We have built such a lovely client bank of likeminded people but we want
to make sure people know that we are open for business for anyone who needs quality, affordable, financial planning.
In developing this new image, we have done a lot of work with creative agencies and leading communications and marketing consultants to understand who we are and to get to grips with what is our proposition and how we are going to deliver it. We have tended to use consultants to round off the edges. While consultants do not have to cost a lot, we have done as much as we could ourselves.
Some of these changes may seem cosmetic but they underpin the message we want to take forward. All the infrastructure is now in place to deliver and support our refreshed proposition.
We have recruited some key non-financial advisers to our board and to the administrative team to help build the infrastructure needed to meet the planned, significant scaling of our business.
To date, our business has come from 100 per cent referrals – we have never had to market ourselves – so building a marketing capability is a new experience. When we started talking to existing clientsabout our new proposition, they started talking to their friends and we have been
absolutely inundated with new client referrals.
We certainly never thought we would get referrals on referrals but that is what is happening. In the past, rather than targeting particular types
of clients, our focus has been on generational planning.
Like most advisers, we have a problem with an ageing client base and bringing on the next generation has been very important. Every new client we take on now is on a fee basis.
We were always commission offset, but with this there was a danger that we would be in a halfway house.
At some point, you have to take your feet off the bottom and start swimming. The last 12 months hasbeen a very positive experience.
The result is that we have the systems and processes in place to deal with fees. We have found that the sooner you start, the better and we have refined our fees proposition along the way. We would never go back.
The other thing we have had to do recently is recruit new financial planners to help us deal with the increased volumes of business. We have the budget to fund this recruitment, but it is difficult to get the right people.
This month, we are getting a recruitment consultant in to help us with our recruitment process. The most important factor in everything we do is to have the right people in place. It is not just one person, it is having the right team in place to deliver our services to every client.
We have a good package in place for this role, which will be fully employed. Our planners do not have to spend time finding clients or drilling down lists of leads. We have an in-house team that delivers our new client acquisition strategy resulting in client work.
We are looking for both graduates and paraplanners who will grow with us and financial planners at diploma level and above. We like to think
we offer a really good environment but it is still proving very difficult to find like-minded people who want to embrace change and who understand
our overriding principle of understanding the client’s perspective above everything.
From the outset, we were determined to make transitioning to the RDR a positive experience for our company, our staff and our clients. Today, we are feeling upbeat and very, very positive about our future.
We are doing what we said we would do. We will continue to regularly review our business plan in order to keep on track of our transition to the
post-RDR world. But what we did not know at the beginning of this journey and what strikes us most today is how refreshing and how satisfying
the outcome can be.
The consultant’s view
Given that this time of year is usually one for reflection, I took the time to re-read Lisa’s diary since Adviser Evolution first launched. RDR has moved in her mindset from a task to an opportunity.
Lisa makes the point that early progress was dictated by exams but they have now moved into the phase of looking forward instead of reaching back. The latter is a state of mind that holds many back.
It has been said before that to fail to plan is to plan to fail but that’s never been more true than with a deadline such as the RDR is in place. Our recommendation is to work back from the end of 2012 rather than work forward, only to be depressed by a timeline ending sometime after RDR takes effect. I realise that some people are visualising the 7th cavalry coming round the corner just before the end of 2012, with RDR being put to the sword, but I feel that is unlikely, given the stage we are at.
As we see it, there are three distinct groups in the market – the first is preferring to maximise revenue between now and the end of 2012, the second is the younger members of their staff (I hesitate to use the word team) and the last group is those making the transition with all possible speed, seeing the opportunities and negotiating around any barriers.
Equally important for BA Fleming is that any changes have been made with consultation from both the team and their clients. All too often, changes are determined – or, worse, implemented – without consulting those who are meant to operate or benefit from them. Some firms have gone even further and formed client focus groups where they meet on a regular basis and this forum allows the firm to “float” ideas for new services or refinements to existing ones.
As Lisa has correctly identified, the communication methods used to attract and retain clients are absolutely crucial. Although refreshing
a corporate logo is frequently seen as small beer, when it is done by major companies in difficult times like now, it can be just what a firm needs to signal a new start.
’I realise that some people are visualising the 7th cavalry coming round the corner just before the end of 2012, with RDR being put to the sword, but I feel that is unlikely, given the stage we are at’
Similarly, when moving from commission to fees (I mean real fees, not fee offset – more of that later) firms need to take the opportunity to reposition themselves, which enables the introduction of new or refreshed services to existing clients.
I mention fee offset as I consider many firms have been calling themselves fee-based while receiving commission that is in some cases more than required to cover the notional fees “charged”. This means that the clients are likely to realise the true level of fees and a difficult conversation may follow in 2013. I am glad to see that Lisa’s firm has not made that error.
It is also been good to see that Lisa and her team are not trying to do it all themselves and are using external resources as required.
This is very important, especially where a new design or logo is needed. This use of external resource will continue to increase and in many firms will allow for a very slim structure, where admin, paraplanning, technical resources and investment are provided by external firms.
In conclusion, the progress made has been substantial but more is still to be done and that should serve as a warning for those yet to engage.
Advisers need to take the time out now and consider just what has to be done and allocate and monitor those tasks. The key skill here is project management. If you don’t have it, import it.
Roderic Rennison is a director at The Ideas Lab