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Philip Calvert

IFA Life founder Philip Calvert has come a long way from his early days as an amateur rock concert and wedding photographer and is now firmly established as a leading commentator on all things internet-related.

He started his financial services career at National Employers Life Assurance. After a tedious first year spent filling in pension record cards, he trained as a broker consultant.

He says: “Back then in 1979, the trade really was taking brokers out for coffee or lunch and chatting about football and cricket.” After 12 years at NEL, Calvert thought it was time to move on so decided to try his hand on the other side of the fence and joined Dawnworth Financial Services as an IFA.

“In one week of being an IFA, I learnt more about what life offices and product providers should be doing in terms of building relationships with IFAs.

“After 12 years with a product provider, you become quite blinkered and see it from a completely different angle. Even today, I think that huge numbers of providers simply have not got a clue what an IFA does on a day-to-day basis.”

He followed this with a move to the Zurich Life, where he spent nine years as national accounts manager but it was his next move, to Permanent Insurance, then owned by Equitable Life, which sparked his interest in the internet.

“Permanent was way ahead of the curve when it came to using the internet and engaging with IFAs. Our quotes’ tool had been written a certain way that meant we could give it to an IFA and they could plug it into their website. They could change the colours and brand it a certain way.”

IFAs were generating business through their website without even speaking to clients and Calvert says this is when he first realised the impact the internet could have on businesses.

He did some consultancy work for Quay Software as part of their merger with Capita and also for a Norwegian software engineer called Lasse Meholm to help him promote FinanceCube in the UK, which is a software system for IFAs.

In 2004, Calvert discovered ecademy, one of the first social networking sites, and started using it to raise his own profile. He also began promoting it to IFAs and set up the online club IFA Life through ecademy.

“We picked up about 400 members over the next three years or so. I was watching LinkedIn, myspace, Facebook and Bebo and thinking there is something quite serious developing on the internet, wouldn’t it be a good idea to create a social networking site, just for financial planners and IFAs?”

In January 2008, he decided to lift IFA Life off ecademy and build his own niche site for IFAs. It went live in July 2008 and now has 1,700 members.

Calvert aims to have 5,000 members signed up by July and 10,000 by the end of the year. He is also trying to build strategic relationships with firms who want to engage and interact with IFAs in a new way. The site is mainly promoted by word of mouth, the internet, Twitter and by Calvert speaking at financial services conferences.

“Ultimately, we want it to be truly global. Already on the site, we have got IFAs from 12 different countries. The US is showing a lot of interest, particularly at the quality end of the financial planning world.”

He says he has been pleased that the site has attracted high-quality professional advisers and says “some of the industry’s top financial planners” are on the site.

He says the main benefit IFAs get from being on the site is the ability to network with other IFAs, share best practice, exchange ideas, get marketing tips and debate industry issues.

But he thinks the internet will have a much more direct impact on IFAs day to day lives as he predicts it will become the main way in which providers will communicate with them. As a result, he believes that providers will ditch all but the very best broker consultants.

The website funds itself through advertising and consultancy work that Calvert picks up from it. He helps IFAs put together marketing strategies, seminars and increase their online presence.

The main rival to IFA Life is Cherry which mainly caters for mortgage brokers but Calvert says he is deliberately trying to build a global market in order to differentiate it from its competitors.

He also does not want the site to turn into a “knocking” forum where IFAs just log on to have a rant about various providers and says the tone is deliberately professional and friendly to discourage this.

He believes it is essential for IFAs to engage with the internet and social networking websites such as Twitter in order to reach new clients and also to communicate with existing ones.

“What I have found is that once IFAs have discovered technology, many of them become evangelists for it and just love it. I have been astonished at how many IFAs are using Twitter for example.

“You go to Google and type in a search for an IFA and all the usual suspects will come up. If you go to Twitter and ask if someone can recommend an IFA, then you get a human response.”

Running IFA Life fits in neatly with his other work which includes speaking at conferences, running seminars for IFAs on harnessing the internet and work- shops on how to market themselves.

He teaches IFAs how to build an online reputation by posting blogs and comments, tips and links to other resources.

He believes IFAs are way behind the curve with technology. “There is an appalling statistic that says about 20 per cent of IFAs still do not have a website and of those that do, the majority are just online brochures. This is for the simple reason that no one has ever taught IFAs how to market themselves on the internet.”

Calvert is about to start his next book which is about how to present yourself on the internet. He is the author of three other books – Successful Seminar Selling, How to Make a Great Wedding Speech and Wake up Your Website.

He says there will be an explosion of financial services related material going online over the next five years and that IFAs who do not embrace the internet will face “big problems”.

“I think there will be an increase in consumers who don’t want to talk to a financial adviser but want to do it through their website. This is a huge opportunity for IFAs who just want to start thinking about their business model in the future and a threat to those who ignore it.”

Born: 1959

Lives: Cranleigh, Surrey with wife and two children

Education: St John’s School, Leatherhead

Career: 2008-present: founder of IFA Life and professional speaker; 2005-07: consultant for FinanceCube and Quay Software; 2004-05: head of sales and marketing, Pioneer Friendly Society; 2001-03: national sales manager, Permanent Insurance; 1992-2001: head of national accounts, Zurich Life; 1990-92: IFA, Dawnworth Financial Services; 1978-90: broker consultant, National Employers Life

Likes: Very strong black coffee, French markets, fine red wine, heavy metal and blues, keeping chickens, writing, networking, speaking and training, Singapore, travel, photography, golf

Dislikes: Closed minds

Drives: VW Passat

Book: Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams

Film: Alien

Album: Reload by Metallica

Career ambition: To establish IFA Life as the global forum for networking and sharing of best practice among IFAs and financial planners and to eventually sell the business

Life ambition: To combine writing, speaking and travel as the conference speaker of choice on sales and social networking

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…either a rock concert photographer or a professional golfer

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