I have written a number of pieces on apprenticeships over the past few months: from why the industry needs an urgent injection of new blood, to how it is therefore so distressing to see the Government put a freeze on the funding due to support new training providers.
I make no apology for trying to highlight the upmost importance of both of these issues. According to industry statistics, the current number of regulated advisers in the UK is below 25,000 – just 10 per cent of that in the late 1980s.
We also know that the average age of advisers is somewhere in the mid-50s, meaning that half the adviser population will be over the state retirement age in just 10 years’ time.
Meanwhile, figures published in the recent Apfa “Financial Adviser Market in Numbers” report show the average number of clients per adviser has been diminishing over the last few years, with the advice model having transitioned from a transactional one to more of a service proposition.
All of these factors mean fewer customers are receiving advice than ever before, despite demand arguably being at its highest level.
Yes, we are seeing the emergence of online solutions aimed directly at consumers but such offerings will not be able to undertake certain complexities around financial planning.
In order to support customer requirements and protect the advice sector, we need to bring in more advisers. Simple.
So, we know why the profession desperately needs apprentices but I now want to look at why firms more specifically should want them. The right apprentice can re-energise businesses in countless ways and act as a real catalyst for positive change.
I am loathe to talk about apprentices as though the word is synonymous with school leavers. People embarking on a second career, or even already working in the sector, also present a rich seam of potential candidates.
A business needs to evolve in order to remain successful and it is essential business owners are open and receptive to new ideas. As a big fan of best practice, I have often spoken about the value advisers can get from talking to their peers and learning from the experience of others.
However, the amount of innovation and fresh ideas borne out of those who are new to a company, the industry or even the world of work entirely can be just as valuable.
Taking the time to nurture an apprentice within your firm, listening to their thoughts and giving their ideas serious consideration can pay dividends in the long term. Indeed, those who hire apprentices just to insist they fall strictly in line with the existing status quo are hindering a source of creativity and, potentially, great value to the business.
What is more, if your apprentice is a school leaver, they will inevitably have a higher level of technological ability than those of us who finished school even just over a decade ago.
IT is now a mandatory part of the curriculum and the online world plays a huge part in the lives of young people. Similarly, the use of technology in financial services is growing rapidly, with the amount of business transacted online increasing on a daily basis.
It is imperative we begin to create a new generation of advisers to service this new generation of clients. If you were able to benefit from an apprentice with years of IT experience and knowledge, why would you not?
Until the Government unfreezes the funding allowing SMEs to bring apprentices on board (which we remain hopeful will be in January 2018) apprenticeships are not a viable financial option for many advisers. But I hope this does not diminish enthusiasm for the concept as a whole. Indeed, recruiting an apprentice should be viewed as not only a necessity but as an opportunity too.
Tom Hegarty is managing director at New Model Business Academy