Martin Bamford: Why does everyone love to hate SJP?

Martin Bamford

The rise of populism as a political trend has resulted in some interesting new words added to our already-rich lexicon. Last year saw “Brexit” named word of the year by Collins Dictionary, after its use rose by 3,400 per cent.

Usually fruitless online debates about politics also resulted in the implied insult “snowflake generation”. This is used to describe young adults viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations. In my experience, it is not always only young adults who can be characterised in such terms.

Allow me to introduce you to another new term: triggered. According to Urban Dictionary (the font of all slang word knowledge) triggered means getting filled with hate after seeing, hearing or experiencing something you cannot stand.

We tend to get triggered within retail financial services. You only have to read the comments on any Money Marketing article referencing the activities of St James’s Place to witness this in action. It is pretty clear members of the IFA community are not its biggest fans. But here is the thing – and this requires a blasphemy warning – I really like SJP.

I like its branding. Everything about the way in which SJP presents itself absolutely hits the spot. Unlike most advice firms, it knows what it stands for, what its proposition is and how this is presented to clients.

I also like its advisers. When I was a young buck of a broker consultant, I looked after some excellent advisers who subsequently sold their souls to SJP. I have come across SJP partners who embrace true financial planning at Institute of Financial Planning branch meetings. Even our local county councillor is a SJP partner, and he is a thoroughly nice chap.

Something else I like is its profitability. As a business owner, I know how challenging it can be to be consistently profitable. There is downwards pressure on fees at the same time as constantly rising demands for regulatory levies, accreditations, staff costs and insurances. We see how many firms are struggling to turn a profit. But SJP has profits in spades.

Of course, what it also has is a restricted advice model and the use of vertical integration. These are two factors I do not like.

Seemingly as a result of these factors, the Sunday Times has been rather critical of late about the apparent opaqueness of the SJP charging model. Whether it is truly opaque or just on the premium pricing side of the norm for a restricted adviser, SJP claims its clients are largely satisfied with what they pay and, most importantly, the value they receive.

Here is where I think snowflake generation advisers getting triggered by SJP stories could stand to improve. Instead of getting filled with hate after reading about a business model you cannot stand, try a different approach. Demonstrate to those clients of SJP advisers that what you offer as an IFA is better value.

You might need to improve your proposition and branding first. You will, of course, have to demonstrate profitability, as you convince clients to move from this behemoth managing close to £80bn to your provincial practice or one-man band. You will also need to demonstrate complete trans-parency when it comes to your remuneration.

We have an opportunity to do just this, as a local and very well established firm has just sold out to SJP. Whether or not we can convince some of its best clients and professional contacts to take a fresh look at their adviser relationships due to the move from independence to restricted is yet to be seen. One way we will not do it is by moaning about it online.

Martin Bamford is managing director of Informed Choice