II remember reading several years ago that the Church of England was joining the university milk rounds in a bid to tackle the problem of their ageing clergymen. It was a faintly amusing image and yet the financial services sector faces a not dissimilar problem when it comes to recruitment – how to appeal to graduates when your image, alongside the glossy corporations, is distinctly unappealing?
As a no-fee broker, one of the biggest challenges we face is to persuade the public that we are neither second-rate nor about to rip them off. Testimony to the stigma attached to our industry was evident when we recently invited customers to comm- ent about us on our website: “Restored my faith in mortgage brokers”, “I am normally sceptical about financial advice” and “A unique strength for your business – makes you different.”That last comment leads us to the heart of our recruitment drive – our consumer champion stance. At L&C, we have faced a big challenge over the past couple of years. We are rapidly expanding but have paid attention to our very real need to maintain a personal, quality service, which could so easily have been diluted.Unlike many of our comp-etitors who recruit from the pool of employees hopping from company to company, we tend to employ graduates and people from outside the industry as well as those with previous financial services experience.We go about the business of recruitment carefully, giving weight to personal qualities as well as industry-related skills.Many of our staff refer their friends and family to join our workforce, which enhances the sense of loyalty that keeps turnover to a minimum. In the past six years, only three mortgage advisers have left us in order to work for competitors. The personal touch extends to our customers. In 2005, 17 per cent of our business came from customer referrals.A key advantage, not just to recruitment but to the efficiency of our operation, is being based at one site within an open plan environ-ment. This non-fragmented approach enables us to carry out day-to-day training and development of new staff in a hands-on atmosphere, all under one umbrella. New mortgage advisers undertake a comprehensive in-house training programme, meaning that we are not reliant upon external programmes and can run courses when they suit us.During the first month’s training programme, advisers are equipped not only with the industry knowledge required but with L&C’s way of working.Staff are instructed to treat the customer as they themselves would wish to be treated. Treating customers fairly is the foundation on which the L&C sales process has been built and for its successful implementation, we recruit those who share our passion for ensuring TCF is at the heart of everything we do.In order to make such ethics a real part of the working day rather than part of some meaningless mission statement, we have developed a bespoke in-house workflow system to ensure that each adviser delivers the same high level of service to each customer and helps them manage their client base.New advisers, whom we recruit in batches and assign to a team with a supervisor, do not simply become absorbed into this work stream, left to swim alone.We hold regular meetings with input from lenders to increase learning. We run ad hoc training sessions on specialist areas and put them through annual knowledge tests. Advisers have monthly one to one meetings with their supervisors.Our administration staff are encouraged to sit industry examinations, which L&C pays for, and indeed to go on to become advisers if that is a direction that interests them. All this is to ensure our staff continue to gain knowledge and expertise.I do not know how the C of E got on with their recruitment drive and whether the milk round proved fruitful for them but I do know that if you appeal to the right candidates with the right ethics then your company will not only grow, but in a manner which holds true to its core beliefs and goals.David Hollingworth is head of communications at London & Country