Carl Lamb: Have I sold my soul by abandoning independence?

Carl Lamb

It is now common knowledge I have signed an agreement that should lead to the acquisition of my firm by Standard Life’s financial planning arm 1825 .

Real change is needed in our sector if we are to continue to meet the growing need for affordable advice. Over the past year I have taken a long, hard look at Almary Green’s sustainability and concluded something needed to be done. It is a sad fact firms of all sizes are facing almost insurmountable challenges and neither the Government nor the regulator seem to appreciate the difficulties ahead of us.

I have been an advocate of the independent route for a long time and there will be those who think I have sold my soul.

Five years ago, changing to restricted would have been out of the question. However, I truly believe the line between the two has become blurred. Almost every firm in the land will be working off panels of approved fund managers and funds, using wraps and platforms that make the administration of portfolios manageable and cost-efficient.

The old model for restricted firms was to shoehorn clients into pre-set solutions that were limited and inflexible. “Our way or no way” seemed to be the ethos. I could not have contemplated going down that route.

However, the new breed of restricted firms has a different outlook. Of all the prospective purchasers that approached me, 1825 offered the closest match to our own way of working. It is a new business and chief executive Steve Murray and his team are hungry not only for growth and success but also for excellence and the best possible client outcomes. They want to be the best financial planners in the industry.

Although part of the Standard Life group, 1825 is a separate business with its own board, ethos and rules. It has clear objectives and already employs several chartered financial planners.

It is certainly not a direct-sales channel for Standard Life products. However, the link to Standard Life is an important one. By aligning ourselves with one of the industry’s major players we can plan for the longer term with confidence.

Our client proposition will continue to be broad and flexible. Advice will still be at the core of all we do. We will still offer the same planning routes and investments as we do now using panels of approved products and providers. If we identify a requirement for an off-panel product we will have a route to evaluate this and fill the gap. By joining 1825 at this early stage in its development we will be helping to flesh out the proposition to ensure it provides everything we need.

I have challenged many of the preconceptions of our industry in the past and believe change is both necessary and beneficial. I also believe the vast majority of firms will follow us down the restricted route. Indeed, I worry about the affordability – and viability – of those that do not. To continue as we were would have been putting our future in jeopardy.

Far better to be first to cross to the other side and find it is not so dark after all.

Carl Lamb is managing director of Almary Green