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Stephen Womack: Life in the old dog yet

An old(ish) journalist is still capable of learning new tricks

Stephen Womack MM blog

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


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There are 9 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. It’s interesting (and a good sign for the profession) that everyone was younger than you.

    I suspect that 12 months ago in the run up to RDR it would have been the other way around!

  2. Whilst it is great to learn new things, I am not at all sure that becoming an IFA makes a lot of sense, as a business, that is.

    Are you sure you really understand what it involves to become enmeshed with a bureaucracy i.e. the FSA (soon to change its nameplate to FCA).

    There will be lots of unpleasant form filling (e.g. RMAR) and then there are the fees, including the deeply flawed FSCS.

    I am sorry to be rather negative but entering financial services is not a straightforward proposition.

    Realistically, it might be easier to ‘tap up’ a few of the advisors who have managed to avoid the RDR and continue to trade without all the regulatory burdens and see if that is a more viable route.

  3. I think you need to find another occupation.

  4. I think the publication of the Staffordshire Hospital today is an example of where this industry is going. Get the regulatory aspects correct, put all the ticks in the right boxes, fulfil the inspection in terms of paper work and sod the patients. The result was inevitable. For Financial Advisers simply delete patients and substitute Client
    TDF ? With the amount of detail we are obliged to provide most Clients find we have gone beyond all understanding,is time consuming, it means nothing and is most. Simplification and the Clients REAL needs at the heart of what we do.

    I am an 80 year old dog

  5. As wingco might say, FSA/FCA/FOS bandits at three o’clock high!

    Nothing good ever happens when an over-bearing bureaucracy gets involved.

    The client becomes a secondary consideration.

    Where did it all go wrong, Hector?

  6. Mark, from the heart of someone who has been in this industry since 1980 and has over 22 yrs as an IFA, get out of it before you get in too deep.

    It may seem attractive, but the RDR and the way the industry is going, being an IFA in the next few years will be one of the most expensive to run businesses in the country, the costs of regulation (includig MAS, FOS and FSCS levies) is spiralling out of control, with rises alleged this year to be around 16%. That means your prices will have to rise by the same amount and there will come a time when it will be unprofitable to run an IFA practice, then you lose your livelihood.

    I truly wish that I had become a joiner/carpenter.

    Working on that one but at nearly 64 it looks like I may have to remain an amateur carpenter.

  7. Neddie, Neddie

    You forgot to mention that even at 64 and looking at least another 20 years of breathing, IFA’s like you will always be looking over your shoulder because there is no long-stop.

    Life should be pleasant when you are put out to pasture but there is No Hiding Place for retired IFA’s.

  8. Shoot me down in flames if you will (to continue the flying analogy), but I wish Stephen well…At least he is approaching financial services with some enthusiasm, when some of us old dogs have perhaps forgotten what that feels like, and why we are here-i.e for the clients. We are never going to encourage new blood into this frustrating, time consuming, regulatory, expensive yet completely rewarding profession with constant derision, so harness your enthusiasm for as long as you can, Stephen, and I look forward to following your progression.

  9. It is quite common for entrants to new ventures to start with great enthusiasm.

    Then after a period of time, one becomes less enamoured and then finally that turns to despair.

    The person then leaves for a new adventure … and the cycle repeats.

    Sadly, there is every reason to think that that is what will happen in this case, given the overall situation within the financial services industry.

    For the little guy (IFA), the industry has become grossly over-regulated and over-burdened with flawed ‘compensation’ schemes such as the FSCS, all as a reaction to the excesses of the past.

    Achieving a sensible balance has proved to be far beyond the capabilities of Government and its regulators.

    They have effectively killed quality financial advice for the everyday person, which of course, was the opposite of what they intended when they created the FSA etc.

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