Chartered financial planner Claire Walsh has had an eventful few months. Within weeks of winning Young Financial Adviser of the Year at the Unbiased Media Awards in February, she had left her job at Pavilion Financial Services to join advice firm Aspect8.
But this was no ordinary job move. It reunited Walsh with Aspect8 director Mike Arias – the man who helped her obtain her first position as an adviser.
“When I left university, I got on to the graduate programme at American Express, which was a great place to work,” says Walsh. “But I didn’t feel I fitted in to life at a big corporate. I knew I wanted a job with more autonomy and the chance to use more of my skills. I was a self-investor on Hargreaves Lansdown and one evening I was trying to explain our portfolio to my husband. He pointed out that I was really passionate and knowledgeable about personal finance and suggested I speak to our good friend Mike Arias. It went from there.”
Arias was then at chartered financial planning firm Clarke Walker, which subsequently merged into Aspect8. He arranged work experience for Walsh which fitted in around her working hours at American Express.
“For about six months I spent half a day a week shadowing Mike and I also completed CF1 to see if this was the right career for me before taking the plunge. Mike helped me get my first job as a trainee and this was a huge earnings drop for me. But years of hard work and studying have certainly paid off,” says Walsh.
Now settling in at Aspect8, Walsh is focused on growing her client base and building her knowledge.
“The business is incredibly well run in terms of administrative support, infrastructure and back-office systems, which will support me and allow me to spend more time on the bit of the job I like best – advising clients,” she says.
Method of delivery
It surprises Walsh that many people who work hard to earn their money have little interest in financial planning. But she thinks the way that financial advice is delivered is crucial for engaging clients properly.
“The more traditional approach is to talk at clients but some clients will have no idea what the adviser is talking about.
“One of my friends who was dealing with probate went to see a solicitor and was talked at; she said she expected that from professionals. But I think people seeking advice should expect more than someone babbling on in lots of jargon,” she says.
Walsh says the Unbiased judging panel approved of her preference for using plain English.
“One of the judges told me that what really stood out from my entry was the way I seemed to make finance more accessible – explaining things in a straightforward way that people could understand rather than trying to impress with knowledge,” she says.
As a young female adviser, Walsh unsurprisingly has a view on the industry’s appeal to young people and women.
“One of the things that attracts me is the ability to work flexible hours, which should make it easier when the time comes to have a family. Unfortunately, very few young people are even aware of what financial advice is. I know the CII does work in schools to try to raise the profile and I think more work by industry bodies would help,” she says.
During her own schooldays, Walsh had lofty ambitions. At the age of just five she proudly told a local newspaper journalist that she wanted to be the queen or prime minister when she grew up.
These days she is content with chartered status and believes it could eventually become mandatory for advisers, even for those who have been advising clients without it for decades. “If you’ve got all that knowledge, you should be able to sit the exam,” she says.
So why does Walsh believe chartered status is such an asset?
“The diploma gives a good grounding but I feel much more confident in the breadth and depth of knowledge I developed by studying for the advanced diploma, which is required for chartered status. I’ve been on training courses with other IFAs and some had big gaps in their knowledge even though they’d been advising for 20 years,” she says.
Walsh believes people both appreciate the value of personalised face-to-face advice for key life events such as divorce and realise that such advice comes at a cost.
“Traditionally, financial advice was the preserve of the wealthy but now people with lower incomes and levels of wealth are realising that this is something that could help them and that the financial impact of making decisions without advice could be far more detrimental over the longer term,” she says.
Although technology can help advisers do their jobs more efficiently, it may give rise to concerns about potentially losing the human touch.
Walsh, a fan of cashflow modelling, says: “I have found that clients really enjoy this process. By using cashflow modelling, the conversation is about hopes and fears and the things that matter in their lives, rather than investment growth or tax legislation.”
She has mixed feelings about the pension reforms, which will offer greater control over their retirement savings.
“I think it is good for the industry, good for the public purse as it will generate extra income tax revenue, and it is clearly a vote winner but the losers are the poorer pensioners who won’t seek advice,” she says.
Regardless of the way advice or guidance “for all” is delivered to pensioners, Walsh suspects that those who need it most will not access it. “Savvy pensioners will seek out advice and undoubtedly realise that, in most cases, taking it all as a lump sum is unlikely to be the best option, while the naive will grab the money,” she says.
But Walsh points out that a benefit of increased flexibility should be that many people will feel happier about putting money into pensions.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Ask others for advice and guidance. Many industry professionals have been very generous to me with their time and advice.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing – I sleep very well. If work is keeping you awake, then something is wrong.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the past year?
The option to draw pensions without restrictions from 2015
If I was put in charge of the FCA for a day, I would…
Get everyone to go out on the streets, engage with the public and ask them what they think the FCA should be doing.
Any advice for new advisers?
Be prepared to do unpaid work experience. Ultimately, it is your career that will benefit.
May 2014-present: Chartered financial planner, Aspect8
2011-2014: Independent financial adviser, Pavilion Financial Services
2009-2011: Trustee, Brighton Women’s Centre
2010-2011: Trainee IFA, Best Practice IFA Group
2008-2010: Outsource project & relationship manager, American Express
2006-2008: Customer service management graduate scheme, American Express