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New PFS president: ‘The industry has got to stop kicking itself all the time’

The new PFS president and Sanlam UK Wealth Division chief executive is keen to remind advisers they are a force for good

There is always room for improvement, whatever job you do. It is why line managers bother doing staff appraisals. It is why business owners spend time and money on consultants to help them be the best they can be. It underpins the work of the regulators and professional bodies.

That said, it is also important to acknowledge progress made and be proud of a job well done.

For new Personal Finance Society president and Sanlam UK Wealth Division chief executive John White, the message to advisers is clear: take the criticism on board and learn from the negatives, such as the pension transfer scandal, but remember how advisers change people’s lives for the better, day in, day out, without shouting about it.

“The word everyone talks about is ‘trust’, but one of the things the industry has got to do is stop kicking itself all the time. Terrible things happen when people get bad advice, but such a small proportion of people are giving everyone a bad name. We just kick ourselves and talk it to death,” he says.

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“Of course, we need to address the negative issues and make sure they don’t happen again, but people don’t get told the positives – how we have made a difference to clients.”

To illustrate the point of how good advice sticks in clients’ minds just as much as bad advice, White recalls meeting the head teacher of his children’s school in a restaurant several years after he saw her as a client. He says: “I advised her to pay off her mortgage and she was telling me that knowing the mortgage was paid off had been a real benefit and had made such a difference to her life. Advisers do this every day without thinking about it. We give good advice.”

The value of advice takes on a wider significance, given the theme of White’s presidential year is financial education.

Much of his work for the year will centre on the Discover Fortunes programme, an initiative launched by the PFS in 2012 as a way of bringing financial education into schools through a board game.

The game introduces students to investments, pensions, savings and protection, while showing how they are appropriate to a range of characters and financial circumstances.

Five questions

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?

My father telling me I needed to get a professional career or leave the house.

What keeps you awake at night?

Nothing, not even my wife watching TV in bed.

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?

Mifid II. It’s helpful as it has made us focus on clients, but there’s a lot of bureaucracy and extra paperwork that doesn’t benefit clients.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…

Spend the day working out how I could have the role for the next three years. I’d love more time to look at how we can get good-quality, compliant advice to the wider consumer in a cost-effective manner.

Any advice for new advisers?

Focus on your client; it’s a great career.

As White points out, financial education is not simply about finding your way around your bank statement or knowing how to avoid debt.

He says: “In the past, people tried to do financial education in schools, but it has been very disjointed.

“Discover Fortunes is not just about how to run a bank account or not get into debt. It is also about getting pupils excited about an industry they might want to get into.”

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Earlier this year, the PFS launched its Education Champions initiative on the back of Discover Fortunes.

It works by bringing advisers into schools, showing young people what they do and how it can be another career option to explore.

White says 500 volunteers have taken up training for this scheme so far, which is run through the PFS regional roadshows.

“It seems to work,” he says. “We have one-and-a-half-hour sessions where planners or paraplanners speak with 15- to 18-year-olds about how they got into the industry and what they get out of it.

“They play the board game, where you look at risk profiles of clients and the way people think. It is the basics of behavioural finance.”

CV

2016-present: Chief executive, Sanlam UK Wealth Division

2014-2016: Chief operating officer (employee benefits and wealth management), Arthur J Gallagher & Co

1997-2014: Partner, RSM Robson Rhodes; managing director, RSM Bentley Jennison; managing director, RSM Tenon; managing director, Baker Tilly

1987-1990: IFA, Hornbuckle Mitchell

1977-1986: Various life and pension roles at Commercial Union and NPI

White’s entrance into financial services was not entirely his choice but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Having dropped out of university, he was given an ultimatum by his father: get a professional career or find somewhere else to live.

So White got a job as a broker consultant with Commercial Union and eventually found his way into advice with a regional IFA in Manchester called Trinity.

Since then, White has been running financial planning firms with national capability – even working for several different firms without making a move due to various acquisitions.

He joined Sanlam UK two years ago and, in line with the firm’s vertical integration strategy, has been creating closer ties between the group’s planning and discretionary management arms.

As 2019 gets under way, White’s focus is on growing the business on all fronts.

The target is to go from 220 advisers currently working across the financial planning arm and the adviser network it acquired from Tavistock Investments last year to 1,000 advisers in the next couple of years. The firm plans to grow organically and make acquisitions. It started the new year putting this into practice with the acquisition of Preston-based chartered financial planner Astute Wealth Management.

Sanlam adds first advice firm to partner programme

Sanlam UK has also been able to use the network’s infrastructure to accelerate its partnership programme, where advice firms can benefit from what it has to offer in terms of funding, resources, paraplanning and investment options, while remaining in control of their businesses.

Earlier this year, Marlow-based Ergowealth became the first advice firm to join the partnership programme and White expects to bring three or four more firms on board in the first quarter of this year.

He says: “The benefit of the way we are organised in terms of vertical integration meant we didn’t have to own the distribution chain.

“But we saw a gap in the market to support advisers who may be too big to want to be part of a network but not big enough to get the investment they need to grow.

“We are unique in how we can offer anyone who wants to be an IFA an opportunity to do so in the style that suits them.”

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