Why promoting the value of advice is crucial

unbiased.co.uk Investment Adviser of the Year, Jason Witcombe, explains why his job as an adviser is more about relationships than anything else, how he finds cash-flow modelling helps with clients, and why promoting the value of advice is so important.

The value of professional advice

  
Why is promoting the value of advice in the press is so important?

 
It’s important for the industry as a whole to have well respected advisers adding comment to press articles. This is because with all these sorts of DIY platforms, there is a danger that consumers will transact and make most of their financial decisions themselves. Whether they do it well or not is another matter entirely though, but it’s easy to do. Having adviser voices in those articles to say, “you can do it yourself, but have you thought about this, this and this?” is crucial.
 
Is it reassuring to clients? 
 
Absolutely. For us as an individual firm, it’s important for us because it helps assure existing and prospective clients that journalists see us as a voice to be trusted. Ultimately, our job as advisers is not solely about filling out investments, pensions and insurances; it’s about providing our clients with peace of mind. For some of our clients, when they see my or my colleague’s name in the weekend papers, it gives them a nice warm feeling that they’re being looked after by someone who is trustworthy.
 
What is your advice to advisers?
  
I think it’s up to different advisers to do things their own way. It comes back to giving them peace of mind. And this varies dramatically from client to client. Some clients are very cost conscious, whereas others aren’t at all. Some people, it’s just a personality thing. Are they going to get on better with one adviser than another? So it’s trying to get the right adviser in front of the right client. Ultimately, our job as advisers is more a relationships job than a technical job. And so to engage clients they have to look forward to the meetings with you. One area that helps with us and lots of other firms, it’s not unique to us, is to use cash-flow modelling. So that’s basically putting their finances into a spreadsheet that gives a picture of where they currently stand and where, all things being equal, they’re going to be at retirement. It gives them a clear picture of what to expect.
 
What has experience taught you?
 
I joined the industry in 1999, so I’m by no means the longest serving person out there, but I’ve still seen quite a lot in my time! The reality is there’s always going to be change. Whether that’s political or regulatory change, you can’t really do much about it, so you just have to let it happen. But ultimately, the job is about relationships with clients and I would say in more recent times there’s been a greater regulatory focus on qualifications, which I think is good.
 
Do you mean post RDR?

Yes. It’s important to me and it’s important to clients. I’m a Chartered Financial Planner and a Certified Financial Planner and I believe that qualifications are essential, but you shouldn’t forget relationship and questioning skills. These are just as important as technical knowledge.

Can you give us an example of when that’s been particularly useful to you?

Frankly, every time I meet a client. The clients I meet individually expect a certain level of qualifications, which I have and that’s fine. But you know, clients can throw anything at you. A client phoned me earlier this week saying his wife had been diagnosed with a very serious illness and if you can’t empathise with that client over the phone, listen to them, ask the right questions and reassure you’re going to be there for them, then you’re not doing your job properly.

Is it important to be available to them too?

Absolutely. All the technical knowledge in the world is pretty useless if you’re not able to have a human interaction with that client who is obviously going through a very difficult time.
 
Do you think that makes a difference between bigger firms and smaller firms?

Yes and no. Certainly on the relationship management side, something I hear a lot from meeting prospective clients I meet who have been with a much larger firm, often a private bank, is that they get passed around a bit and relationship managers come and go. And there isn’t that sort of bond between a client and an adviser, as there is with our firm and to be fair, lots of other IFA firms.
 
How important are these relationships?
 
So important because if you’re a firm and you have a high staff turnover and you’re passing clients from one person to another to too often, it’s going to severely weaken that relationship. A lot of our job is to be there when clients need us, in their time of need.  And if you’ve had a long relationship with a client then I just think you’re in a much, much stronger position to be able to help.
 
Find out more about the unbiased.co.uk Bluebook, connecting advisers and journalists.

Jason Witcombe won Investment Adviser of the Year 2014 at the unbiased.co.uk Media Awards.
Find out more about the awards.


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