I’m running a marathon in a couple of weeks time. I mention this not for bragging rights, but to hopefully illustrate an important point. Stick with me for a moment.
This will be my second marathon, after finishing the London Marathon back in April, a year after I took up running. Unlike that 26.2 mile plod around the crowded streets of London town, the race on which I have firmly set my sights is a trail marathon.
This means swapping pavements for tree root strewn paths, and replacing enthusiastic spectators with trees.
It also means adding about a vertical mile of elevation gain to the run. Those of you who know this part of Surrey might be familiar with Leith Hill, the highest point in South East England. We get to run to the top of that. Twice. There are four other big summits on the route as well.
Training for a road marathon is both difficult and quite simple. Over a period of 12 weeks, assuming you have a good level of existing fitness, you gradually build up your weekly mileage. The big focus of marathon training is the weekly long slow run; usually taking place on a Saturday or Sunday morning, designed to teach your body about the rigours of running for a very long time. By about week 10 of your marathon training schedule, you aim to have run 20-22 miles very slowly at least a couple of times.
Getting ready for a trail marathon is a bit different. It still involves that gradual build-up of weekly mileage during a 12 week plan, but rather than running on roads and pavements, you run on woodland trails. To get ready for running up and down hills, you run up and down hills. To prepare your mind for the relative loneliness of the forest, you spend two, three or four hours at a time out in the middle of nowhere, with only your brain for company. And as a result you prepare yourself for the rigours of running a trail marathon.
This is similar to the world of retail financial services. You get better at doing something by doing it. If you keep doing what you have always done, you always get what you have always got.
We only see progress in our profession by constantly stretching ourselves further, doing things which we previously did not believe possible and by being prepared to accept that our approach in the past was not always suitable for what we need to achieve in the future.
I know that I wouldn’t stand a chance of completing my next marathon if all I had done was the same training that I was engaged in this time last year. Next year I’ve signed myself up for a couple of ultra marathon races, including a 67 mile run around the Isle of Wight coastal path, and the only way I will stand a chance of finishing these is to train specifically for those challenges.
Right now, I see many parts of the retail financial services sector behaving in the same way it did many years ago. We have some replacing commission with adviser charging on a like-for-like basis. Some are accepting cash payments from providers to secure distribution or influence product recommendations. A few are flogging esoteric investment funds in the absence of a properly formulated advice proposition. Many are continuing to deny the power of the internet to disenfranchise the intermediary.
These individuals and companies are training for the wrong race. They might have made it to the start line, but crossing the finish line without the right training in the bank seems unlikely at best.
Martin Bamford is managing director at Informed Choice