I’m just going to say this up front. I think it’s best we get it out of the way.
I’m a financial planner.
PHEW. Well, that makes me feel better. But how do you feel?
Nervous? Distrustful? Think I’m about to sell you something? Worried how much this next part of the conversation is going to cost you??
I get it all the time. Conversations can be going swimmingly. Until I’m asked what I do. Then my new acquaintances realise they don’t have a drink. Taxis are called. The host all of a sudden develops a headache.
I jest a little of course. But, in all honesty, not by much. Financial services has a terrible reputation. It’s ‘boring’. It’s ‘complicated’. And the level of trust in advisers is exceptionally low. Indeed, according to research, we fight with estate agents and even banks for the dubious ‘least trusted’ crown1.
Most sensible people, therefore, don’t get involved. Becoming an adviser is a drawn out affair. Exams and training and continuous development and competency assessments. It takes a while. Not to mention the massive amount of regulatory red tape you have to face.
And at the end of all that, you find yourself in the unenviable position of being considered a musty grey old suit with a sleazy streak who is really only after making a fast buck.
I knew all that. But I did it anyway.
Changing the narrative
Because there is one issue we need to address. Saving money in a live-for-today society might be thought of as ‘meh’ (or, if you’re nearer my age, ‘uncool’). But what you get back, once you’ve saved the money, is absolutely THE most amazing thing life can give you.
And frankly, more people deserve a shot at that than currently get one.
Against a backdrop of significantly entrenched perceptions, however, a brand new start-up like ours was going to have to get pretty creative to ‘stand out’ and make a difference?
We would need to draw on every ounce of marketing knowledge we had. We would have to learn even more (The reason I joined ATOMIC.).
If there is one thing (most) advisers are not, it’s marketers. And this was – in principle at least – something we could use as a competitive advantage.
The key ingredients
I am not going to pretend that what we have built so far is any kind of utopia. Like everyone here, we strive to be perfect. And we are adapting what we do, in line with experience, every day.
There are, however, three things we have concentrated on which I think have been particularly key when trying to ‘stand out’. Bearing in mind, we are not talking about new technologies here. We are talking about a pretty traditional and generally unimaginative sector:
1. Understand your customer’s state of mind
Cash-cow2 type sectors usually begin to forget their customer. So if you can get in there and understand them again, you can re-engage with some spirit . But remember, never mind what your potential customers say they are feeling. You need to know what are they ACTUALLY feeling.
Our clients’ feelings include, for example, stress and anxiety. Caused by the complexity of money, yes. But heightened by the fact they’ve now got no choice but to reveal intimate secrets to someone like me – who they don’t know from Adam, and fear they can’t trust. Not a great place to start.
2. Nail your principles
Again, a cash cow type sector doesn’t really worry about how it is perceived in the wider world. It worries about its existing hump of business and keeping hold of that. So, if you can set up a list of principles that you can stand by – and are prepared to shout about – that immediately lifts you out of the morass.
One of our principles is ‘transparency’. Because our clients are in a state of stress and anxiety when they approach us. We cannot expect them to ‘trust’ us straightaway. However, if we are up front and honest, right from the outset, at least we allow them to believe that trust might be built over time.
3. Grab your chances
Get involved in the conversation, don’t wait for the conversation to come to you. And when someone then says ‘can you?’ say yes…
(OK, within reason)
I have to admit it, our social media feeds are pretty slow compared with most. Time limitations mean we’ve had to focus. So we decided to get involved in the feeds of others instead. Approach people who hold the same principles as we do. Have a chat. ‘Give’ before we do anything else… And we’ve made some lovely friends – who have also been really good to us.
Stick with the programme
Sticking with your principles is not always easy. Our decision to take on ‘transparency’, for example, means we have to be open and honest even when it feels uncomfortable. We file provider correspondence in shared client files, for example, so they can see what’s being said about them.
Scary when you first think about it. But, that, in itself, provokes another level of vigilance and propriety in our dealings. Which is all for the good.
We also decided we had no choice but to disclose what we will charge on our website. In detail. A position which has put us in a minority of less than 1 in 203.
Talk about stand out…
But that also means we’ve been noticed. We’ve been given opportunity. To speak about our position, to defend it. In front of a large, national audience. It was a heart-thumping experience, to say the least. Particularly when the (teacup sized) Twitter storm ensued.
The industry questioned us. Questioned our sense. Questioned our process. Questioned our true position in the market. And they praised each other as they grouped together against the upstarts who knew not what they were doing.
But then the consumer groups chipped in. Praising our position. And then the phone started to ring. And the nerves started to relax. And we realised we had done the right thing.
Thankfully, the general public – the audience that actually matters here – seem to like it.
The moral of the story
Who knows if that’s taught you anything you didn’t already know. If nothing else, perhaps it will encourage you never to be put off by people trying to pull you to the way things have always been. But if you are going to do it, be prepared to work hard at finding and striking the right notes. When feelings are entrenched, it will not happen overnight – whatever some of the US gurus might say.
In terms of method, though, the three key things we focussed on will be pretty familiar. Something of the Content Mavericks, about them I believe. At least it proves that, yes, Andrew and Pete, I was paying attention. ☺
Ours is a journey that continues. Lots of people still see finance as stuffy, particularly dull and grey. We’ve only scratched the surface. And we do still fall foul of the jargon, when tiredness sets in. But we will keep doing what we can. Hope that it goes where we’d like it to. And, well, enjoy what has, so far, been a pretty fabulous adventure for us.
Because this solopreneur malarkey. Well, it’s pretty awesome.
Most of the time.
1: Just, Research published in Feb 18, based on number of people who suggested they didn’t trust financial advisers compared with other sectors and examples;
2: I’ll probably be hammered by some for suggesting financial advice is a ‘cash cow’. But it certainly behaves like one even if some anomalies in the fundamentals haven’t moved it into that box…quite yet.
3: Yardstick Agency, Research published in Jun 18, less than 5% of advisers disclose details of their charges on their websites; https://www.moneymarketing.co.uk/just-17-of-adviser-websites-list-fees-study-finds/
Lesley has worked in financial services since before many ATOMIC members even started school. She is a Diploma qualified Financial Adviser, a Diploma qualified Marketer and a bit of a tech geek.
Out of the office, you will find her drinking coffee, trying to keep fit, chewing the fat with friends and harassing her husband about when they might finally get that dog.