I recently spent a fascinating day at the headquarters of the Personal Finance Society as part of the judging panel for its chartered financial planner awards.
In a nod to my previous life as a Mail on Sunday correspondent, I was there playing the part of a quizzical journalist. Questions were designed to explore how the finalists would cope with the inevitable media interest should they be a winner.
But as a new adviser, who qualified only in June, it was also a valuable insight into how some of the elite of our profession operate. I cannot give away any secrets of the judging room. You’ll have to wait until the gala dinner at the PFS conference in Birmingham on 7 November to find out which individual and firm emerged as worthy winners.
However, I can share one lesson I drew from our interviews with directors of chartered financial planning firms. The panel grilled them in-depth about how they run their businesses and about how being a chartered firm has changed the way they think.
I’ve said before in the pages of Money Marketing that one of the key benefits of the Retail distribution review has been the new requirements around continuing professional development. Advisers must all now book their 35 hours each year of meaningful learning to stay relevant in this rapidly changing world.
Similarly, it is no longer enough for an advisory business to rest on its laurels; to assume that not having received any client complaints for several years automatically means that all is well in its world. Instead, the best firms are looking to embed systems within their business that help them to continually learn and to find ways to adapt and improve.
It is clear that chartered status has helped the shortlisted companies we saw to evolve this process of continuing firm development. These businesses are learning from their customers, for example through client surveys and customer feedback forms. It is vital to understand that a client’s view of a firm is likely to be very different to your own and will probably highlight issues and misconceptions that you had never even considered.
These businesses are also learning from their mistakes. Rather than castigating staff when inevitable errors occur, there is an open assessment of what went wrong. Could the company’s systems and processes be changed to prevent this happening again?
Staff development and development of the firm are intertwined. The personal training plans of staff are not just linked to collecting points in professional exams – soft skills are nurtured too. And training needs are tied to the business’s evolving needs, nurturing the directors of tomorrow by allowing less experienced advisers to specialise in certain areas or to gradually assume more responsibility.
I joined David Williams IFA, a firm of chartered financial planners, three months ago. We have our own ethos of continuing firm development and recognise there is always scope to improve and learn from others.
That message applies across the industry. An advisory business that neglects its continuing firm development – that stops trying to learn and better itself – runs the risk of falling behind and ultimately failing its clients.
Stephen Womack is an adviser with David Williams IFA Chartered Financial Planners