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Profile: Xentum’s Adam Carolan on building NextGen Planners

Adam Carolan has taken it on his shoulders to bring a new batch of advisers into the fold

Adam Carolan Xentum nextgen plannersIt goes without saying that young advisers learn from those who are older and more experienced. But what is perhaps less obvious is that advisers in the early stages of their career can learn a lot from each other.

That realisation and the lack of opportunities for younger advisers to meet and share best practice inspired Xentum director Adam Carolan to launch NextGen Planners with Postcard Planning director Rohan Sivajoti.

Initially formed in March 2016 as a community for the new generation of financial planners, NextGen was established as a business seven months later. It now covers training alongside its original aim of giving young advisers a chance to  share their experiences and ideas.

Its training academy will launch in September and Personal Finance Society accredited trainer Adam Owen has been appointed as a non-executive director  to help develop the programme. Former threesixty managing director Phil Young will also join the NextGen board in September. 

“Like any business or corporation, NextGen was created from a ‘pain’ point,” says Carolan. “Rohan and I shared best practice. He’d set up Postcard Planning and was on his own; I was part of a team at Xentum. We had a lot of chats and didn’t really understand why there weren’t more meetings and groups for young financial planners to get together, feel comfortable and chat about the issues and opportunities they face.

“We saw a big gap in the market to create an environment for the next generation of planners to form a community.” 

Carolan’s biggest bugbear is the “constant infighting in financial advice” so there is no place for negativity at NextGen Planners. Carolan does not understand the need for some advisers to take a swipe at another’s business proposition or way of working.

Adviser becomes youngest PFS fellow at age 22

“If we’re starting to be seen as a profession we need to start behaving like one,” he says. “From day one, we made it clear we didn’t want negativity in our community. It’s about best practice and helping each other. If we can help financial planners get better as a profession, we can all benefit. It’s a different mentality – seeing good planners as helping, not as competition. We’re here to help the community grow and get better at what they do. Negativity doesn’t help anyone.”

One of NextGen’s goals is to lead by action, not words. He says: “Things like training and roundtables are all about action. Criticising the way others work isn’t the way forward – I don’t see that going on in any other profession.”

That said, Carolan admits to not practicing what he now preaches in the past, having publicly criticised the professional bodies for failing to support young advisers.

“I think it’s important to tell advisers where you’ve gone wrong,” he says. “I was building our brand by saying some strong things and that was probably wrong. We are trying to set an example with NextGen, so I have since contacted those bodies and offered my time to them.”

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Support for young advisers is a key part of NextGen Planners

Now 34 and approaching his tenth year at Xentum, where he has gone from graduate trainee to director and shareholder, Carolan admits to feeling out of place at PFS events when he was in his 20s, as he was always the youngest there.

“It was an indication of the sector in general. It hasn’t necessarily catered for young advisers and I felt a little out of place being a young professional. That’s not to say people haven’t been open to ideas but it’s intimidating when there’s a lot of older men in suits.”

In Carolan’s view, the profession has made progress supporting younger people and women who want to build a career in advice, but there is still work to be done.

He sees the profession falling into two categories: “old school” target-driven advisers who are nearing retirement and professional firms with good clients and talented advisers that are building for the future by investing in training for new entrants.

“Support from the latter group is going to be strong,” he says.  

Proving we are a profession

Carolan always refers to advice as a profession, never an industry. For him, It is about raising the bar, even through the choice of words used to describe it – “industry” is perhaps too closely associated with the pre-RDR sales environment.

Are qualifications the key to professionalism? They are “not the be all and end all” to Carolan but he says getting the higher level of qualification was important to him from day one. 

“For me, chartered and beyond was always the benchmark. It shows you’ve put in the hours to learn your craft, even if it’s just a small bit of your craft,” he says.

“My wife and I made a huge sacrifices for me to get to that point. We didn’t have kids then but all our friends were travelling and I was working at weekends. We were trying to get my exams as that was great for my career and for us in general. I did a lot of exams – 13 or 14 in four or five years – which was a huge commitment but I’m proud of doing it” 

Carolan’s interest in finance goes back to his teens, when his dad gave him £2,000 to create a portfolio of shares. Studying business finance at university and helping to manage the family finances after his dad passed away steered him further down a financial career path.

Five questions 

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career? 

One of my entrepreneurial clients said “think big. I chatted him through my ideas and he said “think bigger”. 

What keeps you awake at night? 

My six-month old son! 

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year? 

The launch of Vanguard’s service for the UK. 

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…? 

Move the office to the North where it’s cheaper. 

Any advice for new advisers? 

Don’t ever forget that you are looking after people’s livelihoods.

His first job was in sales support at Scottish Equitable, which was eventually bought by Aegon, but after a year he moved into advice as a trainee with Dewhurst Torevell. He was made redundant when the financial crisis hit but was soon recruited as a graduate trainee by Xentum founder Dominic Baldwin. 

Almost a decade on, Carolan feels excited by the plans for growth at Xentum. “From day one I’ve had a say in how Xentum was built and that’s a key part of why I work here. We’ve created our own culture and environment, and I’ve taken that into the market with NextGen Planners,” he says. 

Carolan is looking forward to the launch of the training academy and taking NextGen Planners to the next level. “NextGen Planners came out of nothing; a community of planners wanting to get better every day. That is a powerful dynamic to have and I think the profession needed it to lift us all up.” 

CV 

2016-present: Co-founder, NextGen Planners 

2008-present: Various roles from graduate trainee to director, Xentum 

2007-2008: Trainee financial adviser, Dewhurst Torevell 

2005-2006: Sales support, Scottish Equitable (now Aegon)

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