Our sector is in danger of falling into a trap on labels, where our words are seen as more important than our actions. Sometimes you have to remind people it is not what you say that matters most, but what you do.
We have all suffered under the seemingly endless debate of guidance versus advice, exacerbated by ex-chancellor George Osborne launching the Money “Advice” Service, which, of course, provided guidance.
Just recently, Twitter lit up with debate over the difference between advice, planning and coaching, following a column by Wingate Financial Planning’s Alistair Cunningham in Money Marketing. On the topic of soft skills, there were valid points made with regards to providing services where there was no tested competence.
Successful firms know the kind of clients they want and that can engage with their proposition. In the last 20 years, I have employed some highly talented young people but, with some notable exceptions, few have had the necessary skills to ask clients to pay their bill or to debate options with them in a positive but challenging way.
Many firms have failed to invest in effective soft skills training. By that, I do not mean courses seen as a way to flog more products, but those actually focused on making people more effective communicators.
If firms are to prosper, they need staff with excellent people skills. Technical knowledge is important but it is of little use if you cannot recognise that clients are failing to grasp the key issues.
Clients want to know you are competent but that does not necessarily translate into delivering reports that are heavy in detail and light in communication. We need to recognise the inter-generational issues that, if grasped, can transform a firm and provide real corporate longevity.
I know the term “life/lifestyle planning” is unpopular with some but, putting the label to one side, the majority of the public are looking for reassurance that their vision of the future is not unattainable.
Clients have differing opinions of what constitutes value. For some, this might mean above average investment performance; for others, it could be lowest cost of execution. For the rest, though, it may just be someone they can relate to.
Robert Reid is a director at The Ideas Lab