Evolution Financial Planning director on why the government needs to take more responsibility for promoting advice to pension savers
There is a lot to be said about pensions. Defined benefit transfers and the ongoing implications of the freedom and choice regime have given advisers plenty to contemplate in recent years. However, for Evolution Financial Planning director Rebecca Robertson, one of the most important things that needs addressing right now is getting the self-employed to understand the benefits of retirement savings.
“Too many self-employed people are using their business as their pension and there is a real issue with accountants not explaining the benefits of an actual pension to them. Many only approach the subject where the client is a higher-rate taxpayer.
They get businesses to run like expenses spreadsheets rather than as a foundation for wealth,” she says.
The debate about there being no equivalent to auto-enrolment for the self-employed has been rumbling on for the last couple of years, but Robertson does not see any solution to come from it because auto-enrolment has not gone far enough for the employees that are eligible already. If contributions are below where they need to be to give employees a decent retirement, why would a version for the self-employed be any different?
“The self-employed have to provide auto-enrolment for their staff but it’s just a couple of quid. It’s about ticking a box; nobody is really putting the message across that they themselves could put more into their pension,” she says.
For Robertson, getting the self-employed to save for retirement is bound up with the broader problem of how to get more people in front of a regulated adviser.
She points out that, while life companies can spend billions of pounds on marketing with TV adverts making them household names, advisers are so wrapped
up in red tape by the regulator that nobody is really promoting advice.
“There is the Money Advice Service, but it only directs people to Unbiased and Vouched For. I have to pay to be on those panels and pay for leads. Nobody is supporting IFAs to make a real difference to pension levels or promoting the credibility of independent advice as a profession,” she says.
This is one reason why Robertson is involved in media work, speaking at industry events, writing blogs and a book. However, she thinks what is lacking is the government taking responsibility for promoting advice on a national scale.
Having left school at 15 and trying her hand at several jobs, Robertson discovered financial services in her late teens by working as a temp at Alliance & Leicester. She moved into advice while working for Bradford & Bingley, which was taken over by independent mortgage broker John Charcol.
By the age of 28, she had worked her way up the mortgage market into management, with responsibility for a team of 35 brokers. However, some things in life do not go to plan. Like many women, Robertson took a break to have her first child but was subsequently made redundant and lost her confidence for a while.
“I tried to get back into the industry and failed. I lost my mojo; I just couldn’t do it,” she says.
In many ways, this was a turning point. Robertson eventually got back into the industry as a mortgage broker but a year later left to start her own firm, Evolution for Women, as a comfortable environment for female advisers and clients.
Robertson explains that prior to starting a family she was working in an aggressive sales environment and, as “one of the lads”, did not see how that culture could seem intimidating to women.
“When I came out of that environment and lost my confidence, it was a huge learning curve. I could look at it with different eyes and see it for what it was. It was a humbling experience. My approach was very aggressive and direct. Now I don’t excuse that I’m female as I can’t change that,”
At Evolution, Robertson’s approach is more holistic and softer. “Quite often the aggressive, hard approach is not best for business,” she says.
As well as making advice more accessible to women, part of her vision was to help other women into the industry and run their own business, which the firm does through a licensing agreement similar to a franchise.
She adds: “Women are taken on as trainees but that might not be as advisers. They tend to start doing other stuff, then move into advice as it’s a bit of a leap to go straight into advice. They study while working.
“It’s about building a group of women who support each other long term. I believe in collectives – women working together is stronger than individually. Setting up on your own costs time, money and effort but if they stay with us they can build their business with us.”
As Evolution expanded outside London, the client base broadened. Around 60 per cent of clients are couples, so Robertson changed the name to Evolution Financial Planning for marketing purposes.
“We had a lot of women asking if we could speak to their husbands. How can I stand for equality if people think I’m excluding some people? So, we tweaked the name. Evolution for Women was the right thing to do when I started the business, but the market has changed,” she says.
As for the future, Robertson has plenty in the pipeline. “I’ll be recruiting more advisers next year and I’m planning to do some video blogs and webinars as part of delivering more content to people,” she says.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Be yourself, be authentic. People will love you for being you.
What keeps you awake at night?
Marketing ideas and ideas for blogs. I go over and over them.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Auto-enrolment is still having an impact.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…?
Be more proactive, not reactive, to firms giving bad advice. I would take a preventative approach and try to guide them as to what is good advice and what is not.
Any advice for new advisers?
Find a good mentor and work with a firm that shares your values.
2011-present: Director, Evolution Financial Planning (formerly Evolution for Women)
2010-2011: Mortgage broker, Your Mortgage Decisions
2008-2009: Career break
2006-2007: Regional sales manager, Mortgage Savings Centre
2004-2006: Mortgage broker/sales manager, Mortgage Minds
2001-2004: Mortgage broker, Bradford & Bingley, then technical underwriter, John Charcol
1999-2001: Bank clerk/mortgage adviser, Alliance & Leicester