There have been some raised eyebrows in the past few weeks since I announced that I will be leaving the Mail on Sunday next year with the aim of qualifying as a financial adviser.
Some advisers have been very supportive. Others have questioned my sanity. So why do I want to make the transition from journalism to advice and why is the time right to change?
I started covering the financial services sector in 1993, working as an investment writer for a weekly title aimed at the then infant IFA sector. In the years since I’ve seen some of the very best and the very worst that financial advisers can do for their clients.
It is heart-warming to hear examples of prudent advice that has paid off. I recall interviewing one lady in her mid-40s who was bowled over by the £370,000 she received from a string of critical illness policies after a medical scare. The money paid for her husband to care for her through a period of convalescence, meant her mortgage was repaid and that there was a secure future for her three young children.
Similarly it was heart-breaking to have to sit in a front room with a couple in their 60s, explaining that the paperwork their IFA had given them for his ‘unique investment bond’ was entirely bogus. Their £500,000 of life savings was gone in a fraud.
Between these two extremes, there has been a slow but steady evolution in the professionalism of advice and advisers.
Some individuals and firms have been ahead of the curve, voluntarily pushing themselves to higher standards. Others have lagged behind, kicking and screaming. But the trend towards better trained advisers offering a more clearly-defined service has been inexorably higher.
With RDR next year, the selling skills that have always been part of the process will now have to be turned towards selling an adviser’s service and their knowledge, rather than particular products.
Look at the opportunities for advice out there. The cradle-to-grave support of the welfare state is being steadily eroded. Employers can no longer afford the crippling costs of DB pensions. Individuals are being asked to take on more responsibility for their own futures and to tackle ever more complex financial challenges.
More than seven million people will reach state pension age in the next decade – the majority retiring with some meaningful assets behind them, needing help husbanding these over the rest of their lives. We’re seeing families facing tough questions of how they balance wealth across the generations, wondering whether to use savings to support their parents in care, or their children through university and onto the housing ladder.
And all this is taking place against the backdrop of volatile, uncertain financial markets and a rapidly changing global economic order. To me, that sounds like a world crying out for long-term financial planning delivered by advisers who care about their clients. And that sounds like a world that I want to be part of.
Am I naïve? Possibly. Is there a lot to learn? Undoubtedly. Do I underestimate the burden of complying with a regulatory system that changes its colours more frequently than a chameleon? Almost certainly. But I still genuinely believe the future is bright for professional financial planning.
Stephen Womack is personal financial correspondent at the Mail on Sunday