I began my career in financial planning back in 1960, starting my own business in 1972, firstly as a composite broker then specialising in life insurance, pensions and investments. I'm passionate about the future of the profession – and getting more young people to consider a career in financial planning – but the perception of what we do needs to change.
Most people know what other professionals – such as accountants and lawyers – do. But, if you ask the average person on the street what a financial planner does, they have no idea.
For example, I remember meeting with a bank manager just after Richard Butterfield – Ebor’s Managing Director – first joined the company. Richard asked “Do you see us as more similar to accountants or car salesmen?” and the bank manager said "Car salesmen"!
While the profession has changed a lot since Richard asked that question in 1987, there’s still a long way to go before the world sees financial adviser as a profession on the same level as chartered surveyors, for example.
We've got to do something about that if we want to attract the best talent.
It's important to influence university students
One of my biggest achievements, in terms of bringing young people into the profession, was helping to get a BSC degree in financial planning added to the syllabus of the University of Bradford.
The course is sadly no longer running, but we still maintain a close affinity with the university. We currently have two graduates working with us, and it's also how I met Jelena Savonina – our firm's Operations Director.
She studied the BSC course and came to us for an industry placement during her third year. We got on like a house on fire, and she's pretty much been with us ever since.
Jelena is now a key part of our business, and I truly believe she – and people like her – are the future of the profession. She regularly goes to the university to give employment talks to current students and has a never-ending source of new ideas for the business to keep it moving forward.
We can all be a good mentor
I've been in this business for a very long time, but I still remember the impact my bosses had on me when I was first starting out.
For example, the Financial Director at my first job in the 1960s taught me how to believe in – and sell – myself. He could see that my future didn't lie with that company, as I'd already climbed as high as I could go. He taught me to think of myself like a house that I was putting on the market. I needed to polish myself up, advertise myself to the market and take the best offer. Within ten years, I was earning more than him.
On the other hand, I also remember being hurt by my boss at the job that followed. I was extremely successful for most of my tenure, going to the Top 20 dinner three years in a row. I was constantly breaking targets – 180% was the lowest I went.
And then I had a bad year. I had some family issues and my broker – who connected me to clients – moved away. Instead of being in my corner, my boss told me he was disappointed in me. I decided to quit and set up on my own. A blessing for me, but a huge loss for him.
Basically, we need to take our young colleagues under our wing and build their confidence. When Jelena came to us as a student, we were wowed by her. We made special accommodations so she could continue working with us during her final year. This meant she could leave the four jobs she'd been working to make ends meet, and really focus on her studies.
She graduated First Class with Honours, and is now an integral member of our team.
Young people are the key to our industry's future
If young people don't start coming through, the industry will suffer. People will be left to use alternatives such as robo advice, which we know isn't good enough.
Another issue I foresee is that older advisers won't be able to relate to younger clients. There are lots of high-earners in their 30s – my daughter, for example, is one. It's no good for people like her to deal with a 79-year-old adviser like myself.
Young people know nothing other than the digital age, and their requirements are so different. That's why having Jelena in our firm is so important. She did her MBA on the digitalisation of financial planning and IFAs, and is able to offer advice from that perspective.
I think she's exactly the right age for a business like ours and a template for the future. I hope there are more out there who get to see what financial planning really is, and how it can be a rewarding and fulfilling long-term career. It's up to all of us to fly the flag and encourage the next generation to join forces with us - before it's too late.