Historically, we entered lots of industry awards, going up against our peers to flex our financial planning, investment advice and retirement planning muscles. More recently, we’ve branched out a little more into other business awards, competing with businesses in other sectors. Our second entry to the Toast of Surrey Awards back in 2016 resulted in a win in the competitive Companies with a turnover under £1m category.
Last year was a good year for being shortlisted for awards and a terrible year for actually winning anything. Being named a finalist at six different awards in the space of twelve months is an achievement in itself, and a reflection of a very hardworking marketing assistant, but it’s more disappointing to be shortlisted and fail to be named winner than it would have been to not reach the shortlist at all.
Every single award I’ve chosen to enter on behalf of our business has been based on two important factors; merit and lots of scrutiny of the entry. Like others who have entered and won awards, I’ve spent countless hours being grilled by panels in central London, and many more hours writing 1,000 word entries, submitting detailed financial information and obtaining client testimonials to support the claims made.
I was surprised to learn there is a much easier way to win awards. You simply pay for them.
Earlier today an email landed in my inbox with the happy news I had been chosen as 2018’s ‘Leading Financial Planning Adviser of the Year, UK’. Wow, what an accolade!
My spider senses began to tingle after a cursory glance at the rest of the email. First, who was this publisher hosting the ‘Leading Experts of 2018’ awards? Despite consuming my fair share of industry publications and other business magazines, I had never heard of them.
The more I read in the email, the less legitimate these awards sounded. Yes, there was a ‘complimentary package’ on offer, consisting of a digital certificate, simple listing and full rights to the award title and logo. But the other ‘packages’ on offer came at a much higher price. £1,995 plus VAT for ‘The Editor’s Choice’, which read like they were prepared to dedicate an entire edition of their magazine (circulation, unknown) to me! And two personalised crystal trophies too! One for the office, one for home?
More packages were offered, reducing to £495 plus VAT if all I wanted was one crystal trophy. I suppose I could always take it home with me in the evenings, to make the kids proud of their dad as it sits on the mantelpiece over the fire.
These types of awards are nothing new, and best of luck to the publisher who can make some money off the vanity of recipients. We should be (crystal) clear though; there’s no merit whatsoever involved in this type of award.
If you want to inflate your ego and get featured on the front cover of an obscure magazine, with a four-page spread heralding your major award win, then go for it. What concerns me most about meritless awards is the perception of clients.
There’s a real danger that, without understanding how the whole industry awards model works, some prospective clients would view such an award on par with one genuinely earned. The presence of such an award could lower the due diligence carried out by a new client, exposing them to the dangers of working with a less than professional firm. In fact, I would go as far as saying anyone who pays for an award and associated publicity is probably demonstrating a warped understanding of ethical good practice.
We can educate clients about what is required to win genuine awards and about the importance of extending their due diligence past mere puff like ‘award-winning’ status. Any person engaging a Financial Planner should, as a minimum, be checking the FCA register, asking for a Statement of Professional Standing, obtaining references from existing clients, and comparing their proposition along those from a couple of others.
Martin Bamford FPFS Chartered Financial Planner SOLLA Accredited Later Life Adviser
Managing Director, Informed Choice