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MM Profile: Steve Martin

Smart Financial Planning managing director and head of the North-west branch of the IFP on why the world is finally coming round to his way of thinking about transparent charging and qualifications, why there is nothing wrong with direct sales and how the mass market is in danger of losing out.

Two failed attempts at university led Smart Financial Planning director Steve Martin to financial services. “I studied medicine and after three years, decided I did not like it. Then I did politics and management but decided that was rubbish so I looked for a job.”

City Financial Partners, part of Lincoln, persuaded Martin that, as a trainee manager, he would make a fortune. He says: “I bought into the fact I was doing good, which I was, by selling protection. I also bought into the fact I was going to be rich, which I sure as hell was not.”

Martin left City Financial to join family-run IFA Ritchie Baird & Barclay. “The driver was the cocooned environment. The view was we were the cream of the crop.”

His next role at Ritchie Baird & Barclay gave Martin the independent advice bug. “It became obvious that having more options available to you as an adviser meant you could do a better job.”

He was headhunted by IFA Haines Watts. “Haines Watts and Ritchie Baird were as different as night and day. I did not have to go looking for new business as my clients were the partners of the Haines Watts accountancy firm. It was shooting fish in a barrel.”

Martin was promoted to managing the Edinburgh and Glasgow firms at Haines but left in 2003 to move to England with his soon-to-be wife. He took a job at Bollinton Financial Services, a small IFA attached to a bigger insurance firm.

It was not his most successful move. “They were daft enough to give a 27-year-old with little experience a managing director role and I was arrogant enough to think I could do it. I wanted to be paid for my work rather than giving my advice for nothing and hoping someone would buy a product. Trying to implement that within the insurance business was hell.”

Martin took the model of charging fees for planning, implementation and review that he launched at Bollinton to his next position at Multiplex Wealth Management and his subsequent role at Christian Douglas Wealth Management. He says: “I took the role with the intention of becoming a partner but when I sat down and said, ’Hang on, I operate this fee-based model that generates capital value for this business yet I have none of the company’s equitable value,’ I realised it was never going to happen to my satisfaction. It was set-up time. I had a crystal-clear picture of what client service and charging looked like.”

Smart Financial Planning has lived up to Martin’s expectations – in four years, it has increased its assets under management by 50 per cent and was recently crowned Small IFA of the Year at the Money Marketing awards.

“The whole world is coming round to what we do,” he says. “Regulatory change is forcing everyone to be transparent on charges and to be qualified. These are things I have been doing for nine years.”

Martin makes it company policy to only hire graduates. “They have no bad habits picked up from other businesses.”

Graduates enter Smart as administrators. In their first year, they take certificate level exams and in the second, they do some paraplanning and get their diploma. In their final year, they get their CFP and move into a trainee financial planner role. Smart currently employs three graduates and one apprentice.

The company services about 300 clients. “We keep it personal so there is no multi-level service stuff going on.”

Smart advises a big group of KPMG staff. “They have a complicated final-salary arrangement and I have picked up some specialist knowledge of that but I only spend about 20 per cent of my time advising, the rest of it is spent moving Smart forward.”

A mortgage broker arm and a business consultancy make up the rest of Smart’s offering. “I have always tended to deal with individuals rather than businesses and the consultancy fills that gap.”

Two years ago, Smart was made head of the North-west branch of the Institute of Financial Planning and has since almost tripled attendance. “We split the branch into three in Preston, Chester and Manchester – I thought it was unfair for an IFA in Carlisle to have to come to Worsley for a meeting. We also moved the meetings from the evening to the afternoon, as I felt they counted as work.”

Martin feels strongly about the role of qualifications. “You can imagine how popular I was when I challenged Aifa and said the RDR should have gone to level six. The RDR was trailed in 2005, so all people would have to do over six years is five R or J-level exams and a CFP exam. I say this because I did not understand what financial planning was all about until I got my CFP certification.”

However, there is a big “but” to all this. “I do not think there is anything wrong with direct sales. For the vast majority of people, advice can be adequately provided by someone selling them a protection or savings product. The biggest mistake the regulator made was to say everyone requires sophisticated advice.”

He believes advisers should tailor their qualifications to their target market. “My level six applies to the clients I deal with but the RDR is forcing advisers in the last stages of their career to accumulate qualifications they will never use. Those who would have done a brilliant job servicing the mass market will have a difficult life and the mass market will get left out.”

That is why Martin wants Smart to top the table for the most certified financial planners in a company. He says: “I still see the CFP as the most important qualification for any planner and it is true to our principles.”

Born: Ayr, Scotland in 1975
Lives: Bowdon, Cheshire
Education: Glasgow University
Career: 2008-present: managing director, Smart Financial Planning; 2008: partner and IFA at Christian Douglass Wealth Management; 2005: partner and IFA at Christian Douglass Financial Planning; 2004-05: development manager and IFA at Multiplex Wealth Management; 2003-04: managing director and IFA at Bollinton Financial Services; 2001-03: IFA at Haines Watts Financial Services; 1999-2001: IFA at Ritchie Baird & Barclay; 1998-99: trainee manager at City Financial Partners
Likes: Sport, striving and achieving
Dislikes: Lazy people, British weather, unnecessary complexity
Drives: Range Rover
Book: Currently reading A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington
Film: The Losers
Album: Stone Roses – in advance of the comeback concert
Career ambition: By organic growth and attracting the right people, for Smart to have the highest number of CFPs in any firm in the UK
Life ambition: Happiness for my family and me
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…A full-time triathlete

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