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The IFP’s Steve Gazzard on FP Week and life as interim chief exec

IFP interim chief executive Steve Gazzard explains why doing nothing to financially educate consumers is unacceptable.

In Steve Gazzard’s words, this year’s National Financial Planning Week ‘packs a punch’. The interim chief executive and chief operations officer of the Institute of Financial Planning is proud of the effort that has gone into this consumer education campaign, which runs until 1 December.

We think its important that the industry plays a part in consumer education. People can say it’s a lost cause because values and behaviour are set in stone, but saying nothing can be done is unacceptable,” says Gazzard.

Now in its sixth year, Financial Planning Week is once again aiming to raise the profile of financial planning amongst the wider public. The week’s events include a publicity campaign, free financial planning surgeries and information and case studies through the wayfinder website. Gazzard says: ”Financial Planning isn’t just for the wealthy – it’s for everyone. With all of us feeling the pinch due to rises in the cost of living, it’s never been more important to encourage people to make sound financial plans.”

Education is a subject close to Gazzard’s heart. He enjoys coaching, both professional and sports coaching, and watching people develop. Between 2008 and 2011 he served as chair of governers at Gordano School, his old school in north Somerset.

Gazzard recalls this is the same school where writing imaginatively about his ideal job caused amusement among the staff.

In an English essay I wrote that I wanted to be a PE teacher because all they did was wear tracksuits and drink tea. Luckily the English teacher was friends with the PE teacher and found it amusing,” he says.

Like many people, Gazzard fell into financial services almost by accident.

He says: “I took a gap year after my A-levels with a view to studying philosophy at university but at the end of the year I decided I wanted to work. I looked in the local paper and there was a job for an inspector at Scottish Equitable. It involved keeping up to date on regulation and technical matters, supporting intermediaries and travel.”

Being receptive to new ideas and experiences was one of the reasons Gazzard moved from product providers such as ScotEq and Egg to the world of platforms and distribution with Fundsnetwork. Such broad experience has left Gazzard with a bird’s eye view of financial planning which he finds useful in his current role.

He admits that acting as both chief operating officer and interim chief executive at the IFP – as chief executive Nick Cann recovers from a stroke – has not been easy. “Nick and I work well together – he works on the business and I work in it. With Nick around I could focus on the detailed day to day running and it’s been difficult to get the right balance between the two roles.The team has stepped up a level so that has helped but it’s still very demanding, although it is getting easier.”

Gazzard believes we need to get away from financial products as solutions in favour of goals-based financial planning which looks at assets and liabilities.

People need to look at where they are, where they want to be and how they’re going to get there. We need to get away from things like needing a pension and concentrate on where income in retirement is coming from. We need to simplify, so there’s no jargon,” he says.

Unless people understand financial planning at its most basic level, such as sticking to a budget, they are unlikely to go on to recognise the value of a professional financial planner.

But Gazzard says the main problem is that people do not know where to start.

I don’t think we can ever oversimplify things for the consumer. One example is that in the summer the MAS did a survey which found that 16 per cent of people couldn’t find their account balance on their bank statement,” he says.

The solution offered by Gazzard is starting young through financial education in schools and helping consumers regain their confidence by giving them clear information – not just focusing on increasing professionalism within the advice sector.

Gazzard recognises that in practice, the role of the regulator can be at odds with the desire to simplify. “The way regulation is going is not making things simple for people. The regulator wants every piece of information in a report so it can see that the planner has done their job and that the planner has covered all the bases with the client. But if you talk to planners about how many of their clients read it all, it is a tiny percentage.

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“I don’t think we can ever oversimplify things for the consumer.”

Simplification and clarification of the role of paraplanners is something Gazzard is keen to promote. He feels it is unhelpful that the term covers such a wide range of roles, from those who specialise in research through to highly qualified paraplanners with certified or chartered status.

We beleve everyone should stick to the role profile that was developed for paraplanners by what was then the Financial Skills Council.

At the IFP, one of [new IFP director of professional standards] Sam Rees-Adams objectives is set out a career path so people can get into ‘proper’ paraplanning. So whether you’re a trainee or a financial adviser looking to become a paraplanner you’ll understand the knowledge, skills, competencies and qualifications you’ll need and where to get them from.”

A discussion with the IFP on qualifications would not be complete without touching on the differences between its certified financial planning qualifaction and the Chartered Insurer’s Institute’s chartered financial planning qualification. Both are set at QCF level six but the latter is designed to test technical knowledge and the former the application of that knowledge.

Gazzard says the general public is more aware of the term chartered – although this does not necessarily translate into an increased awareness of charterered financial planners. He points out that certified status has global recognition. “We know that in the Uk there are coming up to 4,000 chartered financial planners and 1,000 certified financial planners. But there are over 150,000 certified financial planners globally.

I urge everybody to consider both qualifications. I accept and understand the need for people to reach the highest level they can and gain technical ability in key areas – but it doesn’t help if you can’t apply the knowledge you have.”

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Born: 1965  

Lives: Portishead, North Somerset

Education: Gordano School

Career: 2008-present: chief operating officer and currently interim CEO, Institute of Financial Planning; 2006-08: business operations and development director, 2006-08: business operations and development director, Fidelity FundsNetwork; 2004-06 director, J&T Associates;  1999-2004: various roles at Egg, including head of Prudential Bank and UK business development director, 1991-1999: various business development and sales management roles, Save & Prosper/Flemings; 1990-1991: consultant, Prudential Holborn,  1984-1990: inspector, Scottish Equitable

Likes: Playing and coaching sport, can-do attitudes, nights in with my wife, long walks with my dog Rioja 

Dislikes: Ignorance, injustice, negative attitudes, neck ties  

Drives: Mercedes SL

Book: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller  

Film: Harold & Maude  

Album: Bryter Layter by Nick Drake 

Career ambition: Learn new things, work with great people, and to make a difference  

Life ambition: Be happy (although my wife says I shouldn’t aim too high!)  

If I wasn’t doing this I would be… a  PE Teacher

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