The self-referencing loop
Caught in a self-referencing loop, the debate about how financial advice can involve seems doomed to repeat itself indefinitely. Last night I listened to four experts (who weren’t practicing financial advisers) discuss for 90 minutes how financial advice might evolve to meet the needs of a wider market, to provide better value for money and to bring new blood into the market. It was a debate that could have been had pre-Covid with similar conclusions, nothing much seems to have moved on.
In this blog, I focus on the four essential areas where I think advice can adapt to a new post-Covid world and where I see the germs of a new advisory order. Those four areas are technology, people, demand and vision.
I had a brief overview of Origo’s soon to be launched Unipass software. It is very well built and meets the needs of IFAs looking to transfer agencies of policies or the proceeds of policies or simply get to know their client’s financial affairs. But it only gives information that satisfies regulatory compliance, requests for information that look to establish the value the client has received for their money cannot be accessed via the platform. The risk is that the Unipass template defines the limits of reporting.
The innovation that data science can bring to the analysis of people’s pension pots needs data to be unlocked and Unipass is typical of attempts by those who maintain control over our money and our data, to define the terms on which we engage with our savings. We often have difficulty looking inside these savings policies we rely on , because the template for inspection has been determined by the providers of the data.
This restriction of data is rife, it happens in macro-data requests on behalf of institutions and through individual inquiries. The edicts of the law commission over e-signatures are ignored, the rights granted us by the GDPR over access and portability are routinely denied.
Martyn Lewis called this week for pensions to be given a re-brand with a line drawn in the sand. From a stated point , consumers should be given the right to get information they want in the way that they want it , without hindrance or demur. The clarity of that information is critical, technology can provide the information, financial advisers can provide the clarity.
Right now IFAs are failing to grasp the opportunities of Open Finance, indeed – with a few brave exceptions, I do not think the Open Finance initiative is on the personal finance agenda.
I often hear it said, that not enough young people are becoming financial advisers. Why not?
There is a current generation of highly trained, articulate and tech-savvy graduates who , since graduating this summer, are spending their days filling out application forms for a limited number of jobs with limited success. Many are prepared to work from home as interns and be paid in learning. Whether you call this available workforce interns or apprentices, you can Grab-a Grad right now and train them to build your practice and inherit your work in time.
If ever there was a time for the advice business to grow, it is now, when advice is needed as never before. Now is the time to “people-up”.
There is no doubt that financial advice pays for itself and financial advisers have generous tax-breaks which allow their advice to be offered without VAT and often paid for from tax-advantaged savings accounts. The problems for advisers are not with lack of demand but with meeting demand.
The scope of work that IFAs can do is immense but most choose to focus on the needs of the wealthy and turn away Middle Britain. Billy Burrows and others are offering mid-market advice but they are exceptions, in practice many mid-affluent savers are reaching critical points in their lives (especially retirement) without access to good quality advisers.
Partly this is down to lack of supply but partly it is because financial advisers are under-staffed and under-served in terms of technology.
Martyn Lewis referred to himself as “didactic” and his website as “hegemonic”. These words refer to teaching and to leadership. Lewis is unashamedly a teacher, telling people what they need to know what they want to know. He talks of selling but of selling concepts not products.
The very best advisers I have worked with, people like Al Cunningham, David Penny and Al Rush share this burning desire to teach and they come over as Lewis does, as people with vision.
I see the same in the great female advisers, though perhaps they get their way in a more subtle and persuasive way! People like Kate Upcraft, Heather Hopkins, Romi Savova and Sam Seaton are creating a space where personal finance can prosper – many are doing so outside the advisory perimeter.
The self-referencing loop
The advisory business is a bubble with its own press, trade bodies and spokespeople. Much as it would like to say it has moved on, it is much the same as the business I joined in the early eighties. It is resistant to new technology, it does not offer a career path for the brightest young people, it serves the demands of a limited part of the population and it is generally lacking in a wider vision of its social purpose.
Its bubble needs to be pricked and its certainties challenged. There are opportunities for advisors to innovate but they need to take on the providers of data and custodians of money, at present they are still being controlled by them (Origo’s Unipass platform is an example). New people need to join advisory teams and bring fresh blood, fresh ideas and new ways of doing things. They are the bringers of innovation.
Advisors need to break out of the narrow market they serve, the mass affluent and become relevant to a wider audience, technology is again a key to this.
Finally advisors need the leadership of a type personified by Martyn Lewis. Such leadership is in short supply but there are examples, organizations like Salary Finance and Make My Money Matter are showing it.
There are seismic changes in the way people view their money and they want their money “open”. That smart lad Anthony Morrow has picked up on the opportunities to inform people about their money using open finance and is showing a way.