There is a lot of talk about the advice gap and the need to serve different or younger clients.
What is less discussed is the ‘how’: how to bridge the advice gap and get planning services out to more people that could benefit from them, and to do so in a profitable and scalable way.
It’s an issue that had been niggling away at Jenny Madhoo, a chartered financial planner at Acumen Financial Planning, for a while. As the newest planner in the firm, Jenny naturally became the first port of call for new enquiries, but found many people fell outside of Acumen’s target clients.
She says: “I was actually quite surprised at the number of young people getting in touch that had some savings, or maybe even no savings, but who were just trying to figure out how to start things off.
“Sometimes I could help them a little bit and have a chat without giving any advice. Or there were times when I could do a one-off piece of work for them. But I didn't like having to effectively turn people away because our service wasn't designed for them.
“That planted a bit of a seed in my brain about coming up with a solution that could serve them. I thought: how great would it be if whoever picks up the phone to get in touch, you never have to turn them away, because there's a service within our group of companies that will work for them?”
And so the idea for SpringGen Advice was born.
The seed for SpringGen
Following university, Jenny started her financial services career at the investment firm Ingenious, within its client services team. She then left to take up a similar role with a different fund manager.
In speaking to advisers and planners day in and day out, Jenny began to be attracted to the world of advice. She had started to self-fund herself through her exams when she was made redundant as part of a company restructure. This allowed her to take up an admin role at Connor Broadley, a financial planning firm based in London. From there, she became a paraplanner and surprised herself by enjoying the technical aspects of the role. Jenny describes herself as a “hands-on” paraplanner, taking part in meetings and presenting cashflow modelling to clients.
She then spent some time at Baigrie Davies before moving to Aberdeen with her partner and joining the paraplanning team at Anderson Anderson & Brown. By this time, she’d been having conversations to train up as an adviser and took up her role with Acumen in December 2018 to complete her transition into financial planning.
Jenny found herself speaking to a range of different people, who’d come either via referrals or places like Unbiased or Vouched For. However, there was sometimes a disconnect between the enquiries that were coming in and the typical clients that Acumen works with, usually those with minimum investable assets of £250,000.
Uncomfortable with the idea of having to turn people away, Jenny started to develop her vision for a service that would cater to younger clients – essentially, a service for people like her. She began working on the idea in her spare time, researching how to write a business plan and exploring fee models. She also took advantage of the mentorship schemes offered through the Chartered Insurance Institute and the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment. She says this kept her focused but also kept her accountable.
After about six months of working in this way, Jenny got to the point where she had a fully-formed idea of what she wanted the proposition to look like. So what now?
“I’d been with Acumen for about a year, and it was going really well, so I didn’t want to disrupt that. I ended up speaking to Michelle Hoskin [of Standards International] about it, who said: ‘Just tell your bosses about it. What have you got to lose?’
“I realised that was a great idea. Sandy [Robertson, Acumen’s managing director] is an entrepreneur himself, and all of the bosses I’ve ever had, he’s likely to be the most receptive to this. And so I pitched it the board – which was terrifying!”
But there was no need for Jenny to have been concerned. The Acumen directors backed her idea wholeheartedly. They lent their support in setting up SpringGen Advice as a joint venture between Jenny and The Financial Planning Group, the umbrella group of companies of which Acumen is a part.
Building a business in lockdown
Once Acumen was on board, Jenny and the team spent a further 12 months building and developing SpringGen, before launching the business at the beginning of this year. She says being able to draw on the existing expertise and knowledge of her Acumen colleagues was invaluable.
“I was comfortable with how I wanted the client experience to be because that's the part I've always worked in. But while I had the outcome in mind that I wanted, I've never had to do marketing campaigns, build a website or worry about FCA paperwork and platform due diligence.
“I had to learn pretty quickly, but I really enjoyed it. It's been a really fun process. There have obviously been tough moments as well. But now, looking back on it, it's been a great way to learn a lot in a very short space of time.”
Perhaps some people would have been deterred from trying to build a business during a pandemic, but for Jenny, it was just a case of switching from discussing things face-to-face to working on documents together over Zoom.
“Maybe naively it didn’t put me off, partly because I didn’t think what was going on would last as long as it has. But everyone on the team was so enthusiastic, and that helped us to push each other along.
“It was almost a proof of concept as well, what with SpringGen being a digital business. Obviously, we went online with our Acumen client meetings, and clients were totally fine with that. So that kind of proved to me that clients are happy to have Zoom meetings and work online.”
SpringGen’s levels of service are geared around the component parts of financial planning: financial education, goal-setting and money management (see box for more details).
