If Liz Field had to pick one word to sum up the last few months it would be “whirlwind”. The new chief executive of the Wealth Management Association is a firm believer in rolling up her sleeves and getting stuck in. Since her appointment at the WMA in September, Field has immersed herself in meetings to understand exactly what members want from their trade association and how this can be achieved.
“Pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are floating around in my head and I’m waiting for them to fit together. Another bit falls into place every time I have a consultation with someone,” she says.
The WMA, formerly the Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers until it rebranded last year, is a trade association representing 186 firms in the investment/wealth management industry, spanning execution only services through to advice and discretionary management.
You could call Field a trade association veteren. She has spent the best part of 25 years within trade associations in the financial services sector, including 15 years as a chief executive. She is used to representing a wide range of members under one roof and says trade associations can only serve everyone as well as they can with the resources they have.
Field’s recent fact-finding mission among WMA members has been intense, illustrated by a diary crammed with appointments. She is now craving some thinking time to reflect on what she has learnt and work out how the WMA can best support its members. Forming strategic alliances with other organisations is seen as the way forward in achieving its objectives.
“We’re looking at stakeholders, potential partners, people who have a vested interest in the wealth management sector so that we can leverage that support,” says Field.
Another goal for the WMA is to break even following its pre-tax financial losses of £181,000 for the year ending 31 May, following a £33,000 loss in the previous year.
“Last year was one of significant change at the WMA: the rebrand coupled with a change in leadership necessitated additional spend. Going forward and through the strategic review, where our members have informed us of what they would like to see next for WMA, there are likely to be more positive changes,” says Field.
WMA members were introduced to Field at her predecessor Tim May’s last annual conference in October.
“I had a slot at the end to say hello and ask what the membership want so they can feed into the strategy,” she says.
Members were happy to give their opinions.
“The membership said we are good at the EU and compliance piece, so that is a solid foundation on which to build. If you look at the legislation coming out of the EU and UK regulation there is an enormous amount of change. We need to keep up to date with it and cope with it, while helping other people do the same for their businesses,” she says.
The WMA’s strategy is to push for EU directives that can be implemented on a local level rather than regulation or legislation at a national level because the UK financial services market is different to others in Europe.
“I’m not saying we should do away with EU legilsaiton altogether but recognise there will be some things that cannot be implemented at national level because of local tax differences. There are different types of products in different EU jurisdictions and they are subject to their own tax rules which are different,” says Field.
Regulation, technology and trying to run a 21st century business in the financial sector with “a very astute client base” are the biggest challenges for WMA members, according to Field.
“Our membership is concerned with how they need to look at their businesses to cope with the regulatory change and the investment required to comply with that regulation. They are investing in new technology to help them comply with regulation within the UK and EU, which is increasing,” she says.
One example Field uses to illustrate this is firms needing the ability to search their telephone recordings.
“They are looking at what technology you need to do this. It’s not just about storage but having the ability to search telephone recordings and the required technological infrastructure for that. You need a bit of breathing space to look at what technology you have. Having that ability to take stock and say ’do we invest in new technology rather than bolt-ons?’ is important but there is no breathing space to do that.”
Field says that, as a chief executive, it is important not to get bogged down in detail that could jeopardise your “helicopter” view.
“I’ve got the experience within the team to know the ins and outs of everything,” she says.
It is more important for Field to know the implications of all the details for WMA members so she can highlight key points and what a particular piece of legislation means for the chief executive of a member firm.
“You’ve got to steep yourself in the business end. I’ve always been a business person. I’ve worked for trade associations but always from a business perspective. You do need to understand how things impact at the sharp end,” she says.
Field has an affinity with smaller businesses since choosing financial services trade associations over a career with Kent County Council, where she was a management trainee. Not only has she run several small trade associations, she also set up her own firm, Liz Field Consulting.
“Running my own business was great, it was a chance to do something different and be in charge of my own destiny,” she says.
“The way I work now and how I worked in my last role was as if I was running my own business. You have to have an affinity with it as if it is your own.”
September 2014-present: Chief executive, Wealth Management Association
2013-September 2014: Career break plus consultancy work for the Association of British Insurers
2010-2013: Trustee, Alliance of Sector Skills Councils
2009-2013: Chief executive, Financial & Legal Skills Partnership
2005-2010: Founder, Liz Field Consulting
2002-2005: Head of organisation development, Gerrard Asset Management
2000-2002: Chief executive, Financial Services National Training Organisation
1997-2000: Chief executive, Banks and Building Societies National Training Organisation
1989-1997: Chief executive and other roles, Insurance Industry Training Council
1982-1989: Various roles as a management trainee, Kent County Council
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve recieved in your career?
To get my degree. I studied at the Open University then did a Masters at Birkbeck, University of London
What keeps you awake at night?
Every conversation I have adding to another piece of the jigsaw.
What is the most significant impact on financial advice in the past year?
The volume of change the industry has seen in recent times has been vast; for example, in areas such as pensions, which has led to an unsettled landscape.
If I was put in charge of the FCA for a day I would…?
Ask for an analysis of defaults to feed into a discussion on how the supervisory process could be improved.
Any advice for new advisers joining the industry?
Don’t stop learning. Aim for high qualifications: think about going beyond level four.