Profile: ‘Planning is still paper-based and GDPR’s made it worse’

Svenja Keller is on a mission to maximise her and her clients’ time in order to give the best advice possible

Going paperless in the digital world sounds great. No bins overflowing with scrunched up wastepaper. No dog-eared documents so weighty they threaten to pull your arms out of their sockets.

Technology has brought a sense of freedom to financial services ‘going digital’ improving efficiency and freeing up advisers time to focus on their clients. However, the many rules in advice can make it hard to scrap paper-based systems altogether.

Killik & Co head of wealth planning Svenja Keller is enthusiastic about the way technology is transforming the financial planning sector, improving the way planners work for the benefit of the client. But she is frustrated about the continued reliance on traditional paper systems. 

“There is a lot of paper and General Data Protection Regulation has made it worse as you can’t send emails incorporating personal data to a provider because there would be a problem if it was going to a general inbox,” she says. “GDPR has made it a little bit more work and the industry hasn’t found the best way to share information yet.” 

Wasted words

Keller’s issue with paper does not stop there. As a financial planner, she sees herself adding value to her clients by helping them work out what they want to do with their lives and how their finances can bring this about. Gathering lots of information to be put in a report that clients do not read is not the way she wants to spend her time. It is back to the images of the overflowing waste bin and the weighty documents – words are only meaningful if they are read by someone, otherwise writing them is a waste of time. 

We all have busy lives and lots of clients have no time to read a lot of detailed documents. We should be working out a better way to document advice to clients,” she says. “I do understand the need for things to be written down, as clients need to make informed decisions. But overwhelming them with information is not the right way either, it is not in the interests of the consumer.

Keller believes there needs to be a push to make everything more client-centric, although she acknowledges that the regulatory requirements conveyed through formal documentation also need to be met. “Technology can do amazing things these days. I think we must be able to develop a way to do it that satisfies the regulator and engages the client. 

One suggestion is to communicate with clients more frequently using visual images. “When we use cashflow modelling, that is when the client is most engaged. They see all the information on a big screen and understand the impact of making changes better than through lots of pages they are not going to read,” she says. “Its important to engage everyone so they know why saving matters, why they are doing it and why they are investing in a certain way. People need to get excited about what they are saving for. 

Keller says many clients are not interested in the money itself but rather in what it can enable them to do. That’s not easily written down in a report. It is better to find a visual way to do this so clients can refer back to it. I personally only remember something if I see the sense in it and I fully understand it.” 

Path to planning

Keller followed her big brother into a financial services career, starting in retail banking in her native Germany in 2001 before enjoying the fast-paced world of investment banking. However, after moving to London and pursuing that career path, she could not shake the feeling something was missing. After some sessions with career coach Ros Toynbee, Keller realised she needed to combine her interest in the technical side of financial services with an interest in what makes people tick. By 2008, she had swapped her role as an analyst to that of a financial planner. 

“I did a three-month career coaching programme to work out what I wanted to do. Moving into financial planning was the result of that and I’ve never looked back,” she says. 

Diversity within the profession is something Keller believes adds another dimension to businesses. She says that she has never felt held back in her career by being a non-British woman and points out her distinctive name means people do not forget her.

However, she sometimes feels being from abroad does make a difference. “Sometimes clients ask where are you from and I think it means ‘are you going to be able to look after me, are you going to stay in this country?’ But it could just be my own perceptions,” she says. 

For all the latest in our equality in advice section

Coordinated service

Keller joined Killik in 2017 and says she now has more management responsibilities with less client work, heading the wealth planning team which has recently had the tax and trust specialist service added to it. “We are working on a new intergenerational service for our clients where they work with all three specialists – our financial planners, investment managers and tax and trust specialists. 

The appeal of this service is convenience, says Keller. “Clients don’t want to organise three different firms and coordinate that, they want everything in one place. They want convenience and someone to sort it out for them,” she says. 

Killik & Co was founded as a stockbroking firm in 1989 but now, 30 years on, the focus is on a marriage of investment management and financial planning. Having worked as a financial planner in different types of firms, Keller is a strong supporter of IFA firms, but believes it is easier for integrated investment management and financial planning firms to cater for client needs.  

“Doing both financial planning and investment management is quite difficult because you need different skillsets and it’s hard to stay on top of all that. IFAs are independent and want to do the best for their clients but maybe some fall down a little in that they haven’t got strong investment solutions that more integrated wealth management firms have,” she says. 

Killik’s main priority is having “seamless integration between financial planning and investment management”.   

“I think we are making huge strides towards that,” says Keller. “We’re a medium-sized company that is big enough to have our own research in house, but small enough not to get bogged down in processes.”

Five questions 

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

Go into every meeting fully prepared as that will make you confident. 

What keeps you awake at night? 

The worry of getting something wrong and unfairness in any walk of life.

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

The increasing use of technology.

If I was in charge of the FCA I would… 

Be more agile, take more feedback from consumers and act on it quickly.

Any advice for new advisers? 

I normally tell trainees that emotional intelligence is just as important as technical ability. 

CV 

2017-present: Head of wealth planning, partner from 2018 

2016-2017: Financial planning director, Investec Wealth & Investment UK 

2013-2016: From chartered financial planner to deputy head of financial planning, UBS Wealth Management 

2010-2013: Financial planner, PricewaterhouseCoopers 

2008-2010: Financial planner, John Lamb Partnership 

2007-2008: Analyst, Lehman Brothers 

2003-2006: Internships at various companies and part time customer adviser at HypoVereinsbank while studying at the International School of Management, Germany 

2001-2003: Banking apprenticeship, Vereins-und Westbank AG 

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