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Profile: Opening up the ‘secret society’ of financial planning

The Money Panel founder on helping women gain financial confidence and improve their relationships with money 

Understanding why women behave the way they do around money is important to The Money Panel founder Catherine Morgan. As a financial planner and financial coach who has had a difficult relationship with money herself, Morgan knows that being aware of what you are doing and why is the first step in replacing any bad financial habits with good ones.

“I’ve never been good at saving or investing because of my emotional relationship with money, and it has taken me years to appreciate what that means,” she says. “If things are going out of my control and I get upset, I’ll go and shop.”

Morgan had spent her teenage years and early 20s coping with bullying, eating disorders and confidence issues around her body.

When her youngest son, Thomas, became seriously ill with sepsis at only five weeks old, her response to the anxiety that stemmed from knowing how close she had been to losing him was to spend.

Most adults feel they missed out on financial education

She says: “It was the fear that if I didn’t have enough money and nice things around me, I wouldn’t be good enough. It took me a couple of years to realise life is about experiences, not things.

“I got thinking about my experience of money while growing up and now I am mindful of how I make financial decisions. It’s important to be proactive, not reactive.”

Morgan traces her difficulties with money back to the moment when, as a child, she discovered cash had been taken out of her savings account. This left her with a feeling that if she did not spend her money, someone else would. Now she wants other women to know it is OK to have such deep-rooted feelings about money and that they can substitute the negatives with positive behaviour. “Being mindful about your relationship with money and having a clear plan in place will help,” she says.

Morgan joined the financial services industry at 19 as a cashier with Halifax, but her interest in becoming an adviser at that tender age was quashed when she was told she was too young. Undeterred, she began studying for her mortgage qualification, which she used as a springboard to financial advice.

In 2006, she moved to Jersey, eventually becoming area sales manager for HSBC but, following her return to the UK, all banks apart from HSBC had withdrawn from advice due to the RDR.

Five questions 

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

To go with what you feel passionate about. I spent too long comparing myself with what other people were doing.

What keeps you awake at night? 

Nothing, I sleep like a baby.

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

Mifid II. Having to warn a client when their portfolio has dropped by 10 per cent is ludicrous. If markets fall in the short term, so what? Investing is a long-term game and we need to encourage positive human behaviour when markets fall.

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

Explore how we can retain more of the talent we have in the profession that have been put off by regulation, and ways to better support people setting up their own practices.

Any advice for new advisers? 

Find a firm that supports progression and that is open-minded. Focus on firms that can demonstrate they have a future.

Unfortunately, health issues meant Morgan struggled to keep up with the number of appointments crammed into her diary, so she decided to move into independent advice. However, that was a rude awakening. “I was horrified at the state of the independent advice market. I thought the grass was greener and that the advice would be better, but it wasn’t; it was heavily male-dominated with a focus on selling products. It didn’t feel any different to working in the banks,” she says.

“Before 2016, I didn’t know life planners existed. Then I came across Paul Armson and the NextGen Planners group, and a whole new world appeared that was not about just flogging products.”

As a regulated IFA, Morgan is currently working at Postcard Planning, run by NextGen Planners co-founder Rohan Sivajoti. On the unregulated financial coaching side, The Money Panel grew out of Morgan’s blogs about her own relationship with money.

It draws together her financial background with her drive for empowering women, which was the motivation behind her first business, an image consultancy, and another one selling accessories online, which she sold in 2013.

Morgan always explains the differences between regulated financial advice and non-regulated financial guidance to clients but says people generally do not tend to appreciate – or care – about them.

“They just want the results, but it is important that they understand the difference,” she says.

With coaching, Morgan gets clients to think about their situations so they come up with their own solutions and are accountable for the action that needs to be taken – for example, having a chat with their boss to reduce their working hours.

Advice, she says, is more technical, such as clients who have a pension sharing order. “That’s not to say we wouldn’t do coaching with them if they needed it,” she notes.

Chris Budd: The difference between coaching and lifestyle financial planning

Through The Money Panel, Morgan is doing her bit to plug the advice gap by giving people who cannot afford or do not want regulated advice a jargon-free place to go for some basic financial education. To this end, she has just launched a series of podcasts full of hints and tips, plus real-life stories of how a financial plan can make a difference to women’s lives.

“I’m seeing a lady in a few weeks who has been through a divorce and sold a four-bedroom home. She is now living in a two-bedroom terrace and working three-day weeks at her business. We transformed her life by focusing on what was really important to her and her values, rather than consumerism and thinking she has to live in a four-bedroom house,” says Morgan.

At the end of last year, Morgan launched a series of educational videos called In Her Financial Shoes.

She points out that women who have grown up without financial education in school and have not had any since may not be able to afford advice, but find it difficult to understand the basics of investing because the industry is awash with jargon.

Financial jargon putting women off investing

Morgan says: “The videos are about giving people financial education so they know what they need to consider when wanting to invest, such as what is an asset class and what is a bond?

“The information is there in one place so they can learn in their own time, then they can go off and speak to an adviser or contact a robo-advice firm.”

For Morgan, financial education is crucial in engaging women so that they are more likely to take advice when they need it.

“I’d like to see more firms improving how they communicate the opportunity for people to take financial advice – sometimes it feels like a secret society,” she says.

“We need to increase financial education, reduce jargon and push the secret society of financial planning to build consumer trust in the industry.”

 CV 

2016-present: IFA and founder/financial coach at The Money Panel since 2017

2006-2016: Various advice and sales roles at Barclays Wealth and HSBC Offshore in the Channels Islands and HSBC in the UK

2001-2006: Various roles at Abbey (now Santander UK)

2000-2001: Cashier/interviewer, Halifax

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