As we head towards the end of the year it is natural to reflect on how things have gone. 

    There is little I can say to add any further insight into just what a difficult year it has been for everyone. 

    Many of us have been touched by more than mere inconvenience, but by tragedy and loss. I also know many who have either caught the virus themselves, or had to watch family members as they battled through it.

    Many also have family, friends and clients who are in front-line services. It makes you really appreciate just how hard they've had to work to keep the nation ticking over - even if we can’t fully comprehend the particular stresses they face.

    This is not to diminish in any way the real issues and massive impact this year has had on our businesses, our team-mates, our clients and ourselves. 

    The daily challenges of effective business, staying positive and working as efficiently as possible within the restrictions has been immense.

    However, I am a glass at least half full type.

    Despite all the issues that have challenged us as we've operated apart from each other and away our clients, I actually believe we've managed to grow together more as a sector.

    Thankfully the technology has been pretty much up to par, which wouldn't have been the case even five years ago, particularly at the video conferencing end. This has enabled us to keep talking, communicating and operating.

    But I think it has done much more. It has reinvigorated our sector networking and learning.

    Making virtual (and better) connections

    As a sector, virtually at least, we have met more, spoken more, caught up with each other, made each other laugh and picked each other up as best we could.

    While much of the usual social activity was off the table in terms of catching up at the pub or restaurant or at conferences and seminars we still did it, just in a different way. What's more, we did it well and more often.

    Speaking personally, and this may be the case for a lot of us, it really seemed like we shared much more. 

    From NextGen Planners' morning commutes, our own weekly virtual drinks and big asks, through to The Lang Cat's Home Games and many more besides, we have turned up, got involved and kept supporting each other. 

    And that's before we mention webinars, seminars, quizzes and virtual video charity fundraisers. 

    I believe we have caught up with more colleagues, friends and peers and learned more than we might ordinarily have done. I certainly have.

    We have been creative, supportive and community-spirited, and I believe we have broadened our networks and circles of peers and contacts as a result. This can only be a good thing.

    To be able to sit at virtual tables with people we admire but had not yet met, people we knew but had not seen for a while or to be able to access a multitude of speakers and presenters has been just brilliant.

    Never before has continuing professional development (CPD) been more available, engaging and informative than it is now. 

    For those who love picking up the stress balls, jelly beans and Moleskine notebooks, or meeting pals at the bar at conferences, I understand this may not have been as rewarding.

    But even so, I don’t think I've known of more learning and networking opportunities, of such quality and so readily and freely available, than we've had this year in all the years I've been in financial services.

    It hasn’t just been the professional bodies, events companies and publishers who have driven the bar higher either. 

    Training companies, financial planning practices, marketing agencies, platforms, industry consultants and other commentators have all pushed to meet higher standards on interactive education and sector engagement, and this really looks set to continue.

    We have mastered the tech, got our heads around what we want to attend and support and what we want to deliver out to clients and team-mates. 

    Those we serve are also pushing us for more resources and support, and of more quality. When we take all this together, this can only be good for the sector in general and for the financial planning profession in particular.

    So, I will close by saying a huge thank you for all the sharing and caring I've experienced this year. For the fun and laughter, despite the odds and the challenges we continue to endure. 

    We have proven we are resilient, adaptable and willing to help each other learn and grow, both personally and professionally.

    All that being said, I wish you all well - here's to a return to the pubs and restaurants in 2021!

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