I am well known, in my own firm at least, for my active dislike of terms such as ‘professional adviser’ or ‘helpful banking’ and other such meaningless guff.
Surely, if an adviser is not professional or a bank not helpful they should just stop, turn off the lights and head off home. Stop getting in the way, stop interacting with people who deserve better as the very least that a client (or ‘customer’ in regulator speak) should be able to expect is that we are professional, helpful, technically competent and that we have their best interests at the heart of everything we do. Always. No exceptions, deviations or omissions.
However, none of us start out as the finished article and I would argue that none of us ever truly will be. We can all continually learn from each other and continue to develop of all the skills needed to a truly client-centric trustworthy and technically competent adviser.
Much of this is based around training and coaching. In my firm, as in many others, we have long believed in attaining high standards of professional qualification. When last I checked, of our four advisers, three of us are Chartered (one is too young despite being qualified), two of us are Fellows and we also have QC7 level qualifications. This is no longer unusual and it is fantastic to see how many QC6 and QC7 qualified advisers there are now throughout our profession. I also know a couple of our peers who are now moving on from Masters level qualifications to PhD. Brilliant news for us all as they continue to set the bar ever higher within our young profession.
But very obviously it is not just about professional qualifications, however important they may be. It is also about the softer side of business, always important when dealing with the public and their financial worries.
We must all constantly seek to improve together.
We meet every Monday morning to run through client care issues we have faced, technical questions that have caused some head-scratching and need a wider think tank to resolve. Objection handling, report writing and presentation skills, listening skills, team collaboration, working with professional connections, small group and seminar presentation skills, time management, email etiquette and priority setting. The list is endless and always growing as the team continually add to the list of topics they wish to explore and improve upon.
Much of these we discuss and improve upon internally, we share best practice with each other, what has worked, what doesn’t seem to and why, help from technicians and from our own administrators (a fantastic resource in any firm and sometimes overlooked by advisers) and outside help as appropriate. Outside trainers bring a freshness and new set of eyes and skills and this is great for deep and detailed improvements.
All of this activity is condensed down into individual training plans for each of us. No adviser in my firm is exempt from self-improvement and a friendly but effective form of peer scrutiny to strive for and achieve more. These training plans deliver a focus on the areas mutually agreed for improvement, allow all of us to gain an insight into where we are perceived to require more effort to improve and help us identify centres of knowledge in different skills and disciplines that the whole company can draw upon. We can spot likes, specialisations and downright dislikes of certain subjects and this helps us tailor just how and when issues and subjects are allocated and to whom.
We allow the advisers to choose their own CPD training such as examinations (which we pay for), training, conferences and regular CPD review meetings but only in line with their agreed skills gap and technical improvement needs based on their training plan.
Year in and year out we act in this way and all firmly believe that this is truly continual professional development.