It is often said age is just a number but anyone involved in financial services knows numbers are crucial. A client’s age, earnings, outgoings and savings are all vital numbers that feed into the advice process. But does it matter if the advisers doing the sums are in their 20s? For 24-year-old Myers Davison Ginger financial planner Josh Butten, the answer is no.
Butten staked his claim to be the youngest certified and chartered financial planner, and fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute at the grand old age of 23. He became authorised just days after his 24th birthday, enabling him to advise clients at MDG in his own right. So what has driven him to achieve so many professional qualiﬁcations at a young age?
He says: “If I hadn’t decided already, sitting the R06 exam was the key turning point. I was in a room in Birmingham full of 400 advisers sitting it at the last opportunity before the RDR deadline in November 2012. The average age in the room must have been 50-plus. Wow. I didn’t ever want to be in that position.”
Butten found himself studying advanced qualifications at the same time as his father, MDG associate director Keith Butten, and likens the experience to having a personal trainer in that there was always someone to spur him on.
“We are very competitive and we drive each other on to greater success. Every exam was a competition, and this really helped us both focus on them.”
Butten built his studies around personal finance at the age of 16, when his school allowed him to study CF1-5 in sixth form. It was a far cry from his first childhood dream of driving a demolition crane. But it was not a case of simply following in his father’s footsteps.
“I did some work experience with Standard Life in Edinburgh for a couple of weeks and spoke to my headmaster at school about doing CF1-5 as an alternative to AS levels and A2. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an adviser but I did realise that starting CF1-5 was a no loss scenario. Best case was I discovered a fantastic career and the worst case I learnt all about personal ﬁnance.”
Butten undertook various work placements, including one at chartered accountants Blencowes and another at tax-efficient investment specialist Triple Point. He then joined MDG.
“I always felt a need to prove myself to counter the traditional argument of, ‘how is this young guy going to advise me? He’s barely lived’. Having achieved all I have so far, this is often countered by clients pointing out that a young successful ﬁnancial planner is exactly what they are looking for.
“They want a ﬁnancial planner who will be able to advise them throughout their whole lifetime – not an adviser that wants to retire in five or 10 years’ time.”
As you would expect, Butten has strong opinions on the need to bring younger advisers into the industry and ensure they get taken seriously.
“I always felt a need to prove myself to counter the traditional argument of, ‘how is this young guy going to advise me? He’s barely lived’. Having achieved all I have so far, this is often countered by clients pointing out that a young successful ﬁnancial planner is exactly what they are looking for.”
“I haven’t once felt that I’ve not been taken seriously, except for the time I turned up for my CF1 at Euston train station exam centre aged 16. The exam invigilator couldn’t get his head around the fact I was there to sit an exam as opposed to being a lost child at the station.
“Humour aside, getting more young people into our industry is potentially the largest single problem it faces. Eighteen-year-olds ﬁnish their full-time education being able to describe the different cells found in a leaf, but not understanding taxes or a mortgage. This is awful. As a country we are failing our students.”
Butten says big companies with big budgets need to pull graduates into the industry but smaller firms also have a part to play.
“By ‘breeding their own’ advisers and incurring the costs of a three- to four-year development plan, small businesses will end up with a well qualiﬁed, loyal employee who speaks their language, understands their systems and works in the same way. Clients will also become familiar with the junior person over time and will expect to deal with them in the future.”
That said, he does not anticipate a significant increase in the number of young people becoming advisers unless there is more awareness of financial planning as an industry. “You can’t aspire to something you aren’t aware of. I’m becoming more and more involved with my old school in helping it to address this issue. But poor ﬁnancial education is becoming an epidemic.”
Studying for professional qualifications and learning on the job are essential for Butten. “It’s like a computer and a keyboard. You can have all the knowledge in the world but without the keyboard – the practical ability to use the right knowledge at the right time – you’re snookered.
“In my development plan at MDG I built up experience by sitting in on hundreds of client meetings and getting out of the office as much as possible so you learn how to present yourself at the client’s door.
“Not all clients have the same expectations. Some clients are very informal so I would go to see them in smart trousers and a shirt, but there are other clients who I wouldn’t dream of seeing without a suit and tie.”
Putting knowledge into practice culminated in the biggest highlight of Butten’s career to date when he helped a client realise he could retire earlier than he had expected.
“He worked as a surgeon. It was a high-pressure job and he worked long hours. His wife had already retired and through good advice he realised he too could stop working. They now travel all over the world and enjoy a great retirement. Frustratingly, he could have achieved it sooner if he’d had advice sooner. But it was great to make such a huge positive impact to his life, so he can now focus on spending more time doing the things he loves.”
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Life’s not a rehearsal, so wake up, get up and positively impact as many people as you possibly can.
What keeps you awake at night?
Recently it has been jet lag after flying home from the Rio Olympics.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
The introduction of flexible pension access, without the regulatory regime to support the Government’s intentions.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Rip up the rule book and start again with a client outcomes focus. If it doesn’t guarantee better outcomes, leave it out. If it results in paperwork that adds no value, leave it out. If it adds value for clients and improves outcomes, ensure everyone has to abide by the rules.
Any advice for new advisers?
Congratulations, you’ve just entered one of the most enjoyable, satisfying and prosperous industries in the UK.
2009-present: Various roles including general insurance client relationships, personal and business protection specialist and private client planner/associate director, Myers Davison Ginger
2008-2009: Work placements at Standard life, Blencowes Chartered Accountants and Triple Point Investment Management