In this issue we talk to Steve Martin who runs his North West England Planning business from Spain.
Financial Planner: How did you get into Financial Planning and what attracted you to the profession?
Steve Martin CFPCM: I didn't begin life intending to go into finance at all. I actually went to university to study medicine but after three years of that I decided it wasn't for me so I switched to politics and management, then left university still not really sure of what job I wanted to do.
I ended up working in finance almost by accident having replied to an advert asking for trainee managers with no other information or indication of sector. It turned out to be a job selling life assurance products.
My journey into the world of Financial Planning really began when I moved to work for an IFA. Again it was a product-focused role but while there I began working towards Certified Financial Planner certification which taught me what proper Financial Planning was all about.
Since then I have never looked back. I am an ambassador for pure Financial Planning and established Smart Financial through the frustration of wanting to work in an environment where the clients' needs came first.
FP: Can you tell us about your firm? What sort of company is it and what services does it offer? Does it specialise in particular clients or services?
SM: Smart Financial was established five years ago and is an independent fee-based firm. From the outset we have only ever done lifestyle Financial Planning and nothing else and we pride ourselves on being entrepreneurial and innovative in meeting client needs.
I built the business around a vision that it would 'do things differently' and as such every single client gets holistic Financial Planning, every time, without exception. With everything designed to add value to the client experience.
As the firm evolved another idea emerged, the concept of taking the personal Financial Planning approach into the business sector. We now have a specialism working with SME business owners providing an integrated service which helps them with their business Financial Planning and their personal life right through to when they retire and what happens afterwards.
We help them to prioritise their current and future financial needs, help them understand the value of their business and work with them to improve the value of their business prior to sale, giving them control of their exit.
Each month Financial Planner asks a leading planner to share best practice and how they and their colleagues built the firm. In this issue we talk to Steve Martin who runs his North West England Planning business from Spain.
FP: What have been the key lessons you have learned in running your firm and what tips would you pass on to other planners?
SM: It's most important to surround yourself with good people, if you recruit cheap staff they will be more trouble than they are worth.
And do think about investing in the next generation, while hiring graduates and apprentices can be frustrating at times, it not only allows you to bring in employees that you can mould in your own way it also enables you to make a contribution to society, as times are tough for young people looking for a break at the moment.
You should always be prepared to take advice but in the end ensure you make your own decision, it's only by doing that you will have no regrets. And finally, accept that you will make mistakes along the way but make them being brave and being different, not by trying to be like someone else.
FP: How has your team / company changed since the launch of the business and what has the journey been like? How many clients do you have and what's the annual turnover?
SM: The company has changed size and shape significantly to meet the evolving ambitions of the business. Initially starting out as a lifestyle business with just myself and my wife Michelle, we have grown to eight and made some strategically significant appointments to help shape the proposition and service portfolio. We have a Client Experience Manager to ensure delivery of the highest customer care standards; a business consultant to drive the business exit strategy service; and a full-time marketing manager. The business has grown year on year and we now have around 300 clients and a turnover around £600,000.
One significant change happened just over a year ago when I decided to move with the family from the UK to live in Spain. Having spent the last five years advising clients on how best to achieve their lifestyle goals and aspirations it seemed completely logical for me to follow the same process. I wholeheartedly believe in the lifestyle Financial Planning process and as a result I am now doing my version of what we talk about to clients.
There has been no adverse impact from the perspective of running the business, I continue to manage things from my office in Spain and I return to the UK once or twice a month as I need to. Through emails, Skype, FaceTime and the telephone I can easily stay in communication with clients and the team in the office and can even conduct meetings remotely if necessary.
The first five years of the journey have been exciting. I am pleased with the way the firm has developed and I know there is more to come as I have ambitious plans to continue our growth over the next five years. However I am most delighted with the one thing that has never changed, our adherence to the deep-rooted business philosophy of offering holistic Financial Planning to every client, every time.
FP: What has been your greatest source of achievement so far in running your business and what are you proudest of?
SM: My greatest sense of achievement has come from our accreditations and awards. To be one of
the first firms in our region to achieve Accredited Financial Planning FirmTM status was fantastic and we have backed this up with several 'Small Adviser Firm of the Year' award wins. Being recognised by your peers as doing a good job provides a huge sense of satisfaction. I am also pleased that the business has stayed true to its principles of offering pure Financial Planning and that we have not wavered at all, for any reason.
I am proudest of the positive changes that we have been able to affect to our clients' lives. In some cases we have been able to turn people's lives around and move them from being very unhappy to a much better place. By focusing on the lifestyle goals and aspirations of clients' and understanding what will truly help them achieve happiness we really have changed lives.
FP: Many planners are concerned about the rising cost of regulation and other threats to their businesses. What do you see as the main threats to your business?
SM: I honestly don't see any really significant threats to our business. There is certainly no regulated threat. We provide a service and work hard to demonstrate the value of that service to clients which in turn means they are prepared to pay for it.
There is definitely a growing opportunity for true Financial Planning as more people start to recognise that they need it through the value it brings. I really see that the opportunities are endless and the future looks rosy.
FP: Do you use Twitter much and if so what has it added to your business? How much tweeting do you do on a typical day?
SM: I've fully embraced Twitter from both a business and personal perspective and I tend to check in on it daily. It helps me to keep up to date with the latest news, views, snippets and sound bites from across the industry as they happen.
It also helps promote healthy debate between advisers and builds relationships and it's a great way for us to share our news and announcements with clients and industry contacts. I aim to tweet most days and retweet whatever I see of interest.
FP: If you could change anything about the Financial Planning profession what would you choose?
SM: That everyone that purports to be a Financial Planner actually does it. That they were to offer true, holistic Financial Planning to every client, every time. Unfortunately too much of the industry is still focused on products and not enough of it is focused on delivering true value to the client. That is where we as Financial Planners can make the most significant impact – by making a real difference to people's lives.
FP: What's the future for Financial Planning and what are the major challenges going to be in coming years in your view for the profession generally?
SM: The future for Financial Planning done properly looks very rosy, as more people start to recognise what it can mean for them and their future. This, however, is inherently linked with one of the major challenges, ensuring that potential clients do recognise and understand what true Financial Planning is all about, as opposed to financial advice, and that they actually start seeking true Financial Planning.
In order to do this the profession needs to stand firm in its beliefs, if you are going to be a Financial Planner then make sure that is truly what you offer rather than rolling over and actually giving them something else.
FP: We recently saw the 1,000th CFP professional in the UK. Do you think the profession is going to attract lots more people in the coming years and why? What sort of numbers would you estimate by 2020?
SM: I do think the profession is going to attract lots more people to it in the coming years as there are lots of us working hard to spread the word. Holistic Financial Planning is coming much more into IFA consciousness now than it was 10 years ago and once it is fully and effectively explained to them then they should be brave enough to go down that route.
FP: What do you like doing in your spare time outside of work?
SM: Family comes first, having moved to Spain a year ago with my wife and two boys spending time enjoying the sunshine and on the beach is now a regular part of our lifestyle. Aside from that I keep myself fit and healthy through running – targeting a sub-three hour marathon later this year – along with cycling, spinning, circuits and other activities.
My Business Day
￼My day tends to start early with a training run or a spinning session before dropping the boys at school. Being based in Spain means I get to do all of that and still get to my desk before many people in the UK have arrived at theirs.
I spend my first two hours tackling the day's priorities, ensuring those are dealt with before getting caught in the mire of e-mails and telephone calls.
I also try to catch up with the team each morning to discuss anything which needs my input.
I'll then work through whatever else needs my attention that day and often end up working until late due to the time difference.
￼￼￼1 Set out what you believe in and then never compromise on that belief
2 You should try to take every opportunity you can take to shout from the rooftops about what you do – and most importantly why you do it
3 You should aim to make sure you enjoy what you do, if not change it. You are the boss after all.
Steve Martin CFPCM Founder oF Smart Financial
Steve Martin is a Certified Financial PlannerCM Professional and Chartered Financial Planner as well as a holder of the Investment Management Certificate and a former assessor of the CFP certification assessment process.
Steve is a leading advocate of lifestyle Financial Planning and founded Smart Financial in 2008 based on these deep-rooted principles. He has been chairman of the Manchester branch of the IFP for 4 years and was re-elected for another 2 year term through to 2015.
As a highly sought-after speaker, Steve presents regularly on a variety of financial matters but is particularly passionate about delivering the 'value' message and educating the Financial Planning community on the importance of providing tangible value to their clients.
Monday, 07 July 2014 14:26
My Business: Steve Martin of Smart Financial
Each month Financial Planner asks a leading planner to share best practice and how they and their colleagues built the firm.