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Profile: Danby Bloch on taking time to build the advice profession

Danby Bloch

Helm Godfrey chairman and Money Marketing columnist Danby Bloch is mystified as to why there are not more female advisers in the industry.

Bloch says: “At Helm Godfrey the most successful adviser is a woman. There’s a flexibility that should attract as many women as men but there aren’t that many. It’s a pity, but it takes time.”

Similarly, Bloch believes it will take time for more graduates to see advice as an attractive career. He thinks bodies like the Personal Finance Society and the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments need to talk about advice as a profession more in the media.

Once people get that it is a real profession Bloch believes it will take on the sort of prestige that will attract graduates.

“Accountancy took a long time to build its prestige,” he says. “You need examinations and qualifications – you need to build it up. But it’s a process and it can’t be achieved overnight.”

Qualifications? Necessary but not sufficient

Bloch’s extensive CV shows he is well-qualified to comment. Alongside his role at Helm Godfrey he is Taxbriefs editorial director and Platforum consultant. He has split his working life between financial services, publishing and education for more than 40 years, taking on various roles outside the “day jobs”.

Having worked as a consultant on syllabuses for Chartered Insurance Institute examinations including wrap and platform services and paraplanning, does he think qualifications are the key to greater professionalism?

“Qualifications are necessary but not sufficient for greater professionalism. They’ve been important in ratcheting up standards in the past and I expect they will continue to do so, but this must be supported by the promotion of professional standards and education initiatives by such organisations as the PFS.”

Bloch recalls going to the US in the late 1980s – where the financial planning world was well-developed – and thinking how difficult it would be to translate that to the UK.

“I got quite excited about the idea and eventually it did happen. A profession developed and we got regulation.”

On the subject of how regulation has helped bring about greater professionalism Bloch points out that the RDR is little more than three years old and the general public cannot be expected to take on board those changes in such a short space of time, and understand the strides the industry has made towards professionalism.

He adds: “We have to work on it.”

Bloch remarks at how things have changed – from virtually no regulation in financial services to today’s post-RDR environment and from copy-taking over the phone to social media in the publishing world. He also highlights the benefits of learning things in one role or industry that can be applied in others – understanding what information you need to make decisions or expressing oneself clearly, for example.

“That cross-fertilisation has worked with every ‘parallel’ job I’ve taken and I’d urge anybody to do other things. It’s like that saying about going abroad to understand your own country; it’s only obvious by contrast. I learn things at Platforum that I apply in Helm Godfrey and vice versa.

“I gain insight and understanding of the structure of the wider financial marketplace from Platforum and that helps me to formulate strategy at Helm Godfrey. And observing what is going on in the market and how advisers react feeds back into Platforum.”

Falling into many hats

Ask Bloch how he manages to fit it all in and he laughs off the suggestion that he is super-organised.

“I have a low boredom threshold and need to be doing new things. For example, I’m looking for a replacement job for chairing the Oxford Playhouse when it ends in October.

“Mostly, things feed well from one job into another. I’ve found out how to do some things quickly. But sometimes it’s just a matter of putting in the hours and not letting the practicalities get out of control.”

For Bloch, work is where “an awful lot of exciting things happen” in terms of digital, marketing, regulation or management, and he would not want to be anywhere else.

“If you’re not in work, you’re missing a substantial part of what makes life interesting.”

Bloch joined financial services in the 1970s. Like many people, he ‘fell’ into the industry, having worked in film production after university.

“Film production took a massive blow in the UK in the early-1970s and, in any case, I decided it was not for me. I then fell into advice. The man I worked for in the film industry had a range of other interests and I got drawn into them. It was a sort of mini-conglomerate.”

Raymond Godfrey & Partners, where Bloch quickly became part-owner, was originally an offshoot of that mini-conglomerate. The advice side of the business was transferred to Helm Godfrey in 2000 and it continued as a service company until 2014. It was at RGP that Bloch created what became Taxbriefs.

“The publications business came out of some tax tables I dreamt up when capital transfer tax – inheritance tax’s predecessor was introduced in 1974/5. I produced Budget summaries for accountants to send to clients. We soon moved into personalised newsletters and tax tables for advisers.”

When Taxbriefs was acquired by Money Marketing publisher Centaur Media in 2010, Bloch took a role on the board of adviser platform Nucleus and stayed on at Taxbriefs as part-time editorial director.

“They just forgot to sack me! I shall carry on working primarily at Platforum, Taxbriefs and Helm Godfrey for as long as my colleagues will tolerate me. I enjoy work, and cycling around London introduces an element of uncertainty into my life. Maybe a bus or a white van will settle the matter!”

Five questions

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Try small businesses. They have many advantages, more security of employment for one. When I started work big business was all the rage.

What keeps you awake at night?
My grandson.

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Low interest rates leading to a big boost to defined benefit transfers.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Try to smooth out the costs of regulation for firms to make them more predictable.

Any advice for new advisers?
Go for chartered status.

CV

2014-present: Consultant to Platforum and Centaur Financial Events
2000-present: Chairman, Helm Godfrey Partners
1975-present: Part-owner/director then editorial director, Taxbriefs
1974-2014: Part-owner/director, Raymond Godfrey & Partners
1971-1974: Director, Grosvenor Advisory Services

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