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Profile: Chadney Bulgin’s David Thomas sets out his vision for PFS members

The Personal Finance Society president sets out his stall for his year-long tenure.

Personal Finance Society president David Thomas has a vision for what he would like to achieve during his year-long tenure.

“The PFS has rightly had a big focus on qualifications but post-RDR my vision is for members to share best practice and ideas,” he says.

“I know the year will go quickly and I cannot change the world in that time but I can make a difference.”

Thomas succeeded David Ingram as PFS president in September. His aim is to publish a series of good practice papers over the year, informed by the consumer insight panel established by the PFS in February.

The panel includes representatives from consumer bodies such as Which? and The Pensions Advisory Service and aims to input consumer thinking into the PFS’ work to help improve trust in advisers.

The first piece of work will be on the way advisers display charging information on their websites, while future areas of focus include the guidance guarantee designed to underpin the Government’s pension reforms, as well as the use of consistent language.

Thomas says: “I don’t think the PFS has engaged with consumers as much as it should have done historically. We are starting to understand some of the concerns and issues consumers have about advice and if we can put out some good practice on how to address those issues we can kill two birds with one stone. We have 35,000 members who are doing really good work and I would like to collate and share some of those ideas.”

Thomas started his career as a graduate trainee at Lloyds Banking Group, before rising up the ranks at Bradford & Bingley.

“I moved to Bradford & Bingley – which today is sadly a dirty word – because in those days it was the fastest growing building society in the UK. It was very forward-looking and focused on developing new products and ideas.”

Thomas progressed to assistant branch manager at Bradford & Bingley, where he met Tom Chadney, who would later become his fellow partner at Chadney Bulgin.

“At the time, Chadney was my regional manager and we got on really well,” Thomas says. “Within six months of him leaving to join mortgage administration firm Mortgage Systems, I got the call to ask if I would like to join him. He offered to double my salary overnight so it was hard to turn down.”

Thomas was the 28th member of staff to join Mortgage Systems in 1986, which would grow to 550 employees over the next six years.

He says: “Lots of new lenders were flooding into the UK as a result of the banking revolution, so the growth path was pretty vertical.

“It was all going swimmingly well until we were bought by the infamous British & Commonwealth, which went spectacularly bust in the early 1990s.”

Mortgage Systems was bought by Home Loan Management, after which Thomas left to help Chadney set up mortgage advice firm Chadney Bulgin.

Thomas says: “The four founding partners were all from mortgage backgrounds so we decided to set up a mortgage IFA, with the idea that the sprat would catch the mackerel. We had no idea that the sprat would turn into the mackerel, as the mortgage market just took off.”

He says 80 per cent of the firm’s business was mortgages and protection, with the company doing 350 mortgages a month at the height of the market in 2007.

The crash was the catalyst for the firm to switch its focus from mortgages to financial planning.

“We had always had the aim of building the financial planning side of the business and in 2005 we decided to switch to a fee-based charging structure to help build value,” Thomas explains.

“We were also helped by the fact most of our staff already had financial planning qualifications, because I have always been a big proponent of exams, and that we had a large existing client base.

“When the market crashed, we had to adapt very quickly from doing 350 mortgages a month to less than 100. Within 18 months we had increased the volume of financial planning business from 20 per cent of our business to 80 per cent.”

Now, Chadney Bulgin operates a 50:50 split between mortgages and financial planning.

He says: “We have a top heavy support staff to advisers model, on both financial planning and mortgages, which ensures our advisers can focus on what they are good at.” 

Thomas became a director at the PFS three years ago through former president Eddie Grant.

“Eddie told a fantastic story about how the PFS is shaping and guiding the profession,” he says. “That is sort of where I was in my own company, so I thought if I could do that more widely, I could add something.”

Guiding members through the pension reforms taking effect in April will be a challenge for the organisation, he says.

“There will be a hand off to advisers from the guidance guarantee and the majority of PFS members will want to be involved in that,” he says.

“But there is a lot of uncertainty so there is an opportunity for good practice setting out, for example, how much advisers could charge for an initial advice session and report.

“We may not get all the final rules until March, so we need to be fleet of foot to help our members.”

Five questions

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

Listen first

What keeps you awake at night?

Screeching foxes in the back garden

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

The pension freedoms announced in the Budget (which could take over from screeching foxes)

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

Action a rewrite of the FCA rulebook(s) to make them easy to understand

Any advice for new advisers?

Become chartered as soon as possible, and closely observe the most successful advisers to understand what really cements the client relationship

CV

2014-present: President, Personal Finance Society

1994-present: Partner, then joint managing partner, Chadney Bulgin

1987-93: General manager, Mortgage Systems

1980-87: Graduate trainee, then assistant branch manager, Bradford & Bingley

1979-80: Graduate trainee, Lloyds Banking Group

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