The starting point for Project 2030 came about in the run-up to lockdown, and our thinking around how we would be affected as a business.
As a team we started to talk about the impact of Covid-19, what that might to do to our company, what it might to do to financial services and broadly, what it might do to the world.
Our modelling was quite pessimistic at the time (along the lines of ‘plan for the worst, hope for the best’), assuming a 50 per cent drop in income for three months.
As part of that, I began thinking about what would be the drivers for that potential drop in income, such as advisers not being able to get out and see their clients, and what might happen next.
We figured some firms would adapt and start seeing clients online, and some wouldn’t.
I also thought the world would look very different as we come out the other side of this. It was like trying to have a crystal ball without actually having one. What does this all mean? What will the new world look like?
It felt like there was going to be a huge amount of change in financial services. It's a change that would have happened gradually, over the next 10 years, but has since been condensed into a few months.
I said to the team: “If this is what’s going to happen, then this is what needs to happen for us too.”
We had to ask ourselves where are we heading, and what our development plans would look like over the next five to 10 years.
Once we had that, it was a case of getting our heads down and building that now so that we’re ready. That’s where the idea for Project 2030 came from.
New ways of working
I recently discovered the term ‘punctuated equilibrium’, where instead of a gradual evolution, you get this spike and this massive burst of change. I think that’s what is happening now.
In time, this pace of change will probably settle back down. For the Verve Group, when lockdown lifts I don’t think we’ll stay exactly as we are now in terms of remote working.
We are ‘people people’ and financial services is a people business. That’s probably why robo-advice hasn’t really taken off – it’s missing that human element.
There will be some firms who go back to the way they were working before, and that’s absolutely fine. That may be because clients want and need that very personal service.
Yet I also believe there shouldn’t just be one answer, or one way of doing things.
As a business owner, and probably this goes for a lot of business owners, it's not a case of what I used to do versus what I can do. It’s about looking at your business and asking: What makes sense for my business now?
For example, we moved into our new offices in January. It’s a beautiful office and I love it.
When we moved in, it dawned on me that we were going to outgrow the space really quickly. But now, while I might need to look at additional space in the future, it won’t be as soon as I thought.
I now have people who actively want to work from home. As a business owner, that absolutely makes sense to me. My team are happier, I can save on office costs, and they can save on travel.
Admittedly, there can be difficulties with working remotely.
Take our Project 2030 work – that’s the kind of thing where you want people in a room together, able to feed off each other’s energy. But actually we’ve still been able to make sure people are on track via Zoom.
Businesses will be able to pick and choose the best ways of working that work for them.
The human/tech split
When we launched Apricity Compliance, we described it as being a 50/50 split, with 50 per cent technology and 50 per cent humans and services.
This was always in the belief that over the next 10 years the technology element would grow and grow.
Consider a brand new adviser coming into financial services, and they're in their 30s.
They’re used to doing everything on their phone. They start at a firm, and the firm tells them: “You need to block out a full Friday a month to do compliance”, they would just think it's madness.
So we were already building Apricity for that kind of future.
But again, it's just about accelerating it and realising that those kinds of advisers are going to come through sooner. Existing advisers too have embraced technology more widely and sooner than they might have otherwise.
We wanted to take that approach and then not just apply it to compliance, but with everything.
What's happened with the current crisis is advisers have realised the advice process can be done entirely online.
The same goes for platforms and providers, which have found new ways to innovate in terms of dealing with clients and moving away from wet signatures.
Project 2030 has resulted in 10 years’ worth of development in 10 weeks.
For us it’s no longer about just doing paraplanning or compliance or our other services, but offering an outsourced remote online option for the end-to-end advice journey.
We take care of the technology, while advisers can concentrate on seeing their clients, an area where they likely want to spend more of their time anyway.
Evolving suitability reports
The kinds of things we’ve developed as part of this include our digital, interactive suitability reports that clients receive via an app.
Because when you stop to think about it, why are you printing out a 40-page Word document to post out to them?
These are things we’ve always done so we just keep doing them, and then something like this crisis happens which makes you question why you’re doing it that way.
The team has been amazing in thinking about things differently.
We essentially carved out a project team, and imagined starting over – that is, these are the FCA’s requirements for a suitability report – how would you design a report if there were no other rules and nothing else existed?
Collectively as a profession we’ve said for a long time that suitability reports aren’t well received, to put it mildly.
Advisers explain things to clients as part of their conversations with them, and clients trust that advice.
As paraplanners we try to make it more engaging with the use of tables, colours and graphics. But ultimately, it’s still a 40-page document that very few clients read.
How we’ve tried to approach it is not just moving these reports online, but making them interactive.
If a client wants to check their understanding about pensions, they can click that part of the report to bring up a three-minute video. Or they click another part and it’s an animated graphic.
It’s almost like gamification. Even if clients don’t go through the whole thing, they can play around with the report and bring it to life a bit more. It’s trying to give clients the necessary information in a way they’ll find interesting.
For our other brands, the face-to-face training we offered through The Art of Finance has been repackaged and moved online, and we’re changing the way we deliver events through Apricity as well.
We’re conscious of Zoom fatigue setting in, so we’re developing more immersive online events, as seen at our launch party.
What the future holds
With all this development, it’s a bit like a thread – you keep pulling at it and realising something’s got to change, which leads to something else needing to change, and so on.
It’s challenging enough to rebuild a business in two months in normal circumstances, let alone in lockdown.
We’ve missed brainstorming with each other in person, and a few of us are working reduced hours due to childcare.
I’m definitely excited about everything we’ve worked on, but it has also been intense.
We’ve continued to work as we did before, supporting advisers through lockdown. I won’t have to turn one way of working off to turn this on, as the different approaches have been run side by side.
Perhaps it’ll be a case of people not knowing what they want until they see it.
Nobody knew for example, that you could have an interactive suitability report, but as soon as you develop something like that it helps people realise what the options could be.
From my perspective, I’ve always found it a pain to find time to see an accountant or a solicitor because they only offer appointments from 9-5.
For advisers, it’s great to be able to say to busy clients, perhaps executives or entrepreneurs, let’s do a 30-minute Zoom meeting. A lot of people prefer that.
As much as we all love and value the depth and detail of financial advice, I don't think clients always do. Sometimes, they just want the headlines.
They want to know that you’ve done what you said you were going to do, and that they're on track with their goals. I think some people will actively want to keep working in this way.
Businesses don't need to be just thinking locally now. Maybe you could run a TV campaign, and build a nationwide service?
There’s that opportunity now, and more options available to people. It'll be interesting to see how advisers take advantage of that opportunity, and what they do with it.