'Don’t follow the crowd'

unbiased.co.uk Financial Adviser of the Year 2014 winner, Anna Sofat, discusses what she's found works well when speaking with the press, how she engages clients and the advice she wishes she’d been given at the start of her career.

What advice do you have for advisers when it comes to engaging clients?

We always ask ourselves: what value are we providing? Where are we making a difference? A client has a need and you address that need, but beyond that, what are you doing for them that actually makes them stop and think, “yes, that’s worth paying for”. I'd also say it’s about making sure things happen for clients. We normally take quite a bit of the responsibility for making things happen, not to just give options, or just give advice and say, “go away and do it”. We’re focused on the outcome, and the outcome is you give advice, give recommendations, but that they’re looked after on an on-going basis.

So give that advice and make sure something tangible comes out of it?

Yes, from your client’s perspective, don’t sit on the fence and let the client make all the decisions. Often we do that as an industry. You’ve got to be clear in what you recommend. No client goes to an adviser for them to sit on the fence, they might come for a second opinion and give you the pros and cons, but that’s usually quite a specific job. Typically they come to you and say, “I don’t know what to do, please advise me”.

When it comes to the Bluebook and speaking to the media, what kind of advice would you have for other advisers?

I don’t think there’s a magic bullet for media, I tend to look at it two-fold really. In all of our relationships, look at what you’re giving. And there’s balance in those relationships. Yes, you’re doing it for a purpose and the purpose is hopefully more people will read and see more about you, but in due course they may just want to find out a little bit more. That’s all really, don’t expect the phone to ring just because you’re in the paper. That used to happen, 10 or 15 years ago, if you were in the weekend papers then Monday morning the phone would ring without doubt. We are in a very different world now, there’s so much more information on the web. And it’s for all our interests to provide information for consumers.

You’ve got to think of your long-term PR strategy, which for us is to raise brand awareness. And to educate consumers on the sort of things they should be thinking about. For example, they might say, ‘an adviser in the Sunday Times mentioned this’. Having this starting point gives them the confidence to ask questions they need to ask.

What makes your business unique?

I think we genuinely have a wide range of service, we are female-focused and there are not many companies who do that, helping them and advising them. And then we look beyond the money, we look at what does the money mean for our clients, beyond investment returns. So quite a number of services have come about because we have seen they add value to our client.

What advice do you wish you had at the beginning of your career which you could pass on?

One of the lessons I've learnt is that you should do business in your own way and you don’t have to follow the industry. It took me a long while to appreciate that I’m not a good salesperson, I hate commission and actually I don’t have to do either. I can just charge a fee for my clients, and be open with them. I can say, "this is what I’m providing, there’s a cost to that, and this is what it is". In my early days, it took me a while to get my head around commissions as a remuneration structure we have in our industry.

What advice would you give to other advisers?

For me, it comes back to what do you want from your business? What I want is a place that has values which resonate with my values, that does business in a way which I can be proud of. I would say to advisers, if you’re being asked to compromise on your values a lot, sooner or later that’s going to jar, that’s not going to work and you’re going to be unhappy. Go and find a home where you don’t have to compromise, there are things you’re fine compromising on but your core value you won’t be happy with. Similarly, if you’re sitting down with a client in a meeting and there are issues, don’t push them aside. Whether they don’t want to pay you, whether they don’t appreciate the value you’re providing them, address these issue because otherwise they will come back and bite you at some point.

Anna Sofat won Financial Adviser of the Year 2014 at the unbiased.co.uk Media Awards. Find out more about the awards.


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