Can advisers overcome their doubts on workplace advice?


Advisers used to dealing with individuals may shy away from the corporate advice market because they think it is too difficult to enter. But auto-enrolment and the Financial Advice Market Review have highlighted the potential of the workplace as somewhere people can access financial services, bringing greater opportunities for advisers.

With this in mind, SimplyBiz recently launched its Workplace Academy, which is accredited by the Pension Management Institute. It is designed to give advisers the knowledge, skills and confidence to provide corporate advice.

“The SME market is hugely under-served and there are a lot of opportunities to have that required conversation around auto-enrolment,” says SimplyBiz Group workplace solutions director Tom Nall.

“There is a tension at small employers that have more limited budgets. A one-size-fits-all approach is easier to implement and has economies of scale but how do you make it feel personal, meaningful and engaging to employees? Advisers need to steer employers around the employee benefits challenge, whether it is childcare vouchers, fitness and health, or the turnover of staff. They need to be a communicator, an employee benefits consultant and a risk consultant,” he says.

The Workplace Academy is open to all advisers, not just SimplyBiz members. For a one-off £500 membership fee, which also includes PMI membership, advisers will have access to one-day induction events that provide an overview of the corporate advice market, a two-day residential course and a programme of face-to-face masterclass events at least three times a year, supplemented with webinars.

“You also get access to me and my team,” says Nall. He explains the availability of speakers for the events has meant the academy’s first intake has been put back slightly from June to July, but a series of induction events took place in April as planned. “We already have 12 cases on the go where advisers have gone to induction events, seen the value of having a wider benefits proposition and are working with my team to put it together, so they are ready to act now,” he says.

Although there is not a set number of places at the Workplace Academy, Nall tends to have no more than 30 advisers in a room at the events. “I find it difficult to have an interactive session with speakers where there are larger groups than that,” he says.

The Workplace Academy covers various modules such as group risk, health and wellbeing products, salary exchange benefits, auto-enrolment, credit broking and business protection. It also covers soft skills that advisers need to compete in the corporate advice market, particularly as they may be dealing with people in areas like HR for the first time.

“If we didn’t focus on soft skills it would be difficult to give advisers the confidence to step into the workplace context,” says Nall. “Advisers are not just getting technical knowledge; they also have access to real practitioners.

“Advisers will leave the events with the ability to start a conversation with clients and know how to partner with other business advisers. It’s important to give people the theory but also the practical benefit of ongoing support.”

Adviser view: Alan Lakey, senior partner, Highclere Financial Services

I would imagine this would be pretty successful. Most advisers start off with, and are comfortable with, individual needs as these tend to be straightforward. As soon as it comes to advising a business, the rules are slightly different and the products are different. Advisers are fearful of getting involved because it’s out of their comfort zone. They might not understand accounts and, from an insurance viewpoint, the balance of premiums when directors insure each other and many other aspects. You could probably understand these things if you trawled the internet and made copious notes. But advisers don’t have time to do this. If advisers want to grow their business, corporate advice introduces them to the directors of businesses and gives access to their personal needs.

Adviser view: Tim Harvey, managing director, HR Independent Financial Services

This is not one for me. The reason some advisers are reticent is that it’s such a strange area for them to be involved in. Once you’ve agreed with the employer what needs to happen, it’s a payroll function, so you need set up a system that will drive it. If you were to move into this area, the question is likely to be: what am I charging for? If you do auto-enrolment, what else are you going to pick up? Shareholder protection or pension contributions for employers? I’m not sure there’s much money to be made; it’s a prospecting activity. The problem for many advisers is not having to find more clients, but having too many. Pre-RDR, when there were loads of advisers, it would have been brilliant.