Amyr Rocha-Lima is someone who is committed to personal and professional development.
His desire to continue to grow and develop has served him in good stead, and most recently has seen him become partner at Kingston-based Holland Hahn & Wills after a year of joining the business.
His perspective on financial planning reflects not only an international upbringing, but a couple of significant moments in his life where he came to really grasp the importance of the profession, and the power of retirement planning in particular.
He says: “At the beginning my professional development ambitions were to get the Certificate in Financial Planning (CertPFS), and while I was doing that, that was my world.
"It’s almost like a video game – when you achieve one level and proceed to the next stage, you realise the world is a little bigger. Then you get to the next stage, and the world’s a little bigger again.
“When you look at my career journey, at every point when I thought I had seen everything I wanted to see, I found there was another door I hadn’t opened. When you open that door you start from scratch again, but I’m happy with that. I’m happy to be a life-long learner.”
From global to local
By the time he was 17 years old, Amyr had lived in three countries spanning three continents. Amyr’s father is an economist, and someone who was studying globalisation when it was first becoming a thing.
As a result his parents were keen to provide their children with an international education. The family moved from Brazil to Australia when Amyr was about four, and back again five years later. He then went to America to do his last year of school as an exchange student.
Amyr then moved to the UK and lived in Bristol for a time, before getting into the London School of Economics to study international relations. He had initially wanted to pursue a career in acting, but figured a degree would be a good fall-back plan in case the acting thing didn’t work out.
As it turned out, international relations didn’t work out either and Amyr left LSE to strike out on his own.
"What I saw very quickly was there was a clear professional qualifications track that sat alongside a career track. I had found a job that matched technical qualifications to my everyday role, and I loved that."
He went back to Bristol, where a friend who worked in the staff café at Axa put him in touch with Axa’s human resources department. Not quite au fait with the required corporate dress code, Amyr turned up to his first interview in chinos, after which point he says he learned to smarten up pretty quickly.
He started out as telephone-based broker consultant, and gradually got to know the world of offshore bonds and wealth management.
“What I saw very quickly was there was a clear professional qualifications track that sat alongside a career track. Providing I could study, and that I could understand certain topics and pass the exams, there was a direct route to being promoted, and getting a chance to do different things. I had found a job that matched technical qualifications to my everyday role, and I loved that.”
He gives credit to Axa for the quality of its training, and the way the company encouraged everyone to strive to achieve. This allowed him to move up the ranks to become a telephone relationship manager with a portfolio of IFA accounts, and later to become a field-based broker consultant in London.
The recruitment process for the field-based role was pretty competitive, with 70 internal applicants eventually whittled down to four. It was a process that also took Amyr through the required Chartered Insurance Institute exams, as well as training on presenting and negotiating.
Five years into his tenure at Axa, Amyr was headhunted by MetLife, who were just beginning to offer their guaranteed products to the UK market. The culture shifted from that of a French company to an American one that was more sales and target-led, but Amyr says he continued to benefit from internal support and a company that was big on soft skills.
An encounter with Joe Jordan
It was while at MetLife that Amyr began to find his way to find his way to financial planning. The first pivotal moment came when he heard former MetLife senior vice president Joe Jordan address a room full of UK advisers.
“Joe Jordan is pretty legendary when it comes to financial services. Seeing him present made a whole bunch of things click in my professional life, and finally understand what it was that I was actually doing.”
Amyr was running CPD seminars for advisers, and had brought Joe in to give a product presentation.
“But Joe didn’t talk about MetLife’s products. He spoke to advisers about the good that advisers do. That was a new experience for some firms – to be told by the vice-president of an international company that they were actually doing a good job.
“Joe built on that and said that when it comes to retirement planning in particular, what financial planners are delivering is dignity and independence. That message really struck a chord with me. I then started selling my services to advisers on that basis – helping them deliver dignity and independence to their clients. It changed the whole conversation.”
At this point, the advice sector was still two years away from the RDR, so the concept of providers having planning-led conversations rather than product-led ones was still novel.
This theme of dignity and independence was to reappear again, though in a more personal and difficult context.
At last year’s Back2Y conference Amyr stood in front of 500 delegates and told the story of how he came to realise he should be a financial planner.
He explained how he had gone back to Brazil for Christmas and New Year’s to be with his family as his grandfather, a man he looked up to and admired, battled with motor neurone disease. It was a disease that eventually claimed his grandfather’s life.
Recounting this now, Amyr says: “Even as he suffered throughout this horrible disease, he was able to maintain a level of dignity and independence in his retirement.”
His grandfather died without financial worries, and surrounded by his family.
“That didn’t happen by luck. I finally understood that that’s what I could help people with. I could use my area of expertise to do good financial planning, focused on retirement.
"The only way I could do that was by cutting out the middle man, and in my case, the middle man was me. I was the person getting in between the client and the IFA. So on the first day of the RDR, 1 January 2013, I became a financial planner.”
The way to Holland Hahn & Wills
Amyr joined a traditional IFA firm, and started to learn about life on the other side of the fence as a client-facing adviser. He began to mingle with others in the profession at various conferences, and to understand more about comprehensive financial planning and what it entailed.
“I was figuring out that there was more to this thing called financial planning than I thought, and I wasn’t sure there was a way for me to do that kind of planning at the firm I was at. This culminated in me over the years putting my hand in my own pocket to train myself, both on the technical side of things with further professional examinations, but also on soft skills training and life planning training.
“I felt I was doing great work, but got to the point where I wanted to do more than matching a product to a need. I wanted to understand, what next?”
He found his way to Holland Hahn & Wills through what he calls “a bit of serendipity”, via the matchmaking skills of Brett Davidson.
“As I was talking to Brett about my career aspirations and the sort of things I wanted to do, he mentioned there was a firm that was starting to think about their succession planning.
"They weren’t too far away from where I lived, and they were looking for a qualified financial planner who ‘got’ comprehensive financial planning and was up for the challenge of starting the firm’s succession planning. That’s when we started talking, and the rest is history.”
In the two years that Amyr has been with Holland Hahn & Wills he has put his business development experience to good use, building a professional network in and around Kingston upon Thames with solicitors and accountants.
He has also built up a bit of a media profile, writing articles and taking part in roundtable debates which help to raise the profile of retirement planning and to share best practice. Amyr is strategic in his approach, helping journalists where he can but also where it fits with the firm’s services.
It was this same attitude of saying yes to opportunities that led him to present at Back2Y last year.
Wow!— Amyr Rocha-Lima, CFP® (@a_rochalima) September 12, 2018
Sharing my story w/ 500 financial planners from all over the world! If I‘ve inspired people by anywhere near the amount of love they’ve shown me today, then I’m gonna count it as a job well done.
Thank you!#Back2Y #AlwaysLearning pic.twitter.com/q0zLjSDkLJ
“It was very daunting. Paul Armson is very passionate about this event. But when he approached me about speaking, I said yes straightaway. He said: ‘That’s a quick yes!’ But I knew what Back2Y was about, and I wanted to inspire other people to realise the good we do in this profession.
“He gave me free rein to build a 20-minute presentation, which was all about how my career journey took me to a place where I connected the dots between what I do for a living and my own family’s story, and how that made me even more passionate about financial planning.
"So it was an amazing experience, but super nerve-wracking. The feedback was amazing – I felt a lot of love from that audience. That put me at ease, and made me think I was right to say yes.”
Ripe for disruption
Just as Amyr is dedicated to life-long learning, Holland Hahn & Wills is a firm that’s committed to retirement planning, and very happy to keep this as its focus.
Amyr acknowledges there are other client segments are out there, but the firm’s view is the simple passage of time will mean that - as people get older - they will fall into the retirement planning space, meaning more potential clients to serve and help.
They want to be well known locally and respected as a firm that delivers a great service for clients thinking about their retirement. The simple elevator pitches are sometimes the best.
Like many, Amyr struggles with the role of technology in the advice process, in that systems designed to make planners’ lives easier don’t always achieve that core objective.
“There are a couple of areas in our business that are ripe for disruption. Unfortunately, a lot of the technology systems we use still don’t talk to each other. They’re great in and of themselves, but we still need to employ people to join everything up and make sure it’s all compliant in the back office.”
He says multiple systems are made that much more difficult to navigate due to different providers having different requirements, which in turn creates further work.
At a glance: Holland Hahn & Wills
Company launched: 1990
Number of clients: 145 families
Number of staff: 10
In a nutshell: We deliver financial peace of mind, allowing our clients to enjoy a worry-free retirement and concentrate on what really matters to them.
Amyr points to the development of the smartphone, an unexpected product that within a decade changed the way people lived their daily lives.
“In the not-too-distant future, there’s got to be some unification as to how one not only requests information on different client accounts, but that allows you to comprehensively switch accounts or whatever the task happens to be without the heavy administrative burden that goes with that.
“All we need in the next 10 years is for technology to change something completely unrelated to our field, to change the culture around what we’re able to do for clients.”
Amyr believes parts of the traditional advice process are quickly being commoditised, with elements such as investment management that can be delivered by algorithms at low cost, round the clock, with little effort.
He anticipates more firms will focus on the soft skills that are not as easily commoditised, “whether you want to call that lifestyle financial planning, financial life planning or behavioural coaching.”
“The bottom line is we have a responsibility to get better at understanding our clients’ lives and what’s important to them. Our biggest value is in joining the dots between their money and the life they want to achieve - and maintain - throughout retirement. There is a massive opportunity here.”
He adds: “I am optimistic that more of us are going to see that this is where the value is. Because when a client experiences that, they go: ‘Wow, why has nobody ever had this chat with me before?’ For me, that’s the power of delivering life-focused financial planning.”