The advice profession has transformed considerably over the past few decades. Certainly internally, it is now regarded as being of a much higher level of quality than before. Through the RDR, the qualification benchmark has been raised, remuneration has moved to a fee-based structure and regulation is more geared towards what is in the best interests of the client.
Has this evolution become more positively recognised by the general public, though?
Older generations will remember the Man from the Pru visiting people in their homes and setting up savings schemes and insurance plans for families. Of course, we recognise this as a positive activity from the past. Many households will have benefited from policies which, without an adviser, they would not have arranged themselves.
But if the role of the adviser has moved on, perhaps we should address the external perception through a change in behaviour.
At our best practice meetings, we often discuss the subject of meeting clients in their homes and whether this is still considered good practice.
Clients pay a lot of money for advice, so they should get a good service. Many advisers who visit their clients believe this is an important differentiator and helps build the relationship over the long term. Not only will some visit their homes, they will also offer great flexibility around meeting times, often resulting in evening or weekend appointments.
But are these home visits really necessary? First, they incur more time and cost for the adviser. And surely such activity is not one we should be practising in this new era for our profession anyway?
Would your solicitor come round to see you at 7pm on a Thursday evening? Of course they would
not; nor would your accountant, dentist or doctor. If advisers
want to be regarded in the same category as these other professions, we need to get clients to come and see us instead.
Not only should this help the public perception of advice as a profession but there are many other benefits of sticking to an office premises too. Doing so could make huge differences to the efficiency, productivity and profitability of a business practice. Here are some of the key advantages:
1: Time savings: Think of the time that could be saved by clients coming to the adviser instead. There are also benefits to the advisers’ work/life balance: if the practice was only open from 9am to 5pm, clients would make the effort to meet their adviser during normal office hours.
2: Cost savings: Of course, office premises incur costs but imagine the cost that could be saved on petrol and the additional work the adviser will be able to do with the time saved. I have heard examples where firms have doubled, or even tripled, their profitability as a result.
3: Availability of resources: Most advisers now use technology to support the advice process, which is much easier to use in the office, rather than on the move. Technology is not the only advantage of being in the office; more staff can also be on hand to help with client meetings.
4: No distractions: I am sure many advisers have been distracted when in meetings with clients in their homes. By the dog barking, the kids coming home from school, the phone ringing or people at the door, for example. In an office, those distractions are gone, giving the adviser and client the opportunity to fully focus their attention on the meeting.
5: Professional perception: As long as the office is kept tidy and orderly, it is positive for clients to get a feel for where their adviser works with their clients, painting a more professional perception.
There will be reasons why some advisers may still prefer to see their clients in their homes but I would say this is no longer considered best practice. The positive benefits of an adviser meeting clients at an office premises, which include improving the public perception of the advice profession, should far outweigh the costs of this investment.
Tom Hegarty is managing director at New Model Business Academy