Everything is a brand these days. Even a product as benign as water can be branded. The brand of independence should be one of the easiest to build. It is not a product but a powerful service that gives you access to the very best of other people's products.
From this starting place, it is an achievement to devalue independence so much that in many people's eyes, it is tarnished. There are some great firms and great practitioners of advice but the odds of finding them are not in the customer's favour. The average IFA is poor and any business, team or brand is only as strong as its weakest link.
To prosper, any business needs to clearly mark its territory. Genuine independence should be valued and businesses should be structured to support that ethos. An ageing population, a declining welfare state and increasing wealth throw up huge opportunities for the holistic financial planner. Wealthier individuals tend to have more complex affairs and provide a better battleground to display IFA skills.
The market for financial advice is ultimately a people business so the starting point has to be to employ the right quality of people – professional, well qualified, ambitious individuals with a passion for what they do and a desire always to improve. In the complex world of tax, trusts and pensions, you need individuals who specialise in key areas.
Individuals of this quality exist but are not easy to find. An ambitious employer will almost certainly need to play the long game and recruit graduates from outside the industry to nurture its stars of the future. This is time and money well spent because as your business grows, these individuals become protectors of your standards and culture.
To support the right people, you need the right systems. Even the most well intentioned adviser will find it hard to service any client properly if they rely on manual systems to collate information from a range of product providers. Valuations, if provided at all, will typically be wrong and a hugely labour-intensive and expensive process.
To offer the best possible level of independent advice and service, you need the systems that support this. In buzzword terms, this means wraps which provide the ability to value and adjust a client's assets in a timely, controlled and efficient manner.
Then come charges. It almost defies belief that some IFAs still promote their services as free in front of clients. That should act as a signal to any client who is shopping around to immediately show them the door. Charges need to be transparent.
Charging by commission alone means you only get paid when you sell a product. That does not promote financial planning and cannot always be in the best interests of clients. This heavy reliance on up-front commission and product-selling creates a sales environment focused largely on generating new business.
In an environment where the client receives and is happy to pay for an ongoing service, it completely alters the dyn-amic of your business and rewards your ability to offer long-term planning and service.
An environment where professionalism and service are valued attracts the right sort of employees and clients. Using wraps and charging clients in a fairer manner creates a more sustainable business model. The end result is happier clients, happier employees and a stronger business.
Ian Millward is marketing director at John Scott & Partners