Best Practice chief executive Ian Cooke is not one to underestimate the importance of his role in the company’s growth. “I am a visionary helmsman really,” he says. “I see where the financial services industry is going and develop systems to cater for the future. My day-to-day role is like a game of chess. I have to be a few moves in front.”
Being a few moves in front is what prompted Cooke to form Best Practice and to create technology firm Aspect 8, where he is also chief executive. After setting up IFA Ian Cooke & Partners in 1993, Cooke began to realise delivering a good service to clients through decent technology was where his future lay.
“We were the DBS network’s biggest member firm with about a £2m turnover. I liked the culture and mentality of DBS but when it was sold to Misys I felt things started to change. They tried to push a technological solution which I did not think was particularly good. In our final year, we paid about £170,000 in fees and did not receive one phone call. That was our catalyst to leave. We set up Best Practice to mean just that – the best IFA practice made up of Sofa members.
Originally, Cooke did not intend Best Practice to be a network but its five member firms meant it had to be registered as one. “We did not want to be a typical network – we did not want to float, we did not want to sell, we just wanted a home to go back to the culture of good client service.”
Best Practice is financed solely by Cooke and the other founders, which he believes has been crucial in the company’s success and has seen it win Money Marketing’s Best IFA network award this year.
“We do not leverage anything. If you only work on your own reserves and stick to that, then you never have any problems. A lot of businesses really suffered in the recession but our profit remained at £250,000-£300,000, even though what we make mostly goes back into the business on things like technology. If you bought the systems we have today, I think it would come to over £10m.”
He says technology is what separates Best Practice from competitors. The network’s Enable tool utilises 16 platforms and is a core piece of technology, with member firms able to add their own bespoke layers.
“When someone joins us, we effectively build the proposition they want and pull in platforms. It can include anything from a website for client log-in to social media capability. We do a discovery session with each member. Getting a new firm on board can take up to three months, with the process of building and training them on their chosen models.”
Although Cooke believes technology is the key to efficiency, he is also aware of the danger of too much automation. “Companies become too vanilla if everyone uses the same model. If someone joins you and they are on Avalon, you have to have systems that support them.”
As part of this ethos, Best Practice offers its members access to wealth management systems Pershing and SEI. “The problem with these platforms is you need £1bn under an advisory mandate, which cuts out most of the IFA community. We offer these platforms to members with £50m and more without requiring them to place significant assets on there.”
Alongside choice, Cooke also places transparency to the list in terms of network platform requirements. “Although our platforms are discounted and we pass that on to our members, I can see the temptation to add 20 basis points and push it back onto clients. Transparency works both ways. I sympathise with those IFAs struggling to be RDR-ready but the industry has needed a change in terms of charging structures and systems and there are a lot of routes to qualification now so there is enough for most advisers to go at.”
After the RDR, when advisers will have to prove and document their processes, Cooke believes technology which allows advisers to police their work will be key in remaining independent. He does not see going restricted as an option for Best Practice. “We would lose our chartered status and our discretionary permission and we would not be true to our core beliefs if we lost independence. Restricted networks will see problems with legacy wraps as they will not have the products to accommodate everyone.”
The RDR will also be guiding Cooke’s role as Aspect 8 chief executive but in a different way. “Last November, we changed the name from Ian Cooke & Partners as part of our new incarnation in the run-up to the RDR.” Aspect 8 took its name from the eight-point checklist the firm bases its advising process on, starting with mortgages and ending with taxation. “The eight-point process embodies the holistic approach that I think will be the future of advising after 2012. I think clients suffer without full holistic planning.”
Cross-pollination between Aspect 8 and Best Practice extends beyond a push to stay independent. “Certain clients we have at Best Practice, including a derivatives trader and two FSA representatives, are interested in our technology processes, so we also set it up as a test space for new systems.”
Aspect 8 uses four platforms – Standard Life, Nucleus, Pershing and Fusion Wealth, a sort of supply manager created by Best Practice to allow members without signifi- cant assets to leverage SEI. “Fusion allows us to offer absolute choice. After the RDR, everyone will use some kind of platform but adopting a limited range may mean clients lose out.”
Continuing to develop Best Practice and Aspect 8’s service propositions is just one of Cooke’s aims for 2011 and beyond. “I did want to be the best network in the UK but thanks to the Money Marketing award, we have already done that. With Best Practice, I would like to hit 250 members compared with 80 at present but our induction procedure is so exhaustive this could take some time. In terms of Aspect 8, I am going to follow Deming’s advice, ’Manage for quality and profit will come’.”
Born: 1968, Brighton
Lives: Fulking, West Sussex, with partner and twin daughters
Education: Varndean Grammar School followed by chartered financial planning at the CII and currently studying for CFA at the CFA Institute
Career: 2003-present: CEO of Best Practice IFA Group; 1993-present: CEO of Aspect 8; 1991-1993: financial planner at Standard Life
Likes: Spending time with my family; good food and wine and skiing
Dislikes: Injustice, soap operas and chaos
Drives: Mercedes CL500
Book: E-myth by Michael Gerber
Film: The Usual Suspects
Album: Anything Motown but currently 21 by Adele
Career ambition: To be seen as a pioneer by developing and maintaining the best whole of market network in the UK through integrity and innovation
Life ambition: To achieve my career ambitions and enjoy the journey. Above all, know that my family are proud of my achievements and act as a good role model for my children
If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…Enjoying the benefits of a good night’s sleep