Rob Reid: Mentoring the mentors

We all need guidance from someone, it creates a route map for development, even when it is virtual rather than real. As a firm, we have been involved in mentoring young people from an East London college. The other firms involved have been big legal and financial businesses but smaller companies can benefit from this kind of community involvement.

I was asked a question at a financial planning conference about small firms and staff training . The questioner was having difficulty seeing the merit of employing someone not yet fully competent. I explained I had trained and educated several people over the last 10 years or so and had no regrets.

We all have a duty to give something back, whether through pro bono services or investing in training. My experience is that those we have trained speak well of us and, in some cases, even refer clients where they find themselves conflicted.

To expect people to remain with you forever is naive at best and limits the growth of the firm at worst. Having fresh minds that query why things are done and propose alternatives should be universally welcomed.

What would be useful is a considered framework that allows firms of all sizes to engage with young recruits and build an experience that attracts applicants and develops their potential. That format is not just exams but a blend of education, on-the-job training and discussion, with the lubrication of client meetings and the preparation beforehand.

This all takes time and means that a business plan that is regularly updated is an essential part of every firm’s preparation for the years ahead. We are trying to convince people that planning is important, after all, so should we not be doing it in our own firms? You may cite a lack of time but that does not wash, as those who do not plan are generally inefficient.

I have met with considerable resistance to time and task recording over the last 18 months. Yet without it, how can you determine what to charge? The likely requirement of a wet signature will lead to some interesting discussions, not all of which will be profitable.

In all firms, we need to create the right culture, not just aimed at compliance. We need all those who are employed at the firm to understand how their duties will be perceived by regulators and clients.

That must start with the firm’s hiring policies and the internal training that is designed to stretch the youngsters and the older employees alike.

Keeping people on track is very important and that is where mentoring is so crucial. It allows the staff member to have the facility for quick validation of a thought or an approach. Without it there is the risk of the student straying from the plan and becoming disengaged, which would be unfortunate, given the investment that training takes.

Ron Hewitt, one of my mentors who looked after me during my spell at Sun Life, passed away recently. It caused me to reflect on how important it is to have someone who believes in you even more than you do yourself.

He made time for me and every week helped me get ready for the week ahead and reflect on the one just passed. His guidance and humour removed many of my rough edges and his spirit inspired me in so many ways. I and many others will miss him.

Robert Reid is managing director of Syndaxi Chartered Financial Planners