Jane Smith Financial Planning director on managing her goals and developing a guidance service for clients
Financial planners help clients achieve what they want from life and adapt the course of that journey when necessary. But how often do they follow their own advice when it comes to their business and personal objectives?
Jane Smith Financial Planning director Nicola Watts is an adviser who practises what she preaches.
Her focus on planning enables her to juggle her business, her clients and her family, while laying the groundwork for future action plans.
A combination of strategy meetings every six months, monthly team meetings and “work-in-progress” catch-ups twice a week leave no stone unturned when it comes to positioning the business.
Currently on the agenda is how to cater for people who are not wealthy enough to justify advice fees but who may be in the future, such as the children of existing clients.
“The industry has done away with commission so advisers can’t afford to work with smaller clients. We are not going to add enough value to warrant the fees; you just can’t justify the expense,” says Watts.
“We’re looking to do something for smaller clients but we’re debating how to structure it. For much younger clients in their early 20s, we are thinking of offering a guidance type thing where we would say: these are the things you need to go and think about; go off and look at an Isa or income protection. We would point them in the right direction.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Don’t be afraid to say no to the wrong client.
What keeps you awake at night?
My tendency to procrastinate – ask me for a decision now and I’m faffing.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Defined benefit pension transfers prompting an FCA review and a very tight professional indemnity insurance market.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Get out into advice firms and take the time to understand them.
Any advice for new advisers?
Find a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask for advice, as people want to help.
Watts also has in mind older people in their late 20s to early 40s who have some wealth, are on the housing ladder and who may be getting into financial planning, but are not at the stage their parents are at in terms of requiring full planning.
“We have got to consider an ageing client base and the children who are going to inherit their wealth,” she says.
Watts is no stranger to future-proofing the business. She started as an adviser in 2000 at what was then her mother, Jane Smith’s, firm and took over the reins when she retired.
During the transition period, when Smith was still working part-time, they started to accelerate the move from transactional business to financial planning, reducing the number of clients but offering full financial planning to the higher-net-worth clients that remained.
Watts says the transition went well with those who stayed. Many commented on how similar Watts’s approach was to her mother’s. “Our road to financial planning started a long time ago. Mum was involved in the Institute of Financial Planning and started to use cashflow modelling in 2002, so we have been doing that sort of stuff for 17 years. Just as we’ve grown, financial planning has grown, and we are fully embracing it,” says Watts.
2000-present: IFA then director, Jane Smith Financial Planning
By the end of 2015, Watts felt the firm needed a rebrand and contemplated changing the name. “Mum was not happy when we broached the subject,” she admits.
She employed a marketing firm which gained feedback from clients about what they liked and did not like about the service they were getting. “One of the big things that came out of that was they liked it being a small firm which gave them a personal service and the family values in the team. We talked about changing the name, but we thought that would lose its personality and decided not to do it.”
Smith founded the firm in 1994 and Watts initially had no intention of following in her mother’s footsteps. She recalls: “After university, I started a career in recruitment. Mum and I had a conversation about the stuff she was doing and the clients she was dealing with. Then I saw an ad for mortgage advisers and I asked mum if I would be any good. She said, ‘yes, but you’re not going to work for them, you’re going to work for me’.”
Watts recalls her mother’s work was always in the background – Smith had an office in the annexe at home and clients would drop in for meetings when Watts and her sister were there. Given her mother juggled being an adviser with family life, how has Watts fared as a working mother of two?
“There is a sense of guilt juggling business and family because you run around thinking you don’t do any of it properly,” she says.
So two years ago, she thought seriously about whether it was possible to get that balance: “My big thing over the past two years has been setting down goals, so I’d not work Fridays and I’d spend the school holidays with my girls, especially the summer holidays.
“But there was a lot of groundwork before that. I stopped doing evening appointments, for example. It’s amazing how flexible clients can be.”
Delegation also helps Watts get the balance she needs. She admits to being a “control freak” but adds that having a decent team following a clear process means she can let them get on with things.
Squeezing more time out of her days means Watts can devote some of it to her role as president of the local Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment branch.
Recalling how some IFP members were concerned about the CISI’s ability to cater for planners following the merger between the bodies, Watts says: “We were one of the very few IFP branches that didn’t merge with an existing CISI branch, so after the merger we could carry on as we were, focusing on the old IFP content, financial planning and the sharing of ideas.”
Describing her business as “profitable and reasonably successful”, Watts plans to grow it by selectively taking on the right clients. She concludes: “We are aiming to take on six new clients this year, but I do recognise that the limiting factor is my time.
“I could have so many clients, but I can only deal with a certain amount. The plan is to develop our existing paraplanner and take on another paraplanner this year, so that it will not just be me sitting in front of clients.”