Balance: Wealth Planning managing director on setting up a new firm and being fed up with inadequate systems
Advisers are waking up to the fact that younger people are the clients of the future, and Balance: Wealth Planning managing director Rebecca Aldridge is no exception. She is weeks away from launching a second company that will target the under-45s.
“Older people are engaging with advisers but younger people are not. I might want to work for another 15 or 20 years, so it’s no good to me if all my clients are in their 60s,” she says.
“I recognise that most financial planning companies target 50-year-old clients and couples. That is also our target market, as their needs are a lot more complex and they have more wealth.
“But we want to address how young people are engaging with financial planning and money. That is why we are launching a second company, Neon Financial Planning.”
Although targeting a younger demographic with youthful branding, Neon will take on clients of any age in its attempt to cater for people who are “not massively wealthy”.
“They might be people who want something other than face-to-face financial planning,” says Aldridge.
“Advice will be delivered remotely and will be more transactional if that is what clients want. We’re also including financial coaching for those who want help with things like budgeting or understanding their workplace pensions.”
Neon offers an opportunity to diversify and build relationships for the future.
Aldridge adds: “While other firms focus on the older generation, we want to attend to the younger ones in a more structured way. Some firms are doing that as part of their overall proposition, but we want to market and brand it differently, so that, if successful, we will have two propositions and one may be more profitable than the other.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Do the right thing, work to your strengths and do what only you can do.
What keeps you awake at night?
Absolutely nothing – but what worries me is the defined benefit transfer mess.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Mifid II, which has had the most significant impact for no reason.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…?
Scrap the Mifid II requirements and introduce something like the Ofsted ratings we have for schools into financial planning.
Any advice for new advisers?
Say yes to everything and read widely.
Aldridge sees technology as the biggest opportunity in the industry, due to its potential to help advisers deliver the service they want efficiently and cost-effectively.
That said, she has found the technology advice firms have to rely on is often not up to the job: “Very little technology does what is required. I have never met anybody who says, ‘that piece of kit is absolutely perfect’. There are a few tools here and there that are good but, by and large, every piece of technology made for financial planners is more than flawed.
“We have to use a combination of tech that does not talk to each other very well. We use add-ons to try to make it easier, but it does not work. There isn’t an adequate technology solution for much of what we need.”
Aldridge says most advice firms are too small to develop their own systems, so they have no choice but to manage with a mishmash of tools.
“The system and tools I need do not exist. What is available is very cumbersome, repetitive and wasteful, so clients don’t get the experience they should have.”
Aldridge has always had firm beliefs on what clients’ experiences of financial planning should be like. Indeed, the reason she set up Balance: Wealth Planning in 2014 was because she could not find an advice firm to work for that fitted with her values.
“Beliefs are important to me. I realised I could do it on my own and make things the way I thought they should be,” she says.
“I am quite a creative person, so I did everything myself. I created every document, built the customer relationship management from scratch, negotiated the rent and designed the website. I believe in this whole set-up now as much as I did when I started it four years ago.”
Aldridge believes a background in operations and compliance gave her an advantage other advisers setting up on their own might not have.
She says: “Most business owners come from an advice background and haven’t had that breadth of experience. It was a huge advantage to me from day one.
“Putting my application into the FCA for authorisation didn’t concern me. I knew how to do business plans, as I had provided them for lots of people; I was used to dealing with professional indemnity insurance and Gabriel returns. It wasn’t daunting.”
Aldridge got her first financial services job at self-invested pension specialist James Hay after leaving school in 1996. “I didn’t want to get involved in financial services but I was good at intellectual stimulation, problem-solving and questioning things,” she says.
Unsurprisingly for someone who describes the training programmes run by life planning pioneer George Kinder as “life-changing”, she is interested in the psychological side of personal finance.
“I’m interested in people’s relationship with money. I spend time reading about our trend for consumerism: are we becoming more or less of a consumer society?
“It’s becoming more acceptable for people to say they don’t want to buy ‘stuff’ and they value experiences, memories and time more.”
Aldridge has an interesting take on the reasons why some people, particularly women, may not even consider advice as a career.
“There are misconceptions about financial services and what the financial planning industry is. While we know it is about people, if you ask most outright they assume it means buying and selling shares. That is not particularly interesting to those who have a natural strength for compassion and empathy.
“As a culture, we also have a tendency for it to be acceptable to tell someone they are rubbish at maths. If someone says they are good with numbers, people think they are a weirdo. We need to override that and make it normal to be good at numbers, not geeky, embarrassing or weird.”
2014-present: Managing director, Balance: Wealth Management
2013-2015: Director, Think Smarter consultancy
2012-2013: Head of operations and compliance, Fiscal Engineers
2003-2012: Operations director, Cooper Parry Wealth Strategies
2002-2003: Pensions consultant, Castlegate Financial Management
1998-2002: Sipp and SSAS manager, Talbot and Muir
1996-1998: Various roles, James Hay