Welcome! And thanks for taking the time to read my first ever blog. I really hope that you’ll find this one interesting enough to stick around for future posts.
This is the first in a series of blogs that will provide you with information and insight. In this blog I’m going to tell you a bit about me, why I started Solus Financial Planning Ltd and how I work.
In future posts, I hope to address the the sort of questions that I get asked by clients and people who get recommended to me or who find me by other means. These will be about the sort of issues, plans, worries and questions that they encounter, are seeking answers to or even worrying about.
There’s also going to be a few articles about what I call the “end result” – things like pensions, savings, investments and ISAs – how you can use your money to create financial security in the future and how to do so in a tax-efficient manner.
As my wonderful partner so eloquently put it a few days after my 59th birthday last year, I’m in my 60th year; I fully expect her to tell me after this years “big one” that I’m now in my seventh decade!
Originally from Sussex and divorced (twice) I now live in Chelmsford, Essex where I enjoy gym, badminton, kayaking, politics and current affairs and spending time with family and friends.
From the age of 18 I spent 11 years working for Woolworths, starting as a management trainee and ending up as a store manager of several years standing. One thing I learned very quickly working with Woolworths Sales Assistants, most of whom were female and a lot of whom had children not much younger, or in some cases even older than me, was that taking the high and might stance was not the best way to get them onside. Sure they’d do what you asked, but not willingly, not at their best speed and not to their best efforts. Politeness, respect and a non-patronising tone worked though. Treating these team members as I myself would prefer to be treated paid dividends in terms of getting work done and it made work a much more enjoyable place. Incidentally, one of the “pushes” that was influential in me leaving Woolworths was being told that if I didn’t sack someone for a 10p till shortage then my Regional Manager would find someone who would.
How it started
I started out in financial services back in 1993. I’d always had an interest in things financial; reading the personal finance pages, looking at best buy tables and even getting myself elected as a member trustee to the Kingfisher Group pension scheme, who owned Woolworths at the time. As a result I learned a bit about how pensions work, how they can benefit people after a lifetime of hard work and something about how they invest their money.
But something else happened; Woolworths staff started to ask me questions. Even staff from other stores and I enjoyed helping them, either explaining how their pension statement worked, what they’d be entitled to or pointing them in the right direction for further information. I started to enjoy this and so I eventually made the decision to go and give people advice about pensions for a living, after all, that’s what they wanted wasn’t it?
Well, how wrong can you be?! Of course, the management in the life assurance companies I talked to were never going to tell me how hard it was, but when I got back from my three week training course as a “financial adviser” (flexing muscles and puffing out chest) and my manager threw a BT telephone directory at me, told me “there’s your client bank, get phoning” I soon learned!
Fast forward a few years and I’d gained some qualifications (they weren’t even invented when I started!) and I left the comfort of the Private Client division of a large bank to start my own practice. This went well for a few years and in late 2007 I moved from my native East Sussex to Essex. I knew nobody, apart from my now ex wife’s family, and let’s just say they weren’t ideal financial planning prospects. So I sold my practice and re-entered the world of employment.
A while down the road I joined a firm in Rayleigh and was flattered and honoured to be invited to join the board of directors. This was in the period leading up to the biggest changes in financial advice for decades; the advent of fees replacing commission and advisers having to be better qualified. Known as the Retail Distribution Review or RDR it was a real sea-change for the financial adviser community. Thousands or advisers left the industry as a result, I think the number of authorised advisers nearly halved in the periods immediately before and immediately after the changes were implemented as fear about how clients would react when they had to be told in advance what the fee for financial advice would be.
There was also the distinct lack of enthusiasm in many quarters to have to start studying again and so many advisers brought forward their own retirement plans and rode off into the sunset.
How it developed
For me personally it was a really exciting time. I already had the Diploma level qualification that was going to be the new standard and so I thought “If they’re all coming up to my level I better get the Advanced Diploma and create some clear, blue water”. This meant studying every Saturday from 9:30 to 4:30 for three years and taking two degree equivalent Level 6 NVQ qualifications to give me the Chartered Financial Planner qualification and also the Certified Financial Planner (CFPTM) qualification. I also picked up Fellowship of the Personal Finance Society as a consequence.
The strange thing is, that when I started studying I learned stuff! My knowledge increased and so did my confidence. I only failed one exam – the advanced paper of the Investment Planning suite. After a few weeks of throwing my toys out of my pram, partly because I missed by about 8 points and secondly because it threw my carefully constructed study timetable off track, I knuckled down and determined to pass at the next sitting. I even paid out of my own pocket for the two day Chartered Insurance Institute revision course.
