Ardent’s Gary O’Brien explains how a quiet evolution in the firm’s structure over the past couple of years and the decisions taken are putting the practice firmly on the map.
As a business, we can’t quite put our finger on our increased profile and client base over the past couple of years but the truth is, it’s a combination of decisions we’ve taken which have put us on the map and allowed us to move closer to being the business we want to be.
Originally the business was an established, multi-tied firm called Ardent Financial Services, which had been around since 1999, based in the Yorkshire countryside. In 2006 we decided to set up an independent sister company called Ardent IFA Ltd, with four directors.
“The challenge has been to get the four directors to understand what a powerful tool financial planning can be.”
Both firms ran side by side for several years, but as RDR grew nearer, it became obvious that our IFA model was in better shape for facing the future. So the decision was taken to wind up the original firm and bring all staff across to the newer company. It was a big shift for us – what had been a small, satellite business ended up being our new company.
The change within the business was also the ideal time for an overhaul, so we restructured the board, appointed specific roles, moved the firm into the centre of York, changed our name to Ardent and rebranded with a new corporate website and logo. Shortly after our move, our turnover grew by 40 per cent and our profitability continues to move in the right direction.
But the real rebrand for us was to move from being a traditional, quite transactional adviser firm to a practice offering a fully rounded financial planning service. We also knew we needed a centralised proposition that was simple and clear to support our financial planning offering and choosing nucleus as our platform has been at the cornerstone of that proposition.
Throughout this time, the challenge had been to get all four directors to understand what a powerful tool financial planning can be. We are still on this journey and barely a week goes by where we don’t learn something new or a better way to help our clients look into the future.
The move has completely transformed the relationship we have with clients, moving away from discussing tax and pension allowances, we are now discussing their dreams and aspirations instead. Conversations are on a different level, it’s a much better client experience and it’s a better way of doing business.
With our move to the centre of York, we now see around 80 per cent of clients at our offices. People also phone out of the blue and we get many enquiries through the new website. Much of our business also comes from referrals from existing clients, including many who have now been through the financial planning process with us.
We get a lot of referrals too from our professional connections. We have a solid relationship in York with accountancy and legal firms and we’re keen to move the relationship up a few gears and form formal joint ventures with some of them. We have changed our compliance provider to SIFA, the body that supplies compliance services to IFAs working within law practices and it’s a brilliant partnership for us to help strengthen our connections with these firms.
With the changes we’ve made to how we do business, including employing two full-time mortgage consultants as part of the financial planning big picture, we’ve found we’re enjoying our work much more. We’ve also discovered that more and more clients are asking us to look after every part of their finance for them where once upon a time we had to fight for that piece of pension or Isa work.
So my advice to other adviser firms to be the business they want to be is:
- Get involved in practice development workshops, such as the regular development groups Nucleus holds, and find out how other advisers are running their practices. It was listening to advice from other firms that helped us with our decision around a compliance provider. We’re also looking to expand our back office to support our four financial planners after witnessing the eye-opening success of a similarly sized adviser firm who took this approach.
- You need to know in broad terms where you want to get to as a business and how you want your clients to experience your proposition. For us, that was offering a more holistic financial planning service that the client really buys into.
See other adviser firms as colleagues not competition. We’re currently looking at commercially viable joint ventures in York with two other firms. There are more than enough clients to go round.