With a reported 20 per cent drop in adviser numbers throughout 2012 and expectations that this will fall even further this year, the financial advice industry perhaps does not look in the best of health.
It is not just financial advisers who you would expect to be worried. Networks should also be feeling the strain as with adviser numbers are dropping, this means fewer network members.
However, Sense Network commercial director Steve Young believes it is quality, not quantity that will see networks succeed in a post-RDR world.
He says: “What we choose to do is support quality financial planning firms who are connected to independent financial advice, who have embraced the issues that come out of the RDR. That means that we are never going to be the biggest network because we don’t want to be. But hopefully that means for firms that think like us, they know that they can go to one network that is genuinely connected to helping them and who is actually good at it.”
The network has enjoyed strong growth in recent years. In 2012, it increased the number of its members by 40 per cent, taking it to 72 firms and 190 individual advisers and it capped a good year by picking up the award for network of the year at last month’s Money Marketing Awards.
Young says he expects to see the same growth this year. However, he says the network is certainly not aiming to bite off more than it can chew of fear it could be detrimental to their personalised service.
“I think if we were twice the size that we were today, I think that is pretty much as big as you can get whilst keeping personal relationships with all your members. Each one of our members have a personal relationship with one or more of the directors. We couldn’t do that if we had 1000 plus members.”
Young joined Sense in 2011 but he has had a long and varied career in financial services so far.
After joining the Chartered Institute of Bankers straight out of school, Young’s firsty job was with the Co-Operative Banking Group.
“I went down a well chosen path as a lot of people did in those days. It gave me a very interesting grounding and was an opportunity for me to see how business changed over that period of time.”
Young moved on to various roles with Woolwich and Derbyshire Building Society before embarking on a long career with Halifax, who he joined in 1988 as an area manager.
Young filled a number of roles at the company in the 13 years he spent there before leaving in 2001 to join Sesame. He moved his way up the ladder in to become chief operating officer for Sesame in 2010 before resigning from his role in 2011.
“When George Higginson came in as CEO, although Sesame wanted me to stay, I decided it was time for me to do something else. I took six months off and thought about what I wanted to do next.”
Young was then approached by Sense Network co-founders Tim Newman and John Netting who offered him the role of commercial director.
“I think more than anything, they wanted me to rebrand and look at the way in which we communicate the brand through PR, through the Sense blog and also working with third parties such as platform providers and fund managers to make sure we are delivering the things our members really need.”
Towards the end of last year, Young purchased a 15 per cent stake in Sense Network from threesixty. Although that ended threesixty’s stake in Sense, it continues to carry out case review work for the network.
“I asked threesixty if they were willing to sell, they said they would be and we negotiated the deal. It was really as simple as that.”
Sense Network classes itself as a modern network, whose focus lies with forward-thinking businesses in a post-RDR world. Young believes that traditional networks may struggle moving forward.
“I think the problems that some of these older networks face are considerable. They carry huge liabilities to past advisers. They have a lot of issues to resolve which come from any older business. They have a huge challenge in front of them, not necessarily to survive, but to actually prove that they can be commercially viable in a new world.”
With a new regulator in the form of the Financial Conduct Authority, he says it is likely we will see quicker and more decisive action than we did under the Financial Services Authority.
“Where a network gets in to trouble, that could be much more serious. This is one of the reasons why we have very high standards. We monitor a huge amount of business and we don’t want to get too big because that causes networks to go wrong.”
There has been an argument that there is little reason for networks to exist now the RDR is in force, particularly now they are unable to receive commission reconciliation. But Young believes the rationale for networks should not be based around commission.
“Some networks clearly only existed for that reason. That is not what we exist for. What we are trying to do has got nothing to do with commission. It should be a group of people who have common interests and a like-minded view on the market, working together to make the best for everybody.”
Young strongly believes there will be a future for networks, but their models will look different compared to the networks of the past.
“If you look over the last five or six years, there are actually a few more advisers in networks than there are in directly regulated firms. I think that although there won’t be any kind of landslide, over the next five years I would expect to see more advisers go that way.”
Born: Derbyshire, 1960
Lives: Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Education: West Park Community College
Career: 2012-present: commercial director, Sense Network; 2010-11: chief operating officer, Sesame Bankhall Group; 2005-10: group sales and marketing director, Sesame; 2003-05: group sales director, Sesame; 2002-03: managing director, Sesame Direct; 2001-02: sales operations director, Sesame; 2000-01, head of employee share services, Halifax; 1999-2000: head of mortgages, Halifax; 1998-99: director of year 2000 program, Halifax; 1997-98: head of development, Halifax; 1995-96: operations manager/financial services director, Halifax; 1993-95: national sales manager, Halifax; 1989-92: regional manager, Halifax; 1988-89: area manager, Halifax; 1985-88: inspector, Clerical Medical; 1982-85: branch manager, Derbyshire Building Society; 1980-82: management trainee, Woolwich Building Society; 1978-80: cashier, Co-Operative Bank
Likes: Cricket (especially Derby County), positive people
Dislikes: Negative people
Drives: Mercedes E Class Estate
Book: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson
Film: The Great Escape
Album: X&Y by Coldplay
Career ambition: I would like to help Sense to be seen as a different network which is a fantastic choice for a financial planners
Life ambition: To be happy and to make sure my family are happy
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…a modern historian