Here, Ms Harwood, a Chartered and Certified Financial Planner, who recently married co-director Tony Conner, reflects on her long and prosperous career and discusses how she escaped the sales culture of her early years in the sector and established her firm in the north-east.
Read on for her thoughts in full.
How times have changed over 30 years. I am leaving behind a much healthier profession and I am proud to have played a part in the quest to raise standards and move towards a profession that young people want to join.
It has been one of my main drivers to raise the profile of all that is good in financial planning; to emphasise the need for expertise as well as experience which can only come from serious study and the ability to cross reference vital facts, keeping the client’s needs as the priority, not the financial gain for me. It sounds twee, but it’s true and it was not the norm during my career where there had to be sales to earn money, with targets and threats as well as incentives in the background.
Escaping sales culture
I have always refused to compromise on my principles which meant that I was relatively unsuccessful within the ‘sales culture’ and I caused a stir from time to time – for example, I disagreed with the sale of FSAVCs to teachers who had a perfectly good in house AVC scheme.
That went right to the top of the company I was with and almost got me sacked for not making the sales and obtaining the commission. I hated it in the early days but had given up a salaried job in a bank and had to make the best of it.
The company folded just in time for me and I was able to become an independent financial adviser.
Happily, I was able to escape the sales culture.
Becoming a Certified and Chartered Financial Planner
With two like minded people, Tony Conner and Owen Temple, I formed a successful, honest, ethical independent firm staffed with those who also progress as a matter of course to the highest levels of education. Ours is a lifetime Financial Planning service.
Once the FSA gave it a name, we knew that we had been “treating customers fairly” all along.
I sat the old FPC papers long before it was mandatory, hitched my wagon to the IFP principles to become Certified, and was one of the first down the Chartered road.
We still see some shocking examples of ‘advice’ from those who clearly have not grasped basic knowledge, and they, probably without even knowing it, are potentially ruining peoples’ futures.
The recent pension changes make it more important than ever to be completely ‘on our toes’ and I sincerely hope that level 6 will become a minimum standard for those who can influence consumers in taking life changing decisions. Unless you study you just “don’t know what you don’t know” and that is so dangerous in financial services. I know how quickly I have fallen behind the curve by not keeping abreast of things, in just the 3 months since I de-authorised.
Eldon goes on strong
Pictured above and below: Joss and members of the Eldon team
Our set up and behaviour has won us many awards over the years, which has given us the endorsement that we were doing things the right way. Our clients are like family and we have very close, longstanding trusted relationships with them. They are happy and we are happy. We are clear about our service and the cost of it and clients know they get value for money.
The business is strong thanks to Tony’s management and I am able to extract value for retirement without ‘rocking the boat’ at all. We don’t need to sell to a third party - it has always baffled me how you can sell ‘people’, and ours is a ‘people’ business. There is no scope for cynical investment churning within our business anyway.
Time to retire
I am very happy to be retiring and am ready for it.
I have done a full shift as I didn’t have children and haven’t had a break in 40 years. I have also had a brush with cancer. I know that I have helped very many people to achieve financial independence and to meet their own personal goals and I am proud of my work.
Below: Ms Harwood recently wed co-director Tonny Conner, who continue in the business
Practice what you preach
My retirement is indeed a case of ‘practice what you preach’. We believe that as Planners, we should be able to organise our own affairs properly and it surprises me that apparently, so few financial Financial Planners get themselves organised for their preferred exit. Our aim at Eldon was always to separate our own personal financial security from the firm’s, and we have achieved that, giving us flexibility and choice at the end of our careers. Owen retired several years ago and now it is my turn.
The future of Eldon
I am very happy with the value that I will take with me. Tony will carry on for up to 5 years, gradually winding down before stepping aside with his share of the value. The business still needs his expertise as the younger colleagues continue to grow. I believe that Tony is one of the best Financial Planners in the UK, having a huge technical library in his memory, with the ability to see the ‘bigger picture’ as well as work with detail.
Add to that his background in accountancy, experience successfully running businesses, uncompromising, honesty and his easy relationship with clients and you have the full package. I am biased ( I just married him!) but I know that he is held in very high regard by those who understand and appreciate his skills. He doesn’t seek the limelight though and goes about his work quietly, so Eldon’s spokesperson will be one of our younger colleagues going forward.
Life as a retiree
I am looking forward to spending more time at home, just taking things more slowly and getting out and about with my dog and my horse. I also hope to get back into masters athletics as there are still some hurdles records that I would like to break!
Below: Pictures from the recent wedding and members of the Eldon team
Below: Gemma Siddle is now a director
Below: Jon Bean is one of Eldon's Financial Planners
Below, left, Joss, after a sporting challenge