New president of the Personal Finance Society Sharon Sutton wants to see the advice community as more of a united profession, with less infighting and negative anonymous blogging.
The managing director of Isle of Man-based Thornton Chartered Financial Planners recently set up the new PFS Financial Practitioners’ Panel, tasked with promoting financial planning and good practice.
While she thinks standards have improved since the RDR and that increased consumer confidence should follow from that, she says the sector stands a better chance if members work together to share good practice rather than squabbling among themselves.
“We shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes by arguing that one title is better than another. You can call yourself what you like; consumers don’t care. They just want someone to help. We should realise we are all on same side and that arguing so publicly does exactly the opposite to what we all want, meaning most people still don’t get advice.”
The Financial Planning Practitioners’ Panel has been working on a good practice guide and integrating points into existing PFS events, such as chartered connections and regional conferences. Sutton says there will be specialist good practice events similar to those the PFS runs for retirement and later life planning, with more information available at the forthcoming Festival of Financial Planning.
Sutton admits to smiling wryly at how the personal finance pages of the national newspapers, who once seemed surprised the PFS exists, now regularly ask for its views.
“They ask us because they, and the regulators, now realise that a professional body has a different role to a trade body.
“Keith Richards is a fantastic chief executive for us. He’s opened up dialogue with the FCA and with the Government, which you can see when the regulators and the Financial Ombudsman Service are willing to come to present at our events.”
“Proud to be Manx” Sutton started her financial services career at Barclays. “The Isle of Man was just opening as a financial centre in 1985/86 and that broke through any glass ceiling I might have had as a woman. I took every opportunity thrown at me. I started as an office junior and did lots of roles, becoming the youngest female customer services manager at my branch.”
She moved into financial advice through Bisco, Barclays’ insurance arm, just as it was being wound down across the rest of the UK.
Sutton had wanted to be an architect but, like many young people on the Isle of Man in the 1980s, her family could not afford to let her go to university. It was something she regretted because she felt she had missed out, so when she joined financial services she made a conscious effort to do exams such as the FPC and AFPC.
Enjoying working towards qualifications as much as she did, it was inevitable she would decide to go chartered and, in 2009, she became the Isle of Man’s first chartered financial planner.
2000-present: Managing director, Thornton Chartered Financial Planners
1999-2000: Assistant director, Marsh, Isle of Man
1984-1999: Various roles from office junior to IFA, Barclays Bank
Sutton was already involved with her local branch of the Chartered Insurance Institute. That year, she went to her first PFS national conference in London and decided to attend the annual general meeting, which was being held at the same time. Having flown to the venue, she felt compelled to raise an important question.
“I stuck my hand up and said: ‘I live in the Isle of Man. Is there any chance we could have CPD sessions there because I have to fly over to the UK every quarter?’ I was already on the local institute of the CII, which had 130 PFS members, so then-PFS chief executive Fay Goddard said they would start an Isle of Man region. She said: ‘you will run it, won’t you?’
“As time went on, some good businesses stepped forward to help. People who never really saw each other but were advising our community created a hub for networking and we provided excellent CPD for those who needed to get to level four for RDR.
“A lot of people didn’t want to take exams at that time and the events enabled them to gap fill or get the knowledge to get to level four. We were there as mentors.”
Setting up Thornton in 2000 with a “modest computer”, Sutton had decided to outsource investment management to a discretionary manager long before the RDR, having realised it would be challenging to manage money on a daily basis.
She also saw the value in setting up a client adviser board, where clients who run successful businesses can feed their views into Thornton.
“They have given me their time and the viewpoints to shape what they would like us to do. Part of that led to a discussion about succession plans for me. They said: ‘You’re telling clients how they can live their lives but what if you got run down by a bus? Who would be our adviser?’”
Being based in the Isle of Man, it would be easy to think Sutton might feel removed from UK financial services in general. However, she says this is not the case.
“Because we are a small community, we have always had strong links to our local institute. Like most regions, we had our Isle of Man Insurance Institute and when we were setting up the local PFS, both they and the PFS were really supportive. We forged strong links with our profession.”
Apart from a few UK product providers who were not so keen, Sutton has found most people
have been prepared to come over to share good practice, even if they could not deal with Isle of Man businesses.
That said, she admits to getting annoyed by those who still view the Isle of Man as a tax haven. “Yes, your perception is your reality, but I can tell you professionalism is alive and well here too.”
The work Sutton does within the profession outside of Thornton feeds back into her business.
“I’ve met some wonderful people who have influenced my thinking and I’ve learned so much through having access to all this generously shared knowledge. I’m a big fan of lifelong learning and I’ve now been able to attract and retain a talented team who believe in what I do. We can see what good looks like so we can shape Thornton to reflect what we learn.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
You’ve got to give before you get. I don’t think you can expect your peers, your regulator and your community to take you seriously if you don’t volunteer or help out.
What keeps you awake at night?
Not much usually but recently it’s been the thought of speaking to a large audience.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
The ongoing impact of pension freedoms and the unintended consequences.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…?
Give advisers and product providers some breathing space to innovate, and turn my attention on catching the scammers. I’d also put in a consumer confidence campaign in place and an easily accessible register of regulated financial advisers.
Any advice for new advisers?
Join your PFS region, Adam Carolan’s NextGen group and Paul Armson’s Inspiring Advisers.