That was the best £200 I ever spent! By then it was evident I had enough knowledge to pass the exam which was in a couple of weeks time and I remember saying to the course tutor, himself a Chartered Financial Planner, over lunch, how strange it was that the text seemed to take you so far in terms of investment theory and practice, and then just stop. He agreed and said that’s why he used Dimensional funds. This wasn’t a name I was familiar with and so I asked him to elaborate. He explained that Eugene Fama and Kenneth French sat on the board of this investment management company. “The same Eugene Fama and Kenneth French we’ve just been talking about this morning, when discussing the Efficient Market Hypothesis?” I asked incredulously. He confirmed it was none other than those two and as soon as I got home (no smart phone then) I Yahoo’d Dimensional and eventually found a website with a telephone number. I left a message and waited.
After two weeks I tried again and got through to David Jones, now Head of UK & Ireland Advisor Group, but then a Regional Director. A meeting was set up and this led to a relationship with Dimensional that continues to this day.
I also learned a lot of other things in that period. At my first board meeting I asked the question “Why should people deal with us rather than the other local IFAs? What makes us different?” I couldn’t identify what differentiated us and I was keen to be able to do so. It seemed to me, and to my fellow directors, that financial advice firms were “good at moving client’s money around” but that was about it.
I felt that we needed to demonstrate more if we were going to ask clients to pay us, not just for the initial advice but also for the ongoing advice. Explaining why their funds had increased, when the stock-markets had gone up anyway, or defending why they’d fallen, possibly farther than the markets, wasn’t appealing to me, and I didn’t think not would appeal to many clients.
The lightbulb moment
At this time I was also discovering the benefits of platforms for client’s investments and along the way I discovered Lifestyle Financial Planning and cash-flow modelling. These were my own personal light-bulb moments!
It now became clear that it wasn’t about moving money around and showing clients how you’d made them x% on their investments (especially when a tracker fund probably gave a comparable return most of the time).
This is real life! It’s answering the questions client’s really want the answers to: “When can I retire?” ‘Can I help the children out?” “Will I need to downsize?” “Can I do the things I want?”“Will I run out of money?” And… most importantly and succinctly, “Willl I be alright?”
Why Solus Financial Planning?
The decision to start my own firm again was another of those happy collision of forces, events and timelines that have occurred to me on a few occasions.
Having met a wonderful partner, who is a hard-working, extremely stressed GP we put into place her own personal lifestyle financial plan, with the objective of her retiring in March 2023. She is also now grandmother to an absolutely gorgeous boy who was born in April, so from a lifestyle perspective being able to take charge of my own time is certainly attractive.
But for me it’s also about helping people I want to help; working together with existing clients, many of whom have become friends, and taking on new clients who I hope are friends I haven’t yet met.
Following the very wise advice of a consultant who works with financial planning firms I set about identifying what my niche was. Was there a pattern to the types of clients I feel. Most comfortable dealing with and who find it easy to relate to me? I spent several hours staring at a list, trying to discern a pattern but nothing revealed itself. One client worked in the city, another had his own business. One was from an academic background whilst others were church ministers. They lived in different locations, had different hobbies and family situations. I left the list on my desk and went and did other things for a few days.
Then I returned to the list and started working my way down it. That’s when it dawned on me. More than two-thirds of my clients were alone. Some were single but many were either widowed or divorced. I thought back to clients I’d looked after at previous firms and of people I met in my personal life and the realisation was that here was a group of people I could relate to; who found it easy to relate to me and who I could help.
Thinking about why this should be I’m inevitably drawn to my experience at Woolworths, my passion for helping and explaining things clearly and my own experience as a divorcé.
That gave me a reason, and it also gave me the name of the firm – Solus is the latin for Alone.
What’s my Why?
Whilst setting up the firm I took the opportunity to read for the third time Simon Sinek’s bestselling book Start With Why if you haven’t yet read it I thoroughly recommend it; I can’t lend you mine as it’s covered in notes, post-its and labels.
To be perfectly honest I’m still refining mine, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to put it into a succinct sentence or a mission statement. But it’s about helping people to live a better life for having met me than would otherwise have done. It’s about helping those people to have a healthier relationship with money, to not be afraid of it, or of worrying about it. But it’s also about giving something back.
When thinking about my own firm I also wanted it to be a vehicle for improving people’s lives in other ways. That’s why I made a commitment that each year 10% of the profits Solus Financial Planning Ltd makes will be donated to charity. I’m proud and excited to announce that Solus Financial Planning will be supporting Safer Places – a charity based in Harlow that exists to drive down the incidence and impact of domestic and sexual abuse and to support those who need their services in their journey to recovery and independence.
The first fundraiser was Safer Places’ Muddy May Challenge on 8th May which raised £100, and the next one is a marathon trek on the South Downs at night in October which will raise a minimum of £200.00 for Safer Places. There’s absolutely no pressure to sponsor me because Solus Financial Planning will cover the minimum sponsorship requirement, but if you’d like to consider sponsoring then please do get in touch.
Thank you for taking the time to read this inaugural blog. I do hope you found its interesting and informative and leaves you wanting to read more. The next one will be published in June and monthly thereafter, there will also be other articles and information available by signing up to the link here:
If you have any questions or comments do please get in touch, my details are below
With very best wishes,