Jenny has adopted what she describes as a “pick and mix” approach – rather than paying one cost to access services that aren’t needed, clients can choose (and pay for) the elements that are most relevant to them.
The SpringGen model
- MoneyInsights: Financial education delivered through pre-recorded videos. First series is called Investing 101, which is an introduction to the stockmarket and ways to invest. Prices from £75
- MoneyActionPlan: Goal setting, broken down into two services – a money health check and the roadmap service. The health check helps clients assess their personal finance knowledge, while the roadmap helps clients understand what they’re saving or investing for, and how much and how often they need to contribute. The health check costs £195 as a one-off fee, while the roadmap costs £425 as a one-off fee.
- MoneyManagement: Investment advice and setting up Isas, pensions and general investment accounts. Prices from £375 for initial set-up and monthly subscription from £25. Those with over £80,000 to invest are charged 0.75 per cent a year.
For example, the goal-setting element includes a roadmap service, evolved from Acumen’s retirement calculator for those that don’t need a full cashflow model. Clients put in their savings goals, how much they’ve saved already and when they need the money, and the calculator will tell them how much they need to save or invest to get them to where they want to be.
Following a client meeting, the calculator is turned into a roadmap, with the different goals coming off it and how much is needed for each, accompanied by tips on saving and other useful information. Clients then end up with a two-page roadmap that they can take away.
“This may be a bit old-fashioned because it requires a printout. But the way I picture it is clients then have something to stick on their fridge and can look at it to remind themselves of where they’re heading.”
Progress since launch
It’s still very early days for SpringGen, but the business is already starting to gain traction and attract clients. As Jenny and Acumen had hoped, the initial launch has seen clients come via internal referrals, with the children and grandchildren of Acumen clients coming on board. The ultimate aim is to expand SpringGen to be UK-wide and beyond Acumen’s current heartland of Aberdeen.
So far, clients have ranged from their twenties – the youngest being 21 – to their mid-forties. Many have come to SpringGen at the point where they’re ready to invest but not sure how to go about it, so have opted for the MoneyManagement service.
Jenny believes this is where the ‘pick and mix’ style of services comes into its own. Her hope is that as clients get excited about their money building up, they can add on the roadmap service as and when they’re ready to get more specific about their saving and investing goals.
At a wider level, while the issue of the advice gap is well recognised, there can sometimes be pushback about the insistence to serve different markets or younger clients. Jenny agrees that planners shouldn’t have to be all things to all people and has designed SpringGen with that in mind.
“The argument against everyone being expected to serve everyone is a fair one. I wouldn't expect the same company to be able to serve 21-year-olds and 71-year-olds because they need a totally different thing and will be in a totally different place in life. So I've been quite deliberate about the pieces of software and the processes I've chosen for SpringGen, because I want to make it as light touch as possible.”
She says there will always be millennials and younger people who choose to manage their investments directly and those who prefer the DIY route regardless of age.
“My dad's 65, and he does DIY investing. He still won't take my advice, even though he knows I'm a chartered financial planner! But I also know there are those out there that still want a person to give them advice because they're my friends and friends of friends.
“I think people are a bit intimidated by finance and by financial advisers because they hear negative stories or think finance is like The Wolf of Wall Street and get put off. So I'm just hopeful that for those people that want advice, that either we’ll find them or that they'll find us.”
Looking to the future
SpringGen was born not just out of the nature of the enquiries Jenny was getting, but because she could also see the need among her circle of friends – young professionals who didn’t know where to start when it came to investing.
There was also a disconnect for her between the messages you hear about personal finance and the reality.
“You always hear ‘the sooner you start, the better.’ So why is it there are people that want to do that, who are going to the effort of reaching out to a financial planning company, only to be shot down because they haven’t already got lots of money.
“That's the bit that jars with me. I know there are people out there that want to start, but they end up in a kind of decision paralysis. They can do so much research or come across people on social media bragging about making loads of money on things like Bitcoin. That leaves this impression that everyone else is doing it, but they don't know what to do. They're not confident to make the first move on their own.”
Services like SpringGen aim to be that bridge, to say: yes, this is the right thing for you to do. Jenny compares it to learning a new language and being overwhelmed by all the information available.
By way of an example, one of her friends is a successful professional who works long hours. So while she has the money to invest, she doesn’t have the time or the inclination to manage this herself. As Jenny says: “She's got maybe one hour of spare time in the evening, she's not going to spend it researching investment Isas.”
Jenny is excited about the future for SpringGen, and says every week there are positive conversations and developments to be proud of.
“Much of financial planning has been done in a certain way because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say. It’s hard to know what to do about the advice gap, and it’s not easy to step out of the usual way of working. But I wanted to try.”
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