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Phil Wickenden: Every business is a people business

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Brands do not care about you. Institutions do not care about you either. The only people able to care about you are people. With this in mind, the question is “is this institution owned, organised and run by people who will allow the people who work there to care?” Generally, the answer is “no” because caring is unpredictable, hard to command and regulate and sometimes expensive in the short run.

That is a great shame because the long-term upside is huge. Our latest wave of adviser research “Profit Through Partnership” reveals the growing importance and influence of provider and platform consultants on advisers. That is not to say that support of the right kind and quality is widely available or accessible (it is not). But there is a strong and positive relationship between the delivery of relevant business and technical support, and adviser propensity to do business. And it is getting stronger, fuelled, in part, by scarcity.  

With margin pressures there is a tendency to over-emphasise the importance of technology, processes and supply chain efficiency. This is understandable but arguably flawed. All successful companies revolve around human needs because people are the ultimate consumers of every product and service. Without people, every patent in the world would be worthless and financial services is no exception: it is people (advisers and their clients) who make the decisions about what to buy and when.

So when providers and platforms try to compete on price, quality or process (which create temporary advantages at best) it is worth remembering that the only lasting competitive advantage is the knowledge your company possesses (and the action that flows from it) about the people your company serves.

Yet boots on the ground have been reduced significantly as executive teams look to manage the numbers and boost short-term profits. Unfortunately, it has been proven to be incredibly difficult to cut your way to success. When a provider cuts front line staff to increase profits there is (or at least the very real risk of) corresponding disruption to vital relationships unless customer relationship management systems are seamless. Few are. This is all the more alarming when we consider that, to many advisers, provider consultants represent more than just a valuable conduit to knowledge and support – they are the brand. And so when they are ushered out of the door as part of cost “rationalisation” along with them goes your entire brand equity, which does not seem particularly rational.

Phil Wickenden is managing director of So Here’s The Plan

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