Many advisers see the benefit of learning new skills and gaining specialist qualifications but the reasons why they embark on extra study vary. For Strategic Solutions director Allan Cruse, an experience with one elderly client brought home to him how having extra knowledge can make a big difference.
“A client I knew for years knew what he wanted to do with his estate when he died. He did not want it to go to his daughter. He told me the reasons why and that his decision was set out in his will. But when he died, as a result of not finding the will, the daughter inherited part of the estate,” he says.
“If only I had known enough about wills to ensure it was safe. But there was nothing I could do in respect of that particular client.”
Cruse was keen to avoid similar situations happening again. He decided that a Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners qualification would help him gain the detailed knowledge he lacked, enabling him to better explain this area of planning to clients and point them in the right direction.
“It’s a different type of training. Instead of recommending a product for clients, I can help by making sure they understand things like power of attorney.”
As a member of the Institute of Professional Will Writers, Cruse can write a power of attorney and wills. However, he sees his role as having the detailed knowledge of such processes to help people along, but passing the actual work to solicitors.
Located in Poole, Dorset, Cruse knows he is in a region that has more retired people per head than a lot of places. As such, it makes sense for him to specialise in areas that would be of particular relevance to older clients. That is why he has also become Society of Later Life Advisers accredited.
“It is challenging for advisers to train in things that are not related to finance, such as dementia. Solla has a wider traction, so it gives me access to other training areas. You don’t have to take exams but you go through the process which includes role play and discussion. It keeps me up to date with later life issues,” he says.
Cruse is one of those advisers who takes an interest in shaping the profession through his involvement with the Chartered Insurance Institute/Personal Finance Society but prefers to get on with the job.
So when he was presented with the PFS award for Retirement and Later Life Adviser of the Year in November, he was honoured but did not feel the need to bask in the limelight.
“Most advisers are outgoing but I’m not. It is a real honour to be recognised by a professional body as being the best at what you do.
“People work hard to become professional and therefore get publicity through the PFS, but I’m not great at saying ‘look at me, look at how good I am’,” he says.
“Clients do come to me because I’ve won this award. I probably could have made a big deal of it, but that’s not me.”
Most would say that Cruse – whose conversation is peppered with references to “putting the customer first” and “the best possible outcome for clients” – is deserving of the award because of his modesty and focus on the clients.
It is something that can be traced back to his early days in financial services. Cruse had initially been set on a military career and went through the training process as a cadet, then got his commissioning in the air force reserves. However, defence cuts at the time meant that, although the RAF was happy to recruit, there was a three- to four-year waiting list.
In the meantime, Cruse had applied for a job in a bank and ended up at Halifax.
“Its mission statement was to be the customer champion,” he says. “It sounded cheesy but it led the way on providing interest on current accounts and forced the big banks to do so too, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It was a building society at the time and put the customers first.”
It is a real honour to have won a Personal Finance Society award, but I’m not great at saying ‘look at how good I am’
Cruse remained with the firm after its merger with Bank of Scotland to become HBOS but left in 2009 when it was incorporated into Lloyds Banking Group, as he felt it was moving in a different direction.
“Resigning was not a decision I took lightly. I’d left a well-paid job; I had a young family and my wife had also been made redundant. But I just didn’t feel comfortable staying with a company that didn’t have the same focus. I’m stubborn if I think something’s not right,” he says.
He moved on to hone his craft as an IFA at Positive Solutions. Strategic Solutions founders Kevin Forbes, Jeff Fawcett and Giles Wellington left Positive Solutions to set up their own firm in 2010. Cruse soon followed, becoming the fourth partner the following year.
“Everything we do is about client outcomes. Our logo is a bar chart with four different colours and that represents the four different personalities of the partners. We are very different and we have discussions about everything. That means it takes us a bit longer to come to a decision but we always do come to a good, considered decision,” he says.
One of those considered decisions was to launch a discretionary fund manager, Casterbridge Wealth, as a separate business in 2016.
“We could have launched a discretionary service as part of the same business but we wanted to encourage other IFAs to use it,” says Cruse.
“It developed out of the things we liked and didn’t like about other discretionary firms. We wanted to provide best of breed for our clients. The admin standards of some investment houses aren’t great and don’t make life easy for IFAs. But as an IFA, we know what other advisers want.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
To make sure I invest in my own development. I want to ensure I’m doing my very best to stay on top of my game.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing really. I know I’m doing everything I can to improve outcomes for clients.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Defined benefit pension transfers.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Try to make sure we clearly communicate to advisers what our expectations are and make personal finance education compulsory in schools.
Any advice for new advisers?
Try to develop your skills every single day.
2011-present: Director, Strategic Solutions
2009-2011: IFA, Positive Solutions
1992-2009: Financial adviser, Halifax (HBOS)