I had a strange sense of déjà vu this week while revising for a pension exam. Reading about the Pension Protection Fund and Financial Assistance Scheme, I realised that I was re-living my own history: that I had played a small part in making these things happen.
Between 2002 and 2006, Mail on Sunday ran a long campaign for better protection for workers when defined benefit pension schemes were wound-up with deficits. The campaign was driven by our editor Jeff Prestridge, and we forged close bonds with some of the workers who were facing a poverty-stricken retirement because corporate promises had evaporated.
In particular, I ‘adopted’ the staff of Richardsons Fertilisers in Belfast: 200 employees who were left with a 60 per cent shortfall in pensions after their firm – a joint venture between ICI and the Irish Government – went bust with a £15 million hole in its fund. Visiting the staff in their homes and seeing them as they demonstrated and lobbied politicians, it was hard not to feel their cause was our cause.
And, eventually, the creation of the FAS did help the Richardsons workers while the PPF makes it much harder for firms to abandon their pension promises.
Why revel in these past glories? Seeing the PPF and FAS in a text book reminded me of the importance of celebrating your successes. Others will be quick to point out your failings, but many of us are still reluctant to bang the drum when things go well.
I have often found advisers hesitant to come forward with their ‘good news’ stories: the examples of where their advice had really paid off for clients.
Of course, there are times when it is difficult to celebrate good financial planning. An adviser can do an excellent job in building the right protection net around a young family. But an untimely death that leaves children without a mother or father is a tragedy for the family, even if they are financially secure.
Sometimes the value you have delivered is that essential peace of mind rather than a cash benefit. Issues of client confidentiality can restrict what you say about work done for an individual. But in aggregate, at a firm level, there might be a way to monitor, say annual tax-free income taken by clients or IHT savings for clients’ families over the last five years.
Measuring and celebrating success is even more important in today’s era where advice has an explicit price. Finding ways to share and broadcast successes can help demonstrate the value of professional advice: to prove to a reluctant client why £125-an-hour might be money well spent.
Can you do more to feature client case studies in your newsletters? Can you get testimonials where customers will talk about percentage improvements in their wealth, even if they don’t want to share exact figures?
There are risks in sounding overly boastful or bragging. But you have to sell the benefits of a professional service. A balanced approach with as much hard data as you can muster can surely only help.
How do you measure success in your business? There must be thousands of good news stories out there so let’s hear them.
Stephen Womack is a former financial reporter at Mail on Sunday who is now retraining as a financial adviser.