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Stephen Womack: Reflecting on my first year as an IFA


This month marks the first anniversary of starting the rest of my working life. It is a year now since I agreed to join David Williams IFA, the Northampton-based chartered financial planners, and to formally leave behind my career as a financial journalist.

So it feels a good time to reflect on my first impressions of life as an IFA; on the switch from delivering commentary through the pages of the Mail on Sunday to delivering advice face-to-face.

It has been a busy year. David Williams IFA is big enough to allow me to work with a wide range of clients, both corporate and personal, and provide a huge breadth of experience and technical challenges. At the same time, with 36 people in one building, we are small enough to be a proper community. What has been surprising about life as a new IFA?

First, I had underestimated the importance of having the right support around you.  At one point I had considered setting up on my own.  Now I think: How could I have been so naïve? There is rarely an hour that goes by without myself and the two other IFAs who share an office comparing notes with each other, testing out ideas or double-checking the finer points of a financial plan.

Just as important is the role of our technical support staff and their encyclopaedic knowledge of each provider’s foibles and quirks. While legislation may say one thing, our support team reminds me that product terms or processing issues can mean a provider’s computer will “say no” to some of my more ambitious plans.

The second eye-opener has been a new appreciation of asset allocation and portfolio construction. I am willing to admit that I have learned as much about investing in the last few months of exams and IFA work than in 20-plus years of financial journalism. Completing the J10 and AF4 papers has been useful. But the real education has been in seeing my colleagues put asset allocation at the very core of our pension and investment planning. Fund choice is an important but secondary consideration.

I have also been pleasantly surprised at the trust clients are willing to put in a good adviser. It has been a joy to participate in meetings with long-standing clients of other advisers in the business. After 20 or even 30 years of dealing with the firm, they have seen advice deliver the right results for them again and again. And at that stage in a relationship, the opinion of an adviser they trust implicitly counts for more than any mountain of regulatory paperwork they receive.  I can only hope that time will allow me to grow that level of trust and confidence in my advice.

When I first wrote about my intention to train and qualify as an adviser in Money Marketing in 2012, one of the online commentators described the piece as “the longest professional suicide note” he had ever read.

Well, you would not definitively judge an investment on the basis of a year’s past performance. But from where I am sitting at the moment, it feels like there is most certainly “professional life” for me in the IFA world. I cannot wait to see what the next 12 months brings.

Stephen Womack is an adviser with David Williams IFA



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There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Nice one Stephen, I remember your initial post well – great to see you’ve made a successful start to your advising career.

  2. Richard Wright 1st July 2014 at 10:05 am

    The one thing he’s not telling us is how much business he’s written !!

  3. Christopher Petrie 1st July 2014 at 10:21 am

    Well done Stephen, there will always be sour-faces and negative people who can’t understand why the world they once knew has moved on. They will always be the first to tell you that you won’t succeed and so on. These type of people tend to dominate online comments.

    In reality of course, there’s never been a busier time for IFAs and many I know are doing very well indeed. The first few years are always the most difficult (as in any business) and you’ll benefit hugely in the future from the work you’re doing now and the clients you’re building up.

  4. The hard part of starting out as an IFA is having a client bank, but Mr Womack appears to have been ‘given’ one. Is this a genuine career change or a stunt? There could be a future book written ‘My Time As A Financial Adviser, Warts And All’.

  5. James Hurdman 2nd July 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I would like to echo Messrs Hare and Petrie’s comments.

    In my experience the volume of knowledge that you will gain will be exponential in the first few years, so I look forward to hearing a report on your second year.

    As an aside, I think that your realisation of the importance of asset allocation and portfolio construction is a key one, and one that your (now ex) journalist colleagues don’t educate people enough about in the financial press. But then, I don’t suppose topics like that sell papers and it’s probably not a message that the advertisers in the financial press want to have communicated either. That’s not a criticism; just an observation.

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