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Fast-forward to the future

Chris Cummings talks about Aifa’s new FFWD academy for advisers looking forward to change their proposition for the better.

Last year was incredibly tough for IFA firms and this next 12 months will not be an easy ride. Aifa is determined to help members adapt to the challenging conditions and develop services that help build better businesses for the long term.

That is why we launched the business transition academy FFWD. We had originally set a target of 400 firms but, within a month of launch, saw 600 making use of the academy.

The FFWD academy is a web-based system that is aimed at helping the business owner or director through the complete business transition journey, from recognising where they are today to painting a vision of how much more financially robust their business can be. It provides help at every step of that journey. At the heart of FFWD is a financial modelling kit. As most firms who have been through the transition can testify, it is managing the cashflow that is the hardest part. Well, the financial modelling software allows firms to do just that – and shows what alternative routes can mean too.

The business academy was designed and developed by members for members. It was tailor-made for Aifa by a leading technology firm and the insights that have made it so successful came via detailed research with firms who had been through the trans-ition – as well as those that were going through it. We set up a practitioner-led steering board to make sure everything delivered was fit for purpose and of the highest standard.

This was supported by representatives of the Aifa council and members and the crucial backing of Skandia.

This year will see FFWD further developed, with a programme of activity to help more members use the service. As the regulator’s retail distribution review proposals are firmed up, we will keep the content current. But the academy is not just about the RDR – that is one of the reasons why it does not focus on adviser qualifications. The academy was set up to help those who run advisory businesses understand the challenges that face them in the current market.

Look out for more work on human resources issues, business law, health and safety and more practical help with running a business in today’s increasingly legalistic climate. FFWD has given us the platform to help members run more financially robust businesses that will be better placed for a changing market – whether they intend to buy other firms or just run a growing, more profitable business.

2010 will be another challenging year for the financial services industry. Another year of change and upheaval. A general election risks bringing more uncertainty to a fragile market – so I hope for an early one. The only regulatory structure that helps business is a stable one.

Regardless of who wins the next election, we need better and more accountable regulation. If we don’t, even the most prepared firms will face continual threats to their profitability.

Chris Cummings is director general of the Association of Independent Financial Advisers

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