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Specialist subjects

For Clive Weir, the key to a successful pension practice is specialisation.

“I do not think that we can be jacks of all trades. We have to agree a specialism and then work with our fellow specialists to provide a full holistic service to the client.”

Until last year, he was the director of his own firm, CS Pension Consulting, but in April 2008 he decided to merge his business with Albert Goodman Chartered Financial Planners, where he is now a director.

Weir says: “We were doing a lot of work on divorce but while we were doing the pension aspect of it there was also a lot of investment work and protection work and accountancy work that goes along with it.”

Weir had known Albert Goodman and the management for some time and says it made sense to combine the two businesses. “We were having one of those conversations one day and said it would be a good fit to put this together.”

He says the move is a mutually beneficial one. Weir is one of three directors of Albert Goodman Chartered Financial Planners and he describes the firm’s structure as similar to a law firm, with different specialist practices operating alongside each other.

The company employs around 26 staff, with six looking specifically at pensions and divorce and pension transfers.

“We do pensions on divorce, we do retirement planning for clients coming up to retirement age and looking at the options, we do pension transfers, for final-salary and money- purchase transfers.”

Anything outside these areas, including pension accumulation, is referred to his colleagues.

But it is not just internal referrals that are important for the business. He says external referrals are central, not just from other IFAs but also from accountants and solicitors.

The Albert Goodman financial planning business is a wholly owned subsidiary of Albert Goodman Chartered Accountants and Weir says there is a valuable link between the businesses.

“Traditionally, there has been a lot of cross-referral between the accountancy side and the financial planning side. But to bring in the third area of the professional intro- ducers, the solicitors, then it works far better.”

The arrangement allows clients to be cross-referred for taxation calculations or business valuations.

“It is using the strengths of the different professional services to get the best service available to clients.”

The referrals from IFAs are mainly in the area of pension transfers, while those on pensions and divorce come mainly from the legal profession.

Following the FSA’s warning last December on the standard of pension transfer advice, many IFAs are understandably wary of dealing with transfers. But Weir says for those who are confident in this area there are opportunities. A change in the rules concerning the valuation of transfer values have seen some valuations go up substantially.

“We have seen some transfer values seen increase by 40 per cent, so there is the potential to go back and do some retrospective reviews for clients whose critical yield may not have been acceptable at the time.”

But this area is no longer the mainstay of his business. As CS Pension Consultants, Weir says 60 to 70 per cent of his business was referrals from other IFAs. Now transfer referrals account for a much lower 20 to 30 per cent of his time.

The biggest contribution to his workload now comes from his pension and divorce work from solicitors either needing help valuing pension assets in the process of a divorce or in carrying out pension-sharing orders after the process is complete.

As a knock-on effect he is also reporting that he is receiving an increasing number of enquiries from personal injury lawyers looking for help in quantifying the loss of pension benefits for the victims of personal injury.

Weir is an enthusiastic supporter of the use of coll- aborative law in divorce cases.

Alongside Karen Ritchie of FPW IFA, he was involved in the setting up of the Resolution accreditation process for IFAs and he does much of the training for IFAs who want to get on the panel of Resolution-approved practitioners.

As another line of business, Albert Goodman also offers professional training courses for IFAs.

“We do technical courses, like an introduction to pension transfers, so new advisers or paraplanners coming through understand the implications of the things they need to look out for. There is quite an important update course for those advisers that are doing it, to ensure they are kept up to date with the latest regulations.

“The other training we do is examination-based, the J04, J05 and AF3 subjects, plus others. It is an area we still do and I very much enjoy doing.”

Weir has spent his entire career in the pension business in one form or another. He started off in pension administration and is still an associate of the Pensions Management Institute but says somewhere along the way he crossed from pension admin into pension consultancy.

He says that, in his experience, the only thing that remains a constant in the business is the certainty of change.

“I have been working in the pension industry since the 1980s and there has been change probably every year. But one of my old managers taught that change brings opportunity. You take the change and look for the opportunity. It is a constantly changing market and will continue to be so.”

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