Pictured left to right; Josh Collis, Adviser; Graeme Clark, Head of Private Clients and Paul Kemsley, Senior Private Client Manager.
The BBC recently reported that the Financial Conduct Authority intends to sign up celebrity influencers to warn people about the pitfall of high-risk investments. Alongside the growth of robo-advisers and the impact of trading apps such as Robinhood on markets driven by the power of social media, the move by the UK’s normally cautious financial regulator was an indication that the world of financial advice is changing. Even TikTok is getting in on the act with the Guardian reporting that the hashtag #PersonalFinance attracted more than £4.4bn views on the social video platform.
While it would be a stretch to say that we’re seeing the demise of face-to-face financial advice, it seems fair to suggest that the emergence of these new ways of receiving financial advice comes as a wake-up call to those players in the market, such as financial services firms, which continue to favour the traditional approach. Not only does it suggest that people are open to new ways to receive financial advice, but it also serves as challenge that firms need to continuously up their game.
Meet the Advisers
It was against such a background that I recently gathered together three Courtiers Advisers in a meeting room in the company’s offices in Henley-on-Thames. Head of Private Clients Graeme Clark, Senior Private Client Manager Paul Kemsley and Adviser Josh Collis are part of a 24-strong team of Courtiers Advisers, serving clients across the UK from six Courtiers offices.
Graeme joined Courtiers more than 20 years ago following a stint of mainly mortgage advising. Paul arrived at Courtiers over eight years ago after working in banking. Josh joined Courtiers in 2018 as a trainee, his progress guided by the team’s Head, Graeme.
How do they see their roles as Private Client Advisers and what qualities, experience and knowledge do each bring to the role, that goes above and beyond what’s available on social media and elsewhere? What added value do Graeme, Paul, Josh and their fellow personal advisers provide?
Why is it that even as people have more choice than ever in how they receive financial advice, a growing number of Courtiers clients have been with the company for 20 or more years, a group who are being joined by a whole new generation of younger clients?
I started off by asking Graeme what he thought were the essential qualities of a Courtiers Private Client Adviser. “The most basic thing is to be able to communicate with that client, and actually speak to them and listen. Then it’s the ability to show empathy and understand what the client wants. From there, trust and respect can be built between both parties”, he said.
Paul said many things that make a good adviser are those that can’t be coached, such as the ability to talk to people, ensure they feel comfortable, and to build a rapport.
For Josh, establishing trust with clients was vital, particularly given that as a Financial Adviser, some conversations can be incredibly sensitive and personal. Even at the relatively tender age of 27, Josh said clients entrust him with information “that you normally wouldn’t share even with your closest friends”.
Building a relationship with clients is not a one-sided process, said Paul. Developing a relationship with a client sometimes means the Adviser “giving something back to them”…sharing something personal about themselves, for example details about their family. After all, we are human.
Through thick and thin
Advisers must also be there for clients at difficult times in their lives, added Paul, for example, when they are under financial or indeed personal strain.
Some of the most difficult situations Paul’s faced with clients as an Adviser are divorce and death, which often come with financial implications which are particularly challenging, especially without technical knowledge. While feeling for the client and what they are going through, it is important that the Adviser remains professional because “they (the client) are at a difficult and vulnerable point in their lives when they are relying on you to get things sorted”.
Understanding and responding to your needs
One size definitely doesn’t fit all, said Paul. While some client relationships are at the level of friend/confidante, others are more formal and transactional.
Clients have varied needs when it comes to the level of information they want from their Adviser, said Graeme. While some “appreciate granular detail”, other clients are comfortable enough knowing that we are looking after their financial livelihood. Understanding the needs and wants of individual clients is vital to tailor and deliver appropriate solutions.
Personality, intellect and qualifications
When interviewing for new recruits to join his team, above all else Graeme considers personality. “Do I get on with that individual?” is one important question, but at the same time, Graeme said he needs to be confident that the person has the ability to absorb technical information and pass the exams necessary to qualify as a Financial Adviser. He pointed out that