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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

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Comments

There are 18 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Although I think you overestimate your renown by saying it is common knowledge you signed an agreement with 1825 clearly you have not sold your soul. The key thing is to deliver the best service you possibly can to your clients and you appear to believe that this is the best way to do it. Good luck to you I say.

  2. It’s really more about perception than reality in my view. It does need to be resolved this definition as how many people really are independent in the full sense of the word. Many firms really aren’t and I would say they stretch the IFA definition as far as they can. As long you can continue working with your clients, giving the service that they want and are willing to pay for, then why not? All the best – I hope it goes well for you.

  3. I personally don’t believe you have sold your soul Carl, you have made a business decision; the problems and issues that face every individual and every practice in financial services have a common denominator, and knowing how best to plan for the future is quite frankly a step into the unknown, confusing regulation, arbitrary costs, and a ever changing landscape is……… well, a dangerous place to be.

    I do not know your true reasons for the decision, maybe it is as simple as, you just want to save what hair you have left, and protect against a belly full of ulcers ? all one can say is good on you I hope it works out.

  4. Julian Stevens 4th April 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Being restricted is more about automatically excluding certain providers with whom (probably with very good reason) you wish never again to place any new business than it is about limiting what you can do for your clients. You can always go outside your restricted panel if there’s a compelling argument in the client’s best interests to do so. And the very idea that anyone can ever know inside out, top to bottom and back to front every aspect of available platform on the market is so ludicrous as not to be worth even considering.

    As Carl has suggested, in only a few years time, the adviser market will comprise such an infinitely and incomparably diverse range of restricted offerings, whilst those still clinging valiantly to the FSA’s new definition of independence will be so expensive, that it’s hard to see just how the hell will the consumer populace have benefitted. Another triumph of armchair theory over practical reality a regulatory speciality.

  5. Classic example of where a headline asks a question, the answer is invariably “no”. The public understanding of “independent” remains being able to use any company in the market, despite efforts by our regulator to complicate matters. As long as you can come off panels as you wish I doubt greatly that any of your clients will object and it’s their opinion that matters.

  6. No doubt at all in my mind. The answer is an unequivocal YES.

    If you want the fully essay – please let me know.

  7. Karl to my mind you are not sold out. It is a sad fact today when a successful SME company becomes a certain size. The directors and shareholders take on greater risk and more potential liabilities. It is a question every business owner has to face. and ask the question “Is it worth it”
    We all have seen increased regulatory costs. The Financial Services Compensation Scheme is the best example It is an open cheque book and a figure you cannot plan for in any business plan. I do know your turnover or FUM While I could look at your companies health on companies house at your latest set of accounts. In all probability I would not be surprised if your FSCS is now approaching a six figure sum
    In June like many you have to capital aside to meet the capital adequacy rules. When I informed one of my clients about this rule he looked at me with a blank expression on his face uttering the words “what a waste of capital to use either in or outside or your business”.
    These are just two examples I could use more.
    If you get to a certain size you could look at AIM listing, which may not suit your business style. You would still be responsible for strategy and growth of the business, but you would responsible to additional shareholders. In the end if the price was right for outside shareholders. They would have no hesitation in selling the business perhaps to someone that you could not get on with.
    You do not need to justify yourself for running a successful business. The only people you have to justify your shareholders and yourself.

  8. ps Sorry for the Missing word It should say I do not know your turnover or AUM

  9. Neil Liversidge 4th April 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Go on Harry, give us the essay!

  10. Good article.
    I am not going to come down on one side or the other. It is (was) your own firm to do with it whatever you think is best for you and whatever staff you have. I am sure that you have had many hard years growing and running a successful business and in doing so you have obviously have built up a lot of value or 1825 would not have been interested.
    We should all be in business to make money (the more the better in my view) – indeed if we don’t make profit the FCA would shut us down at the drop of a hat for not being “fit and proper” and posing a risk to the public. Whether you have sold your soul or not should not be the question. I have no idea how much you sold the business for nor have I any desire to know. I just hope you have made (or will have made) to have a comfortable life in the event you feel it is time to get out. Good luck to you

  11. Douglas Baillie 4th April 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Just how successful have the providers been when they actually acquired distribution via small adviser firms?
    I think that you will also find that working within the constraints of a large corporate conglomerate may well strip you of your well earned flexibility to run and control your own business as you see fit.
    Only time will tell.

  12. Two interesting questions seem to arise from this.
    1. Can you only give advice with ‘soul’ if you’re independent?
    2. Beyond a certain critical mass, can a firm be independent and profitable?
    Any answers?

  13. The title Independent Financial Adviser ( IFA ) has always been a misnomer.Your not selling your soul,you have actually found your soul. No “gilding the lily” anymore. No saying we research the “whole market” and we choose the “best product” for each Individual client. Just one product and thousands of funds to choose from. Good quality generic financial planning and tax advice and excellent customer service and your business will grow unshackled from the fictional argument spouted by IFA’s.

  14. Not about the money then?! The words opinionated, arrogant and delusional spring to mind. No-one outside of Norfolk knows or cares who you are Carl. You speak for yourself and not a soul else.

  15. Simon, any regular reader of Money Marketing or similar sites would have heard of Carl, Almary Green itself has won many national awards. Be fair.

  16. Self aggrandising doesn’t count. SJP have won loads of awards as well

  17. The posts on this site are instructive.

    On the one hand you have those that are either in confusion or just don’t really understand the ‘independent’ requirements. Alternatively, are too lazy to implement them, or have to toe the line of the owners of the business, either because the need the comfort or because they wanted to trouser the dosh.

    On the other we still have the idea that advice means flogging a product. True it may well do if you are owned by a life office, but the whole purpose of the RDR was to move on from this outdated model and ensure that the product is ADVICE. The client pays for the advice whether or not he buys a product. In this way, the clients largely make up their own mind. The adviser has no pecuniary interest in whether they buy or not – essentially the product comes free. Therefore one can start to see that tied or restricted advice starts with the product – not with the advice. That alone makes it inferior. Just imagine SJP just providing advice without a product!

    I notice that many of the advocates or supporters of the restricted model favour Brexit. This is most peculiar to my mind. On this topic they are staunchly in favour of independence, while on the matter of financial advice they are content to lose their sovereignty. As many know by now – I favour the exact opposite.

    PS. Julian. Homilies – glass houses?

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