Fresh from a double win at the Unbiased Media Awards, Plutus Wealth Management’s Sebastian Hurst feels his efforts in juggling long hours of study, media commentary, and not forgetting the day job of advising clients, have been recognised by the financial services industry.
An industry that continues moving away from the product sales culture that dominated the not-so-distant past towards higher standards of professionalism. For the winner of the Unbiased Young Adviser of the Year and Bluebook Newcomer, the accolades mean a lot.
“They are an acknowledgement that knowledge is key in this industry. As financial planners we are selling our knowledge, so it must be up to scratch. And a high level of professionalism is what we want to promote,” says 28-year-old Hurst.
The RDR focused the minds of many advisers on getting qualified to level four but since then a growing proportion, including Hurst, have gone further.
Hurst, who was “bullish” about becoming chartered and achieving fellowship of the Personal Finance Society, believes his success at the Unbiased awards can be partly attributed to his qualifications.
“The judging panel were impressed that I achieved chartered status and fellowship before the age of 30. Being chartered is way off becoming the norm; it’s not a legal requirement. But people understand it the way they understand chartered accountants. It is important, it is valuable and it’s the biggest asset I have.”
As a child Hurst wanted to follow a career in sport but once in his teens he realised business was a more sensible choice. After studying for a degree in psychology, he did a masters degree at the London School of Economics.
“I always knew I’d be involved in finance. I tried other career options, such as management consultancy, but it just wasn’t for me. I just didn’t get it, I didn’t understand the proposition,” he says.
So Hurst began training as a paraplanner and adviser, taking on simple cases at first. But it was clear he had a flair for financial planning when he started writing more business than the senior adviser he was supporting.
He spent three years with AS Financial, starting with mortgages and gradually adding more strings to his bow. Then in 2015 he joined chartered firm Plutus Wealth Management.
Moving to Plutus was a risk for Hurst in that he did not know whether his existing clients would follow or stay where they were. “It was also the time I decided to sit three exams. That was a huge challenge but I knew if I nailed these three exams I’d have chartered status and fellowship,” he says.
Conceding some people might see a young adviser and think ‘what do they know?’ Hurst points out it takes six exams to pass the basic level four qualification and three times as many exams to achieve fellowship.
“The books you have to read are like that,” he says, gesturing with his hands an invisible tome that makes War and Peace look like a newsletter.
Hurst agrees with those that say exams are not the only way to assess advisers’ knowledge and ensure it is up to date but he does not believe there needs to be structured CPD, he says. He also recognises relationships with clients are vital.
“I tell clients the most important thing is they like me and I like them. If they don’t like me, they shouldn’t give me their money,” he jokes. But the point he makes is a serious one. Post RDR, the adviser is now the product, so it is important both parties are happy with what they are getting.
“As a financial planner the product is yourself because you’re coming up with the propositions. You need to be the best you can be. I listen to what the client wants and what their goals are. I do little preparation because I’m independent and don’t have anything to sell them. I’m completely honest with them and if something is not right for them, I’ll guide them into an intermediated solution. The people with a real advice need should come back.”
The need to earn a living from fee income is obviously important but Hurst is not motivated by money. He says the highlight of his career is being able to use his knowledge to help vulnerable people financially when they are facing difficult personal circumstances.
“It is a great feeling when you have made a real difference to someone’s financial situation when they are having an emotionally dreadful time. If you can make a difference by getting them a mortgage when the bank has said no, or giving them peace of mind when they are critically ill, it is rewarding. It’s satisfying when you have good outcomes and if you’re running a business on that basis, the money will come in. It’s putting clients first.”
The Unbiased Young Adviser of the Year award is open to advisers under 40 who “show evidence of engaging and expert commentary on a range of personal finance issues” and the Bluebook Newcomer award is about recognising the contributions that advisers make in the media.
So does Hurst think more advisers should engage with the media? “Some people are worried about being misquoted or taken out of context, and I can understand that. But it is valuable to be featured in the press as you can show your clients and use it to market your services or increase your profile.”
So what are Hurst’s plans for the future? “To remain an equity partner at Plutus. I also want to bring young advisers through, maybe letting part of my book to them because the industry is crying out for new talent.”
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Always have a plan and a goal.
What keeps you awake at night?
Thoughts of what rabbits the Chancellor might pull out of his hat next.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
The changes to the pension landscape.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Promote chartered financial planning: what it means and why it is important.
Any advice for new advisers?
Quite simply, get chartered.
2015-present: Chartered financial planner, Plutus Wealth management
2012-2015: Financial adviser, AS Financial
2010-2012: Paraplanner/assistant, Mayfair Financial Planning