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Regeneration gap

If you ask any industry professional, what are the major difficulties their profession will face over the coming 20 years, you will get a whole host of answers depending on their own personal view.

But one common thread will always be present – regeneration. Where will the next generation of stars come from?

The financial services industry faces a greater challenge than many other professions.

Let me take you back in time, where the only difficult decisions typically involved who to pick in the playground football match.

“So what do you want to be when you grow up?” asked the teacher. If I remember correctly, it was a bus driver or a fireman for me, depending on how I felt.

I believe the general principle involved big machinery for boys and being a princess or working with animals for girls.

Moving on a few years, when exams had been and gone and a choice was needed about what to do to earn a living, I was with the majority in thinking that I did not know what to do next.

Financial services is rarely a specific career choice when contemplating options. In a conversation with a senior industry figure, we discussed how we entered our specific fields. When asked, he looked wistfully out of the window as if remembering some golden age, commenting: “I had finished school, had done ok without doing great and did not want to go to university. The local office of an insurance company wanted people for the summer. Before I knew it, I had been there for a year and was looking after school leavers myself. Haven’t looked back since.”

This is an all too familiar story. Some months ago, we conducted some informal research on candidates registering with us. A vast majority followed a similar path, essentially falling into the industry with a major firm, either in an administration capacity or joining a direct salesforce.

It would be fair to say that financial services generally is not something that appears glamourous to today’s teens and early 20-somethings. Any thought of pensions, long-term investments or insurance would not be their idea of fun but is this something that can be changed? This industry has been very successful over many years and the rewards for successful individuals are higher than ever. Combining this with the general public taking more control over their financial affairs should mean that there is a genuine story to tell.

As we have seen, restructuring, downsizing, mergers and acquisitions have led to a severe reduction in the number of such opportunities around the country. In essence, the industry’s breeding grounds have been moved to the far-flung parts of the UK and beyond or have disappeared altogether.

So how will the next generation of IFAs be bought into the industry?

Within the industry, the only companies able to take up the slack are the banking groups who are looking to establish a greater presence within the industry. Other than this route, it is not easy for a small to medium firms to accommodate the cost of a number of new hires.

They also face the very real prospect of taking the time and effort to train a new entrant, only to lose them to a firm offering greater rewards once they become useful.

Within the IFA community, many employers face such a dilemma. If they could guarantee that every new entrant would be responsible for generating income to cover both the financial and opportunity cost involved in training, plus ensuring that they would stay with the company for a sufficient time to enable the company to grow and prosper, it would be an easy choice. However, in a market where there is a high demand for talent, why should companies take that risk? In essence, a number of firms will take on new entrants to cover admin and support tasks but there is the issue of how quickly a new member of staff can be developed, certainly to move into a client-facing role.

What often occurs is a problematic situation where an ambitious individual moves from a sales support to a paraplanning role, gaining experience and qualifications along the way. Then the issue of further progression raises its head, the desire to move into a client-facing role and earn the income levels they see being generated by the people they support.

If this person is ready and the firm has the capacity, this is a natural choice but many problems often arise. Does that firm have enough capacity to enable this person to move into a sales role, is the person ready to deal with the clients and do they have the relevant skills?

While firms will always have the best of intentions to develop staff where possible, it is often the case that talent from outside the company is needed to enable business growth to continue. With a number of firms aiming to acquire a diminishing commodity, it is clear that some will be disappointed.

This issue is one facing many industries. How can a new generation be attracted to replace an ageing workforce? Where can they be trained and developed to ensure adequate returns for the company which does the training and development?

Constant industry development and evolution will mean that there will be fewer sales support and admin opportunities in all UK areas. This is due to greater centralisation and improvements in IT systems. This in turn leads to fewer opportunities for people to fall into the industry by accidentThis leaves us with a number of options. First, the industry will contract due to a lack of skilled, qualified and experienced advisers or the industry will need to find new ways to encourage people to enter the industry by desire.

We have seen the financial services degree course appear in the last decade which has given a good basic grounding. Major companies still cherrypick at careers days and limited opportunities still exist for graduates with good degrees from the top universities.

It is difficult to persuade any business owner, certainly within small to medium-sized practices, to focus 10 or 20 years ahead when their focus is understandably on the short and medium success of their company.

But the reality is that sustained and substantial efforts have to be made across the board to encourage new entrants into the industry and ensure the long-term success of financial services within the UK.

If current trends continue, we face the real prospect that skill shortage could well become acute. While there is no quick fix to this problem or one all-encompassing solution, this issue has similarities with our environmental concerns. If we all act together, things can be done that will benefit us all.

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