A chat with Brian Hill would give many advisers food for thought. Hill’s take on financial planning involves adapting skills he learned in his previous careers and taking a “pick and mix” approach to life planning principles from the likes of Paul Armson and Bill Bachrach.
As managing director of Wiltshire-based financial planning firm Jones Hill, he has drawn on his army background to create a niche advising ex-military personnel using the planning methods and language they are used to.
More recently, Hill has launched Kinesics, a firm that trains financial services professionals in non-verbal communication – a skill he picked up while working as a police officer. Why did he feel there was a gap in the market for pitching this type of training to advisers?
“I realised the advisers I speak to are efficient on technical skills through exams and CPD but a lot of forward thinking ones are also looking at soft skills. Historically, there has been no training provided on non-verbal communication,” he says.
“When I spoke to people about what we do at Hill Jones – things like how we set our chairs up for client meetings – the feedback was that nobody does this sort of thing. So we delivered a pilot training course and the feedback from that was brilliant. We didn’t realise Kinesics would take off as well as it has.”
As an example of how non-verbal communication skills can help advisers, Hill points out how fee discussions with clients can sometimes cause a degree of anxiety.
“Non-verbal communication training can help advisers understand how to position their fee conversation in a way that they come across as they are: honest, good people who want to charge a reasonable fee – not to wreck that through non-verbal communication.
“If the adviser says ‘my fee is £1,000’ and their voice goes up at the end, it can sound like a question. The point of asking a question is that you don’t know something or you are unsure, so it makes the adviser sound unsure. Training on aspects such as that can ensure advisers are able to come across as confident during these discussions.”
Hill says non-verbal communication can also be used with couples to work out which partner is the most dominant one in the relationship. Things like facial expressions can also ensure that what clients tell the adviser matches what they are thinking.What is life planning?
“It’s all in real time, so you can tell if someone may be hiding something or is unsure.”
Kinesics is currently working on forthcoming training days with NextGen Planners, NMBA, Parmenion and Octopus. Future events will be posted on the Kinesics website and Hill’s plan is to eventually take a step back from Jones Hill to give more of his time to Kinesics. To this end, he has hired a new adviser and a trainee at Jones Hill.
“The big thing in the military is planning; it’s all to do with planning and execution. We apply the key principles of military planning to the business and with clients. We always have clear sight of the overall mission. It’s in everything we do but I can’t do it by myself; I need a team. That’s been a chicken and egg situation previously – the initial risk of taking people on and how you are going to do it.”
Hill’s ex-military clients like the fact their financial planning reflects military planning – as do non-military clients – and Hill believes this approach is fairly unique.
“As soon as we talk about the end in mind, they get it.”
Some of the key differences between ex-military clients and other clients are things like the armed forces pension scheme, post-traumatic stress disorder awards and early departure payments.
Hill Jones has a deep understanding of how these things work but an army background is not a prerequisite for its advisers, as technical knowledge can be gained fairly quickly through the firm’s training sessions.
Hill trained with the British Army as an officer cadet but was War Pensioned off after suffering knee injuries just eight weeks away from commissioning. After a spell with Avon & Somerset police, he got into sales and management consultancy before starting his financial services career as a mortgage adviser at Trowbridge Financial Services, which eventually became Hill Jones.
When Hill discovered life planning after attending a mentoring course and one of Paul Armson’s Truth seminars, his colleagues were still welded to the transactional product-based business they had always done. The move to lifestyle planning only gained traction at the firm when Hill became managing director.
“Those who we were working with are still doing business in a transactional way now. It works for them and I’d say the majority of financial advisers work on a transactional basis.”
Hill is selective about the ideas and techniques he draws from sources such as Armson and Bachrach, rather than following them religiously. For example, he chooses not to follow Bachrach’s stance that financial planners do not need to get involved in small talk with their clients.
“For me, building a rapport with clients in the right way is an essential part of getting to know, like and trust someone. You can’t just walk in and say: let’s crack on.
“Paul Armson set me on a path to moving away from old-style business but there are two things he uses that we don’t – a bucket list and a fact find in the first meeting. Having said that, you need to have structure to make the best use of your time and your clients’ time, so we do it in a different way. We do short Voyant cashflow work to collect information – the bucket list isn’t needed because we show the client their own personal cashflow and when they are going to run out of money.”
Hill thinks there will be more financial planning than transactional business in the next five years and believes the quicker advisers separate themselves from products, the easier the job will become.
“What advisers need to do is discover a niche and find out what their USP is – and it’s not being qualified as chartered, being professional or trustworthy.
“Advisers need to need to work out what their USPs are and shout about them.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
It was from my army career, “the seven Ps'”– proper prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing, apart from having to drink lots of water for my fitness.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
The growing trend of moving from products to planning.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Sort out the website for the FCA register so consumers could easily find out who is qualified to do what.
Any advice for new advisers?
Spend as much time on learning the practical skills as you do on technical skills.
2017-present: Certified non-verbal communications trainer, Kinesics Method
2006-present: From mortgage adviser to managing director, Hill Jones (formerly Trowbridge Financial Services)
2005-2006: Accountancy practice solutions manager, Sage
1996-2005: Various roles in sales and management consultancy
1991-1995: Police officer, Avon & Somerset Police
1989-1991: British Army, officer cadet