Not an hour seems to pass without some piece of bad news while good news is hard to come by. I do not need to bang on for too long about market volatility, negative equity, Libor, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and so on, because we are being bombarded with information from all quarters and you need to have been living in solitary confinement to have missed it.
But every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I have taken the view that it is time for me to re-evaluate my business and move it forward and I have learned some quite valuable lessons over the last few weeks.
First, all this has happened before in the 1930s, 1940s, 1970s and 1990s. Does this not tell us something? They were all difficult and miserable periods and it will no doubt happen again in 15 years time when the debt-laden generation head towards retirement with very little in the way of savings.
History repeats itself. FD Roosevelt’s inaugural presidential speech of March 1933 could have been written yesterday. Everyone should read it.
The second lesson I have learned is not to lose valuable sleep over current markets. I lay awake for two nights worrying about a couple of clients and their portfolios, yet when I phoned them, they were remarkably pragmatic. The sheep counting was somewhat of a waste of energy on my part.
The third lesson is to be as proactive as possible, as I am sure we all have been.
At times like this, despite plummeting renewal income, a client needs to be provided with a service more than ever, so I personally took a step back from generating new business for a few days to sharpen the proverbial saw. I wanted to make sure that every valuable client has received something from me, whether it is a reassuring email, some useful market information or a phone call to reaffirm their long-term plans. I have seen as many as possible face to face. They are more likely to remain loyal if they feel I am here to help and not avoiding them.
The fourth lesson is that the smallest of actions can have a big impact.
The AIG and Lehman Brothers incidents happened when I was on holiday and I only had TV access to CNN and Bloomberg, both US channels. It seemed like the end of the world was nigh and I was becoming quite distracted. I used the hotel’s internet service to check my emails and change my out-of-office message to give some short-term guidance on the situation until my return.
I initially felt that this had perhaps been an overreaction on my part, until one of my clients commented that she received more of a response to her queries from me on the other side of the world than she had had from a certain bank about 300 yards from her house.
I admit that I have nearly exhausted myself in trying to provide answers before the client even realises that they were going to ask questions but the feedback has been optimistic and encouraging, with lots of new referrals.
I find that the Marketing Hub (www.marketing-hub.co.uk) has some great compliance-approved newsletters and other information that can be sent to clients if I do not have time to create my own. The series of factsheets from Fidelity about markets and volatility are also timely and well written and a useful addition to my library.
But this is also a time of great opportunity, not only for those who are brave enough to invest but for the evolution of our profession as well.
Switching away from commission and sales towards a fee-based advice model will surely have to become a priority for those who have not yet done so. Survival of the fittest? Absolutely.
Fiona Sharp is a senior adviser at M2Finance4Women