Not many IFAs would admit to a drink-driving ban as the making of their career, but Money Marketing Industry Personality of the Year for the second year running Keith Popplewell is not too proud to admit that his career path has had its ups and downs.
A crash on the A1 some 12 years ago after a heavy night out, from which he was lucky to walk away, left Popplewell without his driving licence for two years. He says:”I am not proud of what happened. My main concern was that nobody else was hurt.”
He kept his job as broker consultant for NatWest but, without a car, he had more time at home so he decided to educate himself in earnest and studied for CII, pensions management and FPC exams.
He is now an institution in the IFA community which has come to rely on his Blue Peter-style approach to training through his weekly column in Money Marketing.
His latest column comes to you from Spain where, despite taking some time off with his wife and two young children, he cannot escape pensions.
Readers of his column quickly become familiar with his style that has won over the IFA community with his step-by-step guides covering such topics as pension sharing on divorce and the complexities of portfolio planning and management.
His career in technical training began at NatWest but took off after he became CII Student of the Year in 1992. He was snapped up by DBS as a director with responsibilities for training members in technical issues.
He says: “I was never your conventional trainer. My employers have always preferred me to work at home because they didn't want me in the office. I have always been better on the technical side than being good at selling. Being an IFA is more of a sideline.”
He started his own business, Professional Briefing, in 1994. It operates mainly as a training company but does handle some pension transfers and drawdown cases. “In IFA terms,I prefer to be a specialist rather than a GP. I have to say I really do enjoy the technical side. The issues are complicated and can be dangerous without specific knowledge.”
If the technicalities of standard deviation were not enough to drive you mad, the successes and failures of Sheffield United are there to distract Popplewell as well.
A Sheffield man born and bred, his children share his passion and proudly wear their United shirts while playing on the beach in Spain.
Despite his children's efforts to drag him in to the sea, Popplewell is keeping his head above water when it comes to the choppy issues that fill MM's pages every week.
He does not believe stakeholder is the biggest threat to IFAs and does not see polarisation as a major issue to concern IFAs. “IFAs will keep doing what they do best and will always come out ahead of the tied side. It will require a slight adaptation but it can only strengthen the IFA message.”
He sees the only difficulty facing IFAs at present as the ability to adapt and take on change. “Those who will be really successful will have the mindset of wanting to do their best for the client and will anticipate change rather than avoid or fight it. This is actually a fantastic time to be in the industry because we are really starting to put the punter first.”
He believes training on the technicalities is key so IFAs can add real value to their clients. “Some IFAs complain they are trying to hit a moving target with the changes to regulation but that is just a fact of life. Things are more complex and changing all the time but that is their reason for being in business.”
Popplewell says the intermediary market has moved on a long way since his days as a direct salesman without any regulation or training. “The standard of knowledge of IFAs has gone through the roof. People are realising you cannot make a living through selling. IFA training used to be all sales technique and the technical aspects were just an inconvenience.”
His expertise is not just confined to the pages of MM. He is out on the road over the next few weeks, speaking at Zurich IFA conferences on pension drawdown. He is also the author of books on retirement income planning, mortgages, and pension and divorce.
But before he heads back in to the murky waters of part-time workers and backdated pension benefits, he is going to enjoy the rest of his holiday. His children, tired of throwing a plastic football at him, are itching to dunk him in the sea.
Still, most readers will agree that is more fun than wading through the finer points of pension litigation.