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New model army

In the second of a series of articles, Sesame head of propositions and commercial development Alastair Conway gives his thoughts on the practical steps advisers can take to strengthen their client proposition.

You will often find that clients are taking advice and buying financial products from other people as well as your firm. Your acceptance of clients shopping elsewhere will depend on whether your proposition is able to meet all their needs. The key is to make sure your clients understand what you offer.

What is your proposition? Starting with advice, you can take several approaches. One option to consider is specialising in certain areas, which may involve a high level of expertise gained through study and experience. The referral services now available will often help to fill the gaps that you might leave. These could be in the areas of advice where you would rather not get involved, such as pension drawdown and equity release, or in areas that require constant monitoring, such as mortgages or simple protection.

One alternative is to become a good all-round general practitioner who can advise in lots of areas and perhaps demonstrate this by gaining a general certificate of chartered status. If you are part of a bigger practice, you may divide up areas of expertise between different advisers.

As I said in my last article, whichever approach you adopt, you should recognise that it is you, the adviser, that clients buy in to, rather than the products you are recommending. This is a change of mindset for many and one we need to recognise if we are to finally ditch the image of product salespeople in favour of professional advisers.

Once you have considered the type of advice you want to offer your clients, you need to think about how you want to be remunerated. As commission becomes squeezed, there are a series of alternatives to consider such as fees, where you can charge by the hour or ask for a set fee for providing advice on a particular project. Alternatively, you may wants to charge a retainer alongside any transactional commission you earn. Wrap models will provide a further remuneration structure that many clients may find attractive.

It is vital to explain to your clients what it is you are offering and what they are paying for. Never forget that it is your financial expertise and ability to guide them that they value.

What about product choice? Do you want to offer a whole-of-market proposition, a model where you are only linked to one provider or do you want to build your own bespoke service designed specifically to meet the needs of your business?

You also need to think about the structure of the business you run. If you have administration support, how do you go about transferring a greater share of the workload, especially product-related tasks, on to your support team and paraplanners in order to free up more of your time to advise clients? Client contact is, after all, the part you probably most enjoy and where your skills are put to optimum use. This is something to factor into your thinking when deciding on your product selection proposition.

When you consider your back-office system, think about whether it is as streamlined and integrated as it could possibly be. If you have a wrap platform already, are the two systems complementing each other, or doubling the workload? If wrap is in your future plans, you need to make sure that it is integrated into your business in the right way.

What about the current image of our industry and the steps we need to take if advisers are to receive the recognition they deserve? I believe that continually demonstrating professionalism is the key to achieving this objective. Maintaining the quality of your knowledge, keeping your training up to date, passing the right exams and running a professional, profitable practice is what it is all about.

The Turner report was the latest to repeat the point that it is no longer good enough to simply say: “I am an IFA.” Calling yourself independent was enough to differentiate you in the polarised world but the market has now moved on.

The pace of change has been accelerated by industry problems. Consumer attitudes mean we have to step up and deliver more than independent product selection, much of which can now be done without the need for an adviser.

This an opportunity to think about where you want your business to be in the future and what service you want to offer clients. I believe that the market that now presents itself provides a chance to develop the mutually beneficial client relationships that have been so difficult to achieve in the last few years.

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