That bar has been raised following an incredibly successful event from the Personal Finance Society at the Birmingham NEC last week. Promising the biggest gathering of advice professionals, the Personal Finance Society delivered a remarkable conference with its festival theme.
I had the privilege of spending two days at the Festival of Financial Planning not running between workshops, panel discussions and keynote speakers, but instead letting the experts come to me. Sitting in a Perspex box on the edge of the central Village Green, I was able to interview 39 of the speakers and exhibitors for Festival Radio, a series of short podcast episodes and the basis for an Internet radio station which played out across the conference hall.
These conversations, along with many others, were a great opportunity to take the pulse of the Financial Planning profession. I had more on and off the record chats about the current issues, concerns and priorities of our community in those two days than I could count.
One recurring conversation was around the opportunities and risks of defined benefit pension transfer advice. For many Financial Planners, demand for advice on whether to take or leave a cash equivalent transfer value seems to have rejuvenated previously sluggish businesses.
There are big challenges here for our profession too. We heard several stories about vulture-like advisers hanging around the factory gates in South Wales, charging £20,000 or more to transfer members out of the British Steel Pension Scheme. Those advisers who appear to be approaching the delivery of services to members of this scheme in a comprehensive and ethical way have limited capacity, exposing thousands who need to make a quick decision to less scrupulous individuals.
A lot of people spoke about the challenge of getting fresh blood into the profession. It was noticeable that delegates at the Festival included a sizeable younger crowd. The Glastonbury theme catered well for ageing rockers and young punks, with the latter exhibiting a new found confidence to make positive change in our profession.
We all seem to be doing a much better job at sharing our messages with the world. The Festival hashtag (#PFSfestival) was trending on Twitter, at one point as high as the sixth most popular hashtag in the UK. By the end of day one, I spotted that more than 2,500 tweets had been posted using this hashtag, and not all of them by me!
Delegates wanted to talk about regulation and the advice gap. It was positive to see the FCA exhibiting at the Festival, engaging with delegates to hear our concerns and explain their own priorities, including progress on the Financial Advice Market Review.
With the exception of my conversation Sir Vince Cable, there wasn’t much talk about Brexit. Whether delegates feel unthreatened by leaving the European Union, or simply don’t have anything to talk about amidst the uncertainty of current negotiations, it doesn’t seem to be as front of mind as the headlines on Brexit impact on the UK financial services sector might have you believe.
Perhaps the most remarkable takeaway from the Festival was the enthusiasm for acquiring skills rather than product technical knowledge. Judging by some of the queues I witnessed, delegates wanted to better understand behavioural finance, coaching skills and even hostage negotiation. The Personal Finance Society did well to recognise the zeitgeist and cater for these valuable continuing professional development needs.
There are few occasions where I find myself feeling truly positive about the future of our profession. Driving home along the M40 on Wednesday night was one of those times. Bravo to the Personal Finance Society for getting things so right.
Martin Bamford CFPCM Chartered MCSI FPFS
Chartered Financial Planner & Chartered Wealth Manager
SOLLA Accredited Later Life Adviser
Managing Director, Informed Choice