FP Wealth Management director on helping other advice firms reap the benefits of taking on students
If the future of advice makes you think of technology, think again. It is really all about people. A business cannot function without good people – something FP Wealth Management director Ian Bentley is well aware of.
For the first seven or eight years after setting up their firm, Bentley and his business partner Alistair Ellen did everything themselves.
They had a small client base but eventually got to the point where they required some extra resources. What they needed was a paraplanner but, as many advice firms know from bitter experience, getting the right skills at the right price is tough.
Bentley had entered the industry through a financial services degree at Bournemouth University, which had a mandatory placement in the third year.
Discussing with Ellen how that had helped to define his career, they realised they had an untapped resource on their doorstep.
“We re-engaged with Bournemouth University, which has a reputation of turning out students who are very employable. We went to see the business school to discuss placements for students, as we felt somebody there would fit the need we had. We could train them, have them for a year and even if it didn’t work out, that wouldn’t be an issue as we would still be better off than we would have been,” says Bentley.
In 2014, the firm offered its first placement to tax and accountancy student Alexandra Penson. Bentley recalls: “The experience with our first placement was so eye-opening in terms of the quality of the work she could do and the enjoyment of training someone. Alex did some work on our website and Shannon Knight, our second student, worked on our processes. We have taken on a student every year since, with the exception of one.”
Both Penson and Knight came back to the firm after achieving first-class honours degrees. “We are immensely proud of them. They are working as paraplanners, in a sort of trainee adviser role, and both want to progress their careers with us to become advisers in the long term.”
The firm’s third student placement now works for another firm – and, ironically, the director of that business is the adviser who got Bentley into the industry.
“We thought if we get at least one student in the first five years expressing an interest in coming into the industry, we’ve done a decent job in selling our jobs and showing the benefits of advice,” says Bentley.
Following on from their success with this, Bentley and Ellen had discussions with the local Personal Finance Society branch – chaired by Strategic Solutions principal Kevin Forbes – to establish further links with local universities.
At the start of this year, the firm was approached by Simplify Consulting, a business consultancy tasked by Forbes with raising the profile of financial advice at universities, to become a partner in the Future of Advice scheme, alongside Strategic Solutions, Simplify, the PFS and Bournemouth University.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Treat people how you would like to be treated.
What keeps you awake at night?
I usually sleep very well but I’ve damaged my shoulder playing football and that is keeping me awake.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Spend time with advisers and their clients to see things from the coalface.
Any advice for new advisers?
Be inquisitive, ask questions of everybody and put the client first.
“It is a truly collaborative arrangement. We were asked to be involved in the group due to our experiences of taking on placement students and the success we’ve had in terms of attracting them back into the industry,” says Bentley. “The aim is to give local IFA firms the tools to take on a placement student, so we will provide a template contract, job description, training plan and a support network for any queries or issues that may arise.
“Simplify Consulting is a firm we use to examine our processes, help to identify inefficiencies and provide us with support.
“It has been key in organising the Future of Advice group, and providing structure and establishing processes that can be used by IFAs that want to engage.”
The scheme is creating almost a “plug and play” programme, giving advice firms something to refer to, so they overcome the problem of knowing what to do with a student on placement.
“We are proposing a full induction day showing students how it works, what they might be doing and a bit of an overview of the industry. It gets advice firms over the hurdles to give them extra resources,” he says.
Bentley did not know the financial services industry even existed when he was at school but, by the time he got to university, he had decided a financial services degree would provide a more defined career path than a general business degree.
He did his third-year placement at chartered accountancy group Rothmans, which made him realise he did not want to work for a large firm: “Rothmans wasn’t a particularly big firm but it was still of a size you could get lost in. So I finished my degree, got part-time roles for four or five months, then got a job with Liverpool Victoria.”
Bentley worked in compliance, reviewing old misselling cases, but after doing his financial planning certificate exams he felt the role had run its course.
A friend then helped him get a job as a paraplanner at IFA Barnes & Hedgecock. He stayed for two years but there was little scope to take the next step up.
By 2001, Bentley was working at IFA Park Row Associates but thinking of leaving due to concerns about the firm expanding too fast.
Around that time, Ellen needed someone to look after his clients as he was juggling his advice firm with his business consultancy practice.
In late 2004, the two launched FP Wealth Management as an appointed representative of Poole-based IFA Baker Davies. That arrangement still stands.
“We enjoy being an AR, with Baker Davies acting as buffer between us and the regulator. We can focus solely on advice, rather than dealing with regulatory stuff,” says Bentley.
“We have a strong relationship with Baker Davies, so it is more of a partnership than a traditional principal/AR relationship.”
Building relationships is important to advice firms in many respects, not least relationships with the next generation.
Returning to the Future of Advice scheme, Bentley says: “Placement students are bright, motivated, enthusiastic, and they challenge you. Why would you not want someone like that in your firm for a year? If you pique their interest they will see there is a bit more to financial planning than talking about pensions.”
2004-present: Director, FP Wealth Management
2001-2003: Paraplanner/adviser, Park Row Associates
1999-2001: Paraplanner, Barnes & Hedgecock
1998–1999 Compliance department, Liverpool Victoria
1997-1998: Placement year, Rothmans