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