This week has felt very strange. It is the first since 1997 that I have not been employed by Mail on Sunday. While I will be continuing with a little freelance journalism in the short term, the time has come to get serious about my planned new career in financial advice and to get properly qualified.
I’ve been touched by the encouragement and support I’ve had from advisers over the last couple of months – partly in response to what I’ve previously written in Money Marketing. There are also some who question the wisdom of getting into financial advice, just as many others are heading for the exit.
Without reopening that debate, I still think there are going to be some exciting opportunities ahead for the right kind of adviser in the years to come.
But of course I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t confess to the odd pang of self-doubt. I was in the CII exam centre in Birmingham recently, tackling another Regulated Diploma paper. And looking around the nervous faces in the waiting area, I realised that – at the grand old age of 43 – I was the oldest candidate in the room by quite some way.
It got me thinking about the saying: ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ Am I really ready and able to embrace something new?
I suspect many advisers will have asked themselves similar questions over the past two years as they have battled to fill gaps in knowledge or adapt their business models.
Certainly, if my learning experience is anything to go by, it may take longer to embed new facts in the brain than it once did. It is easy to slip into old habits and familiar routines.
But thinking about it, there is still a lot to be said for being an old dog.
When I walk my eight-year-old dog in the fields around our village, she remembers the exact locations where she has been shocked in the past by electric cattle fences and veers around them.
In a similar way, us financial old dogs have experienced ‘live wires’ before. We’ve seen at first hand the impact of the tech bubble, the unravelling of split-capital investment trusts, and the losses caused by precipice bonds. Hopefully, it means we should be more alert to future problems.
Secondly, advice is about helping clients face the challenges life throws at them. Someone with direct experience of the ups and downs of life, who has seen their share of births, deaths, marriages and divorces, can maybe offer a perspective and empathy that a newer recruit has yet to learn.
Thirdly, I am heartened by all the ‘new tricks’ I have already observed as seasoned professionals evolve their business. Some have become virtuoso performers on social media; others have embraced Exchange Traded Funds and wrap platforms to transform their investment offerings to clients. Others still are building completely new systems to deliver advice online.
One of the fundamental aims of RDR is to ensure that advisers do not stand still. The CPD rules are there to keep teaching us all; to stop us becoming stale, to stop us falling behind.
So I’m all for learning something new. To sum it up in another cliché, “There’s life in the old dog yet”. What does the rest of the pack think?
Stephen Womack is formerly a personal finance journalist with the Mail on Sunday and is now training to be an IFA