Finally, after more than a year of social distancing, live in-person events are back. Banking Hall, an art deco gem nestled within the City of London, played host to The Verve Group’s Evolution Summit last week, designed for anyone with ‘an interest and personal commitment to improving financial services from within’.

    After all those virtual meetings it was a welcome opportunity to mingle over coffee and canapés (canapés have really come on over the last 18 months) and to meet many people for the very first time in the flesh.

    Apart from the hand sanitiser in the goody bag, and the eerily quiet London streets, the event felt no different from any other. But perhaps mindful of the fact that we’ve all become used to short and snappy webinars (often viewed in the comfort our own pyjamas) the organisers pulled out a dazzling line up, in beautiful surroundings, designed to keep our delicate attention spans for as long as possible.

    So what of the content? 

    The Verve Group designed its summit and awards event to be a meeting of minds: ‘full to the brim of creative thinking and inspiring thought-leadership’. It believes now is the time to ‘unite the positive and like-minded, with a view of working together to effect real change’.

    The group’s founder and CEO Cathi Harrison explained that in evolutionary terms, the profession is at a pivotal moment: rather than progress that merely trots along at a steady pace, evolving gradually, we’re experiencing ‘punctuated equilibrium’: long periods of no change followed by rapid periods of change.

    Evolution

    This jerky pace has its own benefits and drawbacks, as the speakers explored individually.

    Tech is the game changer

    Paul Grimes of The Financial Planning Standards Board took a macro view of things: where is society at large and how does this translate into the future of financial advice? He asked.

    The answer is that, even more than changes in regulation or client demographics, it’s technology that will affect us most.

    “We need more tech,” he said. “Tech is actually an aid to us. The days of going to financial adviser to get a product have pretty much gone. That notion of expertise around products is changing and the tech is no longer seen as threat it once was.”

    He shared recent research that said the top three needs that CFP professionals expect to address in the next five years are retirement security, and managing inheritance. Investment planning comes third; seven years ago, this would have been top. These changes require us to embrace the softer skills shared by CFP professionals globally he said: building trust, client advocacy, coaching, counselling and effective communication.

    Paul said it was great to see profession already reacting to this, and to see business models changing. Since Covid-19, 37% have increased their involvement in managing client emotions and many said they intend to learn more about behavioural finance, aging issues and coaching in the future.  

    Ending on an even more positive note, he said 82% agree that consumer demand for financial planning services will increase over the next five years.

    Not if your prospect is Steven Barlett though

    The 29-year-old founder of the social media marketing agency Social Chain, and newest dragon in BBC’s den, had some sobering comments to make about financial planning.

    “Innovation is coming for you and it’s coming for your business,” he said.

    “Disrupters like Robin Hood and Revolut have changed the game. People don’t understand the magnitude of what’s happening. We’re all investors now; we’re investors in Facebook, Adobe, Hargreaves Lansdown; it really has shifted. Most conversations I have with my friends now are about money and savings. Crytpo has done a huge job of making investment cool.”

    So the appetite is there, but the problem is that no one he knows is going to see a financial planner.

    “If you want to appeal to those people you have to meet them on the platforms they live in,” he said. “Otherwise it’s going to be like pulling a donkey up a hill. I don’t make phone calls, I use apps. If you do that, I’m looking for it, but I’m not going to book a meeting with you.”

    His call to arms was for the audience to disrupt themselves. “If you don’t try these things and find new ways to experiment with new models then someone somewhere else will, and they’ll eat you for lunch,” he said. “It’ll be someone who has nothing to lose.

    Supporting each other and promoting the profession

    But while all that’s going on, let’s support each other, said Keith Richards, Chairman of the Financial Vulnerability Taskforce, because the profession needs all the help it can get.

    The industry has evolved to a recognised profession, the government recognises this, but there needs to be a change to the way we’re perceived by clients as a profession.

    “We all have a role to play in how society sees the profession and we should be proud of the role it plays in transforming peoples’ lives,” he says. “It’s too easy to be judgemental,” he said, citing the too-easy tendency to criticise people who are doing things differently, especially on social media. “There’s no perfect business model, so we should all support and respect our differences in approach.” Cut to a couple of bravely re-written tweets, acknowledging the fact.

    The Verve Group promised to ‘rip up the rule book on traditional conferences’ and it didn’t disappoint, closing with the most pressing question of them all: “Is a hotdog a sandwich?” “It’s a disrupter sandwich,” said Steve Bartlett. 

    I’ve been thinking about this for days.

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