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General practitioner vs specialist

For many years, there has been a debate about the relative merits of general practitioner v specialist. The GP will argue that he or she can provide a one-stop service offering holistic financial planning.

The specialist will argue that it is necessary to specialise as it is becoming more difficult to keep up to date with the intricacies of legislation, product development and, to a certain extent, compliance requirements. The specialist will probably also tell you that specialisation will lead to better advice.

To a large extent, your client bank and source of enquiries will determine whether you specialise or operate in a niche market. If you are extensively advising clients at retirement or near retirement age, you are more likely to be writing annuity and investment business than perhaps protection. But just because you concentrate on a certain client or business, does it mean that the quality of advice is better?

You will have to demonstrate that you are adding value over and above that available from the GP.

If you specialise to too large a degree, there is a danger that you may overlook some of the client&#39s more basic requirements better served by a GP.

According to the Cambridge International Dict- ionary of English, “a specialist is someone who

limits their studying of work to a particular area of knowledge and who knows a lot about that area”. However, it seems nowadays you cannot pick up

an adviser&#39s corporate brochure without finding something that they specialises in. Advisers may

be selecting against certain client types or areas of business by choosing to specialise in others. After all, the dictionary defines niche as “a job or position which is very suitable for someone, especially one that they like”. A niche market is “a small area of trade within the economy, often involving products”.

Unwittingly or otherwise, the regulators may have their part to play in the sounding of the death knell for the GP and forcing advisers down the specialist route. I wonder how many advisers have pulled out of the mortgage market since the introduction of the mortgage code or decided not to get involved with pension transfers? I am all in favour

of increasing professional standards in our industry through qualifications if necessary but this may lead to advisers having to specialise in certain areas to keep their knowledge up to date in those areas. It is not realistic to expect one individual to have a high degree of expertise across the board.

Some areas of advice do lend themselves well

to specialisation in that they require a higher degree of knowledge or understanding of the market. Tax planning generally and specifically inheritance tax planning are examples. Not only does the adviser have to be aware of and keep him/herself up to date with the changes in legislation and Revenue practice but they also need a detailed understanding of how the various plans operate. There is a skill in presenting recommendations to clients in an easily understandable manner. Just because the rules are complicated, it does not mean that the solutions have to be. But even if the adviser has the requisite knowledge and skills, he or she will not succeed if they do not have the right type of clients.

There is still very much a role for the general practitioner in identifying and satisfying client requirements but we are likely to see the GP working more closely with specialists as certain areas

of advice become more complicated. Be careful, though, as according to Austro-German zoologist Konrad Lorenz, “Every man gets a narrower and narrower field of knowledge in which he must be an expert in order to compete with other people. The specialist knows more and more about less and less and finally knows everything about nothing.”

John Dawson is estate planning

manager at Wentworth Rose

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