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Profile: Young Adviser of the Year Sean Irwin on the ticking time bomb of an ageing industry

The DFP Wealth Management IFA on the desperate need for a new generation of advisers and existing firms’ role in helping them in

Irwin Sean DFP Wealth 2017DFP Wealth Management IFA Sean Irwin found it “ridiculously difficult” to get his foot in the door of an advice firm. The winner of this year’s Unbiased Young Adviser of the Year award acknowledges that looking for work as a 20-something rookie a few years after the financial crisis was not great timing.

But he feels that, even now, advice firms are not open enough to taking on new people, which is creating a ticking time bomb for the ageing advice industry.

“With an MBA and a degree, I wasn’t even able to get an interview with an IFA as an administrator,” says Irwin.

Now 33, he believes younger people trying to get a foot-in today will struggle if they do not have sponsorship from an advice firm. He thinks part of the problem is that, because adviser numbers have fallen so drastically, experienced ones are just too busy to spend time bringing on the next generation.

A golden opportunity to recruit new advisers

“Fifteen to 20 per cent of advisers left the industry because of the RDR. The majority of them were the old boys, and a lot of the ones left are going to be retiring in the next 10 years because of too much regulation, and looking to sell their client banks.

“But who will be buying them if it’s so hard to get into the industry? It’s a nightmare. People don’t think organically about succession and a lot of advisers don’t act as mentors for the next generation, even though they had one themselves,” he says.

A persistent Irwin eventually landed himself a temporary post at Mercer just to get financial services on his CV. From there, he was able to start his journey to becoming an adviser in earnest by becoming a trainee paraplanner.

“It was a good way to build technical knowledge and skills. I saw it as the start of my learning. You move from being a trainee to full paraplanner, then onto advising when you’re ready. It’s the same as a traditional apprenticeship,” he says.

Sean Irwin – CV 

2015-present: Independent financial adviser, DFP Wealth Management 

2014-2015: Investment strategist, Astute Financial Management 

2011-2013: Paraplanner, Argentum Financial Planning 

2011: Temporary administrator, Mercer Group

But even then, the transition from paraplanning to advice was not plain sailing, as Irwin did not make the move within the same firm.

“It’s hard unless you do it in the same firm. Even though I had a diploma, companies still did not want to know. They wanted seasoned pros who had been advising for 100 years,” he says.

Thankfully, at DFP Wealth Management, Irwin finally found an employer that was prepared to invest in a younger adviser.

He says: “There are two great directors, which plays into the idea of mentorship. One is 50 and one is 60. They are very different and are always there to answer questions. It was brilliant when I was younger because there were one or two things that I might not have heard of that they don’t teach you in text books.”

Irwin does not know of any other advisers in Plymouth who are younger than him.

“A lot of the ones I meet are in their 50s and 60s; some are in their 70s and are not going to be in the industry for much longer. I always hear from them that the good times have gone,” he says.

All of that said, when focusing on the future of the industry instead of the past, now is a great time for those determined enough to get into advice.

It is often assumed younger advisers have a hard time in convincing older clients they know what they are doing but Irwin has found the opposite to be true. He says clients want to avoid having an adviser who will retire before they do.

“Particularly with more people moving to drawdown, they may need their money managed for the next 30 to 40 years. Do they want the guy who is retiring to look after it or the younger adviser who isn’t? Once you explain that, people understand and they want to build a lasting relationship. They don’t like to be passed from pillar to post,” he says.

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For Irwin, today’s digital age means financial services have to do a lot more to compete with other industries for young talent. If it can’t, he fears it does not bode well for his own succession plans in years to come.

“Those in the dotcom industries are making a lot more money than their predecessors were, so why would they want to go with traditional jobs? There is no clear route to get into this industry; there is just a diploma and people outside the industry don’t know that you need it. We need to advertise it a bit more. Perhaps the regulator could make people more aware?” he says.

So what of the consequences of the industry not tackling this ticking time bomb? Irwin believes the biggest issue could come from increasing fees, with certain advisers making the most of the poor supply and demand dynamics.

Ironically, this could lead to a surge of people wanting to make money from being in advice, perhaps as a second or third career. But this would be the wrong type of person financial services needs.

“People have got to be coming into the industry for the right reasons, not just to make money. We need more people to come in and ‘up the ante’ on quality, so perhaps make chartered the minimum. That said, it could be hard to get the right balance between new blood and upping the quality.”

Five questions 

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career? 

The best investment you can make as an IFA is in yourself. 

What keeps you awake at night? 

My girlfriend’s snoring and the market uncertainty with Brexit. 

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year? 


If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…? 

Look into promoting the industry to all people. 

Any advice for new advisers? 

Hit the books and network as much as possible in ways you enjoy.



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There are 3 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. What this youngster forgets is that for years many advisers have embarked on this path as a second career. This has had undoubted advantages as they tend to have a wider view that those whose only career has been in this industry. You can have all the qualifications in the world, but without experience and a good dollop of commercial nous (gained by experience) they count for very little. The qualifications with experience are gold dust and about as rare.

    One might ask why Sean didn’t start his financial services career in one of the big banks. Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan etc. – partiicularly if the MBA was worth anything.

  2. I feel that there will always be opportunity for young people in good financial planning firms. Many firms I know have younger employees our youngest is 19 and on his way to CII diploma, we are also on the lookout for a young financial planner.

  3. There is vast amounts that the exams can’t/won’t teach you, mostly in depth product knowledge and historic knowledge. But also as Harry noted (maybe a little caustically), experience outside of this industry is very important, because it makes it much easier to relate to clients.

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