I recently completed the London Marathon, which was quite a painful experience.
As I was trotting around, trying desperately to think of anything other than the ruptured hamstring I acquired at 19 miles, it occurred to me that setting up and maintaining an IFA practice in today's financial services industry is not too dissimilar to long-distance running.
I began my marathon training with the same conviction and naivety I had as a fledgling IFA. I did both because I wanted to raise or earn some money and had the self-belief that I was doing a good thing, despite being told on both occasions that I was completely bonkers.
There is no point in starting either if you have no intention of finishing the course although you cannot help but question your rationale on the odd occasion.
Of course, a few old-timers will probably furnish you with the benefits of their experience, good and bad, and the crowd will keep you going by passing encouragement along the way.
However, even if you have trained well, run your weekly mileage and taken your FPC/AFPC exams, you can never be sure of what is round the corner and every week there seems to be a new challenge.
Why is it that the media love the London Marathon and focus on the oddballs – you know, the ones dressed as dinosaurs or rhinos? When it comes to financial services, however, it is the dinosaurs that are classed as commission-hungry salesmen and are the bane of our industry.
Most advisers I know are highly-effective, well-qualified individuals whose main concern is their clients' welfare. There are the odd ones out there who are not prepared to keep up the training and who have no real passion for the job in hand. Thankfully, those who feel this way will soon retire from the race as the challenges they face are too difficult.
The main pressures in financial services come from within. You cannot run a marathon – or a business, for that matter – without some kind of positive mental attitude. However, it strikes me that as an industry we are just not positive enough.
Please do not get me wrong. I have had a few dismal moments – normally running uphill into a headwind in horizontal rain or wondering if I was ever going to get everything under control.
We should be jumping with joy that the pension deficit has reduced by £60bn and that the stockmarket is seeing a tentative recovery, at least enough to restore some investor confidence. But trying to get the message across to the media that we have some good news at last is like hitting “the wall” at 22 miles — energy draining.
The London Marathon raises millions of pounds for charity and this is deemed to be a good thing.
As financial advisers, over the years, we have raised the wealth of our clients, encouraged them to save, given them good deals on mortgages and perhaps saved them the same millions of pounds but this does not quite seem to be worthy of praise.
But bad news sells and that will never change.
The legislative upheavals that will confront us in the next two years will no doubt be tough but manageable. Those of us who deal with mortgages have M-Day to face later this year and in addition we have the delights of pension simplification in 2006.
We may have to change the way we work to cope with the new regime and accommodate the changes, for example, the FSA's menu approach.
No doubt, the CII and FSA will help us with our training programme and take the opportunity to introduce some new (expensive) exams and manuals to go with it all. We will boost their coffers once more, learning some good stuff and some irrelevant statistics along the way.
On the subject of the latter, I ran 57,557 paces on April 18, burned 2,283 calories and lost three inches off my backside. At least there is less to have to cover from a compliance perspective.
There is an end to a marathon as you stagger across the finish line.
There is no finite end to being an IFA. I am pretty proud to do both.
Fiona Sharp is a senior adviser at Finance4Women, part of M2 Financial