Mel Kenny: The challenge of advising the masses

Mel Kenny

Like most financial advisers, I find it hard to turn down a conversation. It was drummed into me all those years ago. Now, however, it can be a case of trying to get out of a conversation once someone hears you are an adviser, for we are no longer two a penny but gold dust.

We are the targets of those financial DIY-ers at parties. “If I could just pick your brains…” it starts. Back in the day, saying that you were an adviser was either met with derision or a fairly gentle probe about finances. Over the years the questions have become ever more intricate. Confessions around the lack of discipline to save have been replaced with topics such as the risks of synthetic ETFs. Or perhaps I am going to the wrong parties?

It does not stop there. They come at you from all sorts of angles. After a recent talk to a group of professionals, in which I offered a follow-up meeting should they wish to take things further, an already burnt financial DIY-er came to see me looking for those bits of gold dust to go back to the drawing board with. Once I grasped his stubborn streak, I did not want to be there and nor then did he.

Sitting in cash for a hell of a long time, he said he timed the markets and got burnt. What he quietly wanted was for me to ring the bell to get buying again. Get out.

Then the other day I had someone call me who was quite different. She was the opposite of a financial DIY-er: she had plenty of stomach and was desperate for my help. I could not get her off the phone fast enough but she trapped me.

Even when I said I did not think I was the type of adviser she was looking for, in that the only future guarantees I could offer her were that she would pay taxes and die, and that she would have to pay adviser fees, she just wanted me even more. The problem was that if the conversation went any further, by the time she finished with me, I reckoned I would probably need help.

Auto-enrolment is one thing; she needed auto-sort my-life-out with the small funds she had at her disposal.

Like our DIY friend, she is not that unusual in society. Driven by regulatory costs, advisers are now far more used to dealing with an elite crop of those who can and are willing to pay for financial advice. But while I could dwell on the harsh reality of the masses that now miss out on the one-to-one session they really desire, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all Pension Wise guidance, we must remember we are first and foremost a business.

Otherwise, it could be worse still: we could end up having no quality advisers left in town at all.

Mel Kenny is a chartered financial planner at Radcliffe & Newlands