Here at The Verve Group, we’ve been talking for a while now about what we could do to help push financial services forward.

    It’s a conversation that we’ve been returning to for most of this year, if not longer, about how we could help take the sector to the next level, and start to change all the things we know are broken in it.

    There are clearly lots and lots of challenges financial services faces, but one of the big ones is bringing in new people.

    We started to think about future proofing the industry, and looking at ways advisers and the wider financial services industry could collaborate over the coming months.

    Then, what with various different lockdowns coming into effect, we just felt there was an appetite in the market for something positive to get behind.

    We weren’t looking to do anything too big (famous last words!), but to take a more targeted, focused approach. The result is our not for profit initiative We Are Change.

    Why now? 

    Like many of us, I’ve been reading about everything that’s going on, and particularly how sectors like hospitality have been hit by the fallout from lockdown.

    I was hearing how potentially a million people are sadly facing the prospect of losing their job in that one sector alone, and that kept niggling away at me.

    For all the time I’ve been in finance, there’s been an ongoing debate about how to attract more people to the sector.

    When there was an array of jobs available, financial services had to work hard to compete to be an attractive career choice thanks to all the misconceptions that surround our industry.

    But we’re about to go into a phase where there isn’t that same level of competition – in fact, it’s the opposite – there simply aren’t going to be enough jobs for the people who need them.

    So, if all we've ever said is we really want to get new people into finance, and then all of a sudden there's going to be all these people desperately looking for new roles, it just seems like the time is right to try and do something to bridge that gap.

    Ideally, it’d be great to bring people in and give them jobs straightaway.

    But the reality is advisers and other financial services firms will likely have their own concerns in the short term, and perhaps are uncertain about what their business will look like over the next year or so.

    The confidence isn’t there to go down the apprenticeship route, or something that’s focused on immediate job creation.

    Offering training seemed like a good middle ground to get something started.

    Hopefully when we’re on the other side of all this, we'll have already started to lay the groundwork for a huge pool of talent.

    That should put all of us in advice and finance in a really strong position, especially as the Covid fogs begins to lift. Otherwise, we risk waiting until next year to do something about it only to realise that the time to act was actually six months ago.

    How it works

    We Are Change is a not-for-profit initiative and is open to anyone connected with the financial services industry: advisers, providers, asset managers, professional bodies, marketing agencies that work with advisers; all are welcome to get involved.

    Basically, firms or individuals can sponsor a place (or a number of places) for a trainee to become level 4 qualified and trained in a range of practical skills that form the foundations of any financial career such as paraplanning, advising, support and compliance.

    We already offer financial services training and career development through The Art of Finance, so we have a proven framework to deliver this.

    Because of Covid, the vast majority of our programmes have been developed into online material, which also helps in terms of our own resources.

    The cost is £85 a month, which is the cost of an individual getting their CII Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning over two years. That covers Chartered Insurance Institute membership, the R01 to R06 textbooks and six exam sittings.

    Each cohort tends to have up to 15 trainees, and people can choose to study over one or two years depending on their preference, much like any other distance learning course (Open University style).

    That money goes into one pot, which will be used to drive a campaign to attract people to finance.

    After a thorough recruitment and selection process, we’ll then deliver the training, both in terms of help with exams and practical skills to the successful applicants.

    A benefit for those getting involved is that firms that sponsor a place have a first port of call when it comes to recruiting, as when and they are ready to hire. That could be straightaway, or it could be next year.

    For example, a firm might sponsor five places, then come to us looking for two paraplanners and three people partway through their diploma in a specific region.

    We can then try to match that up from our database of students, meaning they’ve effectively prefunded their future recruitment costs.

    If a company sponsored five places but wanted 10 new hires there would be a recruitment fee for the additional five, and that fee would go straight back in the pot as it’s entirely a not-for-profit initiative.

    The idea is this then becomes its own ecosystem, a nice cycle of bringing people in and getting them out into jobs in finance.

    The response so far

    We held a live event on 1 October where we announced the initiative (among many other things!), and we’ve had amazingly positive feedback since then.

    Some brave advisers have gone straight to our website and clicked the button to pledge to support a trainee, which is phenomenal.

    We had a conversation recently with one large advice firm which has come up with a nice way of implementing this.

    As they grow and bring new advisers in, they plan to build a contribution to the initiative into their adviser contracts, once an adviser starts to earn above a certain level a year.

    This firm sees it as getting involved with building up the profession more broadly, and helping their firm in future as well as future recruits.

    And that’s just one firm, others we’ve spoken to have ideas on how this feeds into their corporate social responsibility agenda, and others see it as a way to progress their equality, diversity and social mobility agendas.

    We have been asked: “What’s in it for you and for Verve?”

    It genuinely comes down to the fact that if the finance sector starts to shrink, so too does the number of clients for us all.

    While there’s nothing in it for us in terms of money, the bigger financial services is an industry, the more clients there are for everyone.

    It’s a longer-term aim for us, which is why we’re more than happy to run it, facilitate it and do the training.

    But for the initiative to go as big as it potentially could, we have started to talk to partners to help fund the marketing campaign to attract candidates in the first place. It’s perhaps a bigger project than I first realised, and bigger than something I can just do over the weekend!

    There will be firms who aren’t ready to commit to an additional expense (albeit a relatively small one), or firms who feel it’s a great idea, but not right now. That’s understandable.

    Equally, there will be early adopters, firms who proactively come to us and add their own ideas, and that’s exciting. It’s fine for us to have the initial seed of an idea, but people taking it and thinking how they can do something to help, that’s what will make the difference.

    Next steps

    The plan is to have the first cohort start in January, and then build out a marketing campaign from there. We’ve got some ideas already about how we can get people to really think about finance in a different way.

    What’s good is our courses have already been built for people with little to no financial services knowledge.

    In practice, the majority of people who have been through the courses did have some finance experience, which helped them.

    But for one of the women on our very first cohort, her first day in financial services was her welcome day with The Art of Finance. She’s now about to sit her last exam and get her diploma.

    Ultimately, this initiative is about being true to our values. As a company we say that we’re bold, so we wouldn’t be staying true to that if we didn’t dare to do something different.

    We appreciate it’s not easy to pivot and change all the time. People might look at us and say: “That’s easy for The Verve group to say, ‘do something different’.”

    But having gone through that change process ourselves, and feeling confident about where we are as a business, we wanted to ask what else we could do.

    The initiative is big in its scope, yet it only requires a small change at an individual level. But if you get volume and scale, it’s much like a ripple effect and the systemic change it creates would be huge.

    It may be that it takes a few years to see the impact of this, and it may be that at the end of it all we only bring 10 people through. But that’s still an extra 10 people.

    For me, there’s something about putting your head above the parapet, and daring to just do something.

    Even if sponsoring a place isn’t for everyone, hopefully it’ll encourage people to think about what they can do to protect the industry, or help tackle any one of the problems we face in financial services.

    In the same way as other sponsorship or giving, I like to think of it like this.

    I may not be able to physically do anything else; I don’t have the time, and I haven’t got the capacity for a big project. But I can set up a direct debit and I can sleep at night, knowing that I’m doing something.

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