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Profile: Fiducia on really knowing your clients

Fiducia managing director on ‘good old-fashioned’ customer service in the digital world

Anthony Scott is adept in the art of communication. As an adviser and a novelist (he has written the novels ‘On Ashover Hill’ and ‘The Birthday Gift’) it is crucial for the Fiducia Group managing director to engage and build a rapport with clients and readers alike.

On the advice side, that owes much to “good old-fashioned customer service”. It was why Fiducia was established in 2001 – giving clients the chance to build a long-term relationship with the same person.

As well as financial planning, the Fiducia group has corporate finance, commercial solutions and mortgage divisions, each built upon the idea that great customer service leads to referrals.

However, 17 years on, how does that sit within the digital age, where automation and communicating remotely are as much a part of the financial advice narrative as personal service and face-to-face meetings?

“Only when society functions without the need for personal interaction will we know that people no longer value the establishment of relationships. Until that happens, and I do not think it will, we believe people greatly value knowing the team,” says Scott.

“You cannot put a price on a business truly knowing a client and being with them over a period of many years. A client’s family also value this relationship and it is no surprise we have grown on the back of referral work from day one.”

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Despite some concerns that people can get carried away with technology, Scott sees it as something that can free up advisers’ time to spend with clients.

“We absolutely embrace technology but whether our clients do is another matter. Many do not use smartphones, for example. They may have one, but they don’t really ‘use’ it. It is our job as advisers to position whatever we put in front of them; to explain what we are using and why, and make it real to them.

“Presentations to clients should be as crisp, clear and exciting as they can be. Technology has the major part to play in this alongside a well-versed adviser team.”

CV 

2001-present: Managing director, Fiducia, and novelist.

1995-2001: Senior financial planning manager, Natwest Bank

1985-94: Various roles to regional manager, Lloyds TSB

Some commentators believe technology will increasingly be used for simple matters and the relationship side of advice will come into its own for clients with more complex needs. Does Scott agree?

“The easy answer is yes but, in reality, what is simple? To a person buying life cover at £50,000 for the first time on a small income – how is that simple? We need to be careful in the advice bubble that we do not make assumptions. That said, some clients would have great knowledge and many matters would be simple. Technology should put them in control. It is about risk and knowledge,” he says.

If a client does not need advice as much or at all because they have the knowledge and ability to manage their financial affairs, that is fine with Scott.

“But that is not the reality of the many clients we see. Most of the products we use are complicated, with source to completion a minefield of needing to know the hidden depths. It is also takes time. There may well be a place for a very small number of clients to control so much – but let us not build an industry around this. People truly value our time, our expertise and our knowledge.”

If a client does not need advice as much, or at all, because they have the knowledge and ability to manage their financial affairs, that is fine with Scott.

“But that is not the reality of the many clients we see. Most of the products we use are complicated, with source to completion a minefield of needing to know the hidden depths. It is also takes time. There may well be a place for a very small number of clients to control so much – but let us not build an industry around this. People truly value our time, our expertise and our knowledge.”

Danby Bloch: Advisers are stuck in the past on technology

Scott started his financial services career in banking – on the face of it not an obvious move for someone who spent their childhood and early adulthood writing plays, songs and being in a band. However, he sees similarities.

“Banking appealed to the storyteller in me, the art of going on a journey with a client through their lifestyle choices and reaching goals. To me, each client and each business opportunity has always been like a fresh book to write.”

He joined Lloyds TSB after university and it was there he learned an important lesson.

“I was filing cheque books and the branch manager, a scary chap, came downstairs and noticed I was filing in the bottom drawer while having top drawers open too. ‘Anthony,’ he said in a stern voice, ‘always close the top drawers before opening the lower ones if you don’t want to be squashed’.

“Literally at that point, the unit started to fall towards my young frame before he caught it. It stayed with me as a lesson in loose ends.”

After nine years, Scott joined Natwest, where he worked alongside Fiducia co-founder and chief executive Marcus Grimshaw.

“Eventually you have to leave home and mature. This is all Fiducia has been really, the act of leaving our parents who taught us all the basics and then moving on to mature into our own business,” says Scott.

The financial planning part of the business is a member of Openwork. Why not go directly authorised?

“The regulated part of the business is on an exciting journey with Openwork. We have been here from the beginning and grasp the value for us and our clients of being part of a large group.

“As good as Fiducia is, and of course we believe totally in what we do, there is a great strength in being part of such a large group to add product assessment and compliance sign off.”

Investment Uncovered: How Openwork makes investment decisions

Scott says the original ethos for Fiducia is in the name. “Fiducia means trust, confidence and security. We chose the name for that reason and nothing has changed. These words remain central to all we aspire to do.”

People will always need people and that is why he sees greater use of technology as something that could perhaps help to fill the advice gap. But it falls short of being the solution.

“What do the stats tell us about current pensions, savings and protection gaps in the UK? How has the regulator and successive governments gone about building our industry to support these gaps, and is it working? The reality is that it is not.

“Technology can help and younger generations will embrace this much more but, ultimately, only legislation and honest conversations will have any serious impact.”

 Five questions 

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career? 

A lesson in loose ends. Even today I will go over things in my mind to make sure, as best I can, that things do not catch me out.

What keeps you awake at night? 

The old pipes in my house. Other than that, I am a sound sleeper.

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

Brexit. Uncertainty is the enemy of calm waters.

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

Check out the FCA wine cellar. I would also approach the game changers in the UK to see how we can engage with a wider audience.

Any advice for new advisers? 

Never get caught short. My brother once tried to be an adviser, got caught short on a late-night call and had a little toilet accident. It was the start of the end of his short-lived adviser career.

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