Financial Planner: Your company has gained Accredited Financial Planning FirmTM status recently. What were the key ingredients to achieving this?
Gareth Rees CFPTM: Fundamentally, it was the client proposition which got us over the line. We adopted cashflow modelling from our inception and it’s a cornerstone of the advice we give. We spent a lot of time re-developing our client reports and this was the part of our offering, which we know needed some attention. Overall, it was a lot of work. Some of the work was already being put in and some was as a result of the discussions with the IFP (as it was). It was a collective team effort - from marketing and business development to compliance to administrators and more. Everyone made a contribution.
FP: What has Accredited status brought to your firm and why should others seek to become Accredited themselves?
GR: Accredited status, like the personal Certified Financial PlannerTM title, reflects the application of knowledge achieved over an extended time in the profession. That relatively few firms have the title means that it stands out more. The number of corporate Chartered firms is rocketing at the moment and while it’s great to see on the one hand, the cache of having the Accredited title as well helps you stand out from the crowd.
FP: What other accolades and awards has the firm picked up in recent times?
GR: We were recently awarded the tile of Adviser of the Year (South West) at the New Model Adviser awards, having been placed in the top 100 late last year. It was the second time we attained both accolades and we’re very proud to have won. We were also highly commended at the Professional Adviser Awards in February- not quite a win, but a close second!
FP: Originally, how did you get into Financial Planning and what attracted you to the profession? When was your firm set up?
GR: I fell into the profession because there was a job going in Bath and Liz was at University in Bath and I was young and in love! My mum thought I would be quite good at it as it’s a people relationship business and that’s what I am good at. I was a founding partner at Epoch and I love the Epoch name – look up the definition in the dictionary and I think it describes perfectly the timing of the set-up of our business.
FP: What sort of a company is it and what services does it offer? Does it specialise in particular clients or services?
GR: Epoch does the same things any good Financial Planning firm does - we listen well and we help clients to make life changing financial decisions with confidence. We use cash flow modelling software to help clients see why we are doing things and this helps remove clients’ inertia. We are a Financial Planning and investment management firm; we have our own discretionary management license and run advisory and discretionary model portfolios. We offer this service to private clients and owner-managed businesses in particular. We also have a service for charities and other not-for-profits where we help them understand investment principals, write a suitable investment policy and scrutinise the wealth mangers that manage their money.
FP: How many clients do you have and what’s the annual turnover?
GR: We have approximately 500 clients. The annual turnover for 2015/16 is expected to be £2.9m, of which ongoing adviser fees make up approximately 80 per cent.
FP: How many Financial Planners and Paraplanners do you have?
GR: We have six advisers but are looking to recruit a further three in the near future. We have six Paraplanners and will look to maintain a 1:1 ratio as we recruit advisers. We have seven administrators / PAs and a layer of operational management covering business development, compliance, investment management and financial modelling. There are 28 people at Epoch, prior to the imminent recruitment drive.
FP: What has been your greatest source of achievement in running your business and what are you proudest of?
GR: Having previously worked for larger organisations where the available time to look after clients is often lacking (due to size of client bank), having a genuinely client focused proposition is very rewarding. The feedback we are getting from clients is almost universally positive and this reinforces my belief that we are doing things right.
FP: What have been the biggest challenges for you to overcome?
GR: For me personally, it was getting over the fear of breaking out on my own and shouldering the responsibility of running a firm. For Epoch, finding the right people who have the necessary technical and industry experience but more importantly the right attitude, personality and moral compass is hard. We’ve turned down plenty of people who seem perfect on paper but who wouldn’t fit the culture of the business.
FP: What have been the key lessons you have learned at your current business so far? What tips would you pass on to other planners?
GR: A lot of firms (not likely those reading this) will still operate on the “commission by another name” model and if I could speak to them, I’d say it’s possible to have a successful and profitable business that puts the client front and centre. In terms of tips, I’d say making sure you have the right people in place within the business is critical. As you grow, you necessarily have less direct impact on all aspects of the business and that can be worrying unless you have complete faith in their ability and motives.
FP: Following the merger, what do you think of the work the IFP has done?
GR: The IFP has been a fantastic ambassador and voice for the Financial Planning community. It’s crucial that the ethos maintained by the organisation continues to be upheld within the CISI structure. I understand the need to reach more people and why the merger was needed but I can also sympathise with those who have reservations. I trust that the IFP took the decision after careful consideration and hope to see the decision vindicated.
FP: What do you think of so called robo- advice – a friend or foe to FP? Will you ever incorporate any form of automated advice into the service you provide?
GR: Something is needed to address the advice gap so I’m all for it in theory. It’s not something we are looking at as a firm as it doesn’t fit the clients we target.
FP: What is the biggest challenge for you in terms of the Financial Conduct Authority and regulation in general?
GR: I feel that if you understand your clients and have their best interests at heart in everything you do then you won’t go far wrong. But I am sad to say that I think we are too scared to move in certain circumstances and that in itself can lead to poor client outcomes. Regulating our industry is an incredibly difficult task and I don’t have the right answers but a lack of common sense approach can sometimes be frustrating.
FP: How have you been affected by the hike in the FSCS levy?
GR: Clearly, we’re not immune to the FSCS levy increase and ours has gone up proportionately to others in the industry. We talk with our peers and are aware that what’s happening to us is happening elsewhere.
FP: What do you think of the changes to dividend tax credits announced in last year’s Budget and how will these affect you and your business from here on in?
GR: It’s an interesting move by the Government and it’s clear to see why they’ve done it. It will affect a large number of our clients. However, we are talking it through with affected clients in tandem with their tax advisers and we feel well prepared for it.
FP: What do you think the key is to making more of the general public aware of the benefits of seeing a Financial Planner?
GR: There needs to be a clearer distinction as to who is a Financial Planner and who is a product salesman. Many clients have had experience of the latter and are then prejudiced against the planning profession. However, once a first meeting is secured, it’s normally fairly straightforward to demonstrate the value of engaging with a planner. The hard-nosed entrepreneurs we deal with are often the most satisfying to deal with, as they can be the most vociferous detractors to begin with and often become the most powerful advocates afterwards.
FP: What’s the best thing about being a Financial Planner?
GR: The ability to remove worry from people’s lives and therefore allow them to live life on their terms. Being able to tell someone that they can stop working and actually spend time with their loved ones is particularly powerful.
FP: What do you like doing in your spare time outside of work? Do you have any unusual hobbies?
GR: I’m an avid golfer. When I say avid, I mean utterly obsessed. I play whenever my work and home life permits and I work with some of the professional players on the European tour. I also bought a Tesla car recently and can honestly say it’s the most insanely brilliant car I have ever owned. Elon Musk is a genius.
1 - Value what you
do – don’t take for granted what you know and what you can add to clients’ financial security and peace of mind.
2 – Listen to Brett Davidson because he has a lot of great advice
3 - The right culture within the firm is crucial to long-term success.
My Business Day
06.30 - Get up - drag myself to the gym.
08.00 - Get home – Eat breakfast. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to drop the kids off at school.
09.00 - Get into work – catch up on e-mails / review to do list for the day.
09.45 - Team meetings – what work have we got on and what needs doing – tasks allocated within the team.
10.30 - Phone calls – discuss work needed with clients, get fees agreed and think about food.
13.00 - Lunch – sometimes with clients, sometimes at home, often on the run between meetings.
14.00 - Preparing work, cash flow modelling, checking reports.
15.00 – 17.00 - Presenting on relevant topics with professional introducers.