View more on these topics

Special treatment

“A specialist is someone who does everything else worse,” acc-ording to American violinist Ruggiero Ricci. However, many IFAs are questioning the idea of a generalist practice and an increasing amount are occupying niches.

Niche can be construed in two ways. There are IFAs who specialise by serving a particular sector of the population. Then there are those whose specialism relates to the particular kind of products that they advise on. Sometimes, of course, these arbitrary distinctions dissolve, as in the case of the Nursing Home Fees Agency, where the particular nature of the clientele – the elderly or those acting on behalf of the elderly – and the product – long-term care insurance – obviously coincide.

The nature of specialisation means, perhaps, that there are few generally applicable rules. Media coverage is, however, something mentioned by many niche practitioners as important to their businesses, perhaps as traditional methods of promoting business such as advertising or mailshots are not appropriate.

While some have fallen into a specialism almost by accident, many IFAs have personal reasons for choosing a niche. But this does not mean that commercial considerations are subservient – most say they do not believe an IFA can continue to have detailed knowledge across the board. Certainly, the trend would seem to be one way, with the stories tending to be about people specialising and not the other way around.

Ruth Whitehead Associates principal Ruth Whitehead, whose practice specialises mainly in providing advice to women and gay men, laughs at the idea of her business coming about as a result of

a business plan. Like many niche practices, it evolved out of personal conviction. In this instance, Whitehead is herself a gay woman.

Eleven years ago, and while still a music teacher, Whitehead was sold what she des-cribes as “a mortgage from hell from a man in a suit”.

She says: “I cursed myself for being so stupid, decided to learn what I should have done and put into effect a chain of events which led to me becoming an IFA.”

What she feels she can offer to clients is an environment where people feel comfortable and a detailed knowledge

of the underwriting criteria of the various providers, essential for gay men who she des-cribes as suffering “blatant discrimination” from the insur- ance companies.

Whitehead says she cannot think of anyone who needs the services of an IFA more than a gay man, not just any IFA but one who has a sympathetic grasp on the issues involved.

She says the need for her specialisation is also borne out by the examples she encounters when she goes on training sessions, which are all based on married couples with 2.4 children. People who do not fit this mould can feel that financial service providers are not interested in them, she says.

But Whitehead has advice for any IFA thinking of specialising. She says: “Rule one of investing is not to have all your eggs in one basket and this applies to your business, too. We have two client banks and a further specialism in non-standard mortgages.”

On the other hand, she believes that a degree of specialism is necessary given the scope of financial services, “otherwise you go mad”.

She makes the comparison with solicitors, who will always specialise.

However, Whitehead is keen to say that all her practice does is reflect the diversity of the area in which she works and she would not want specialisation to be the same as typecasting.

Simmonds Ford managing director Keith Simmonds has developed a specialisation advising religious communities. He says monasteries,

bigger dioceses, some public schools and care homes

need advice just as other employers do.

Simmonds is not a Catholic but has developed close links with the Catholic community and is a trustee on various staff pension schemes.

He says this specialisation grew out of an association with a public school.

Simmonds says: “What the clients are looking for above all is a good professional job rather than a personal connection. Religious communities are not receptive to a straight sales pitch. You need to understand their requirements and how they conduct their life to make them feel comfortable and obtain their trust. They are not an easy touch but are quite astute

and professional.”

Referrals come by word of mouth recommendation from satisfied clients but also from other advisers such as accountants and lawyers retained

by the various different religious communities. Just under a third of Simmonds&#39 business comes from the religious communities.

Simmonds says: “My advice to any IFA seeking to specialise is do your research. It is important to understand the kind of person or organisation you want to advise before you get involved. The same hierarchies and needs will be there but they come in different forms.”

Recommended

Dividends to be included in lost property register

The Unclaimed Assets Register which keeps data on owners of lost or forgotten life policies, pensions and unit trusts is being extended to include unclaimed dividends and related securities believed to be worth over £3bn. This move is being supported by ProShare, an organisation supporting wider share ownership, the Investor Relations Society and the Association […]

Newcastle launches balanced equity bond

Newcastle Building Society is launching a second issue of its balanced equity bond.The bond is made up of two elements – a six month fixed rate bond which pays interest at 7.5 per cent and a global guaranteed equity bond which is linked to the performance of the FTSE 100, the Nikkei 225 and the […]

House price growth in NE steady

House price increases continued to be steady in the North East and Cumbria, according to data published by Northern Rock.Prices rose 1.8 per cent in the quarter to July 2001, compared to 1.2 per cent for the same period last year.Northern Rock chief valuer Alistair Laws says: “The region&#39s housing stock remains relatively affordable, as […]

Skipton Building Society – Share Tracker Bond Issue 2

Friday, 17 August 2001.Type: Guaranteed growth bond.Minimum-maximum investment: Lump sum £2,000-£10,000.Term: Two years until October, 2 2003.Interest rate: 5.25 per cent until October 1, 2001.Return: Up to 30 per cent linked to the performance of Tesco, BSkyB, Shell, GlaxoSmithKline and Vodafone shares.Guarantee: 100 per cent capital return.Commission: None.Tel: 0800 4467766.

Time to stop the salami slicing on tax relief

Steve Webb  – Director of Policy and External Communications As the Autumn Statement approaches, Steve Webb calls for the Government to stop tinkering with tax relief. Twice a year, in the run-up to the Spring Budget and the Autumn Statement, we face a torrent of speculation as to what changes the Chancellor might make to […]

Newsletter

News and expert analysis straight to your inbox

Sign up

Comments

    Leave a comment

    Close

    Why register with Money Marketing ?

    Providing trusted insight for professional advisers.  Since 1985 Money Marketing has helped promote and analyse the financial adviser community in the UK and continues to be the trusted industry brand for independent insight and advice.

    News & analysis delivered directly to your inbox
    Register today to receive our range of news alerts including daily and weekly briefings

    Money Marketing Events
    Be the first to hear about our industry leading conferences, awards, roundtables and more.

    Research and insight
    Take part in and see the results of Money Marketing's flagship investigations into industry trends.

    Have your say
    Only registered users can post comments. As the voice of the adviser community, our content generates robust debate. Sign up today and make your voice heard.

    Register now

    Having problems?

    Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3712

    Lines are open Monday to Friday 9:00am -5.00pm

    Email: customerservices@moneymarketing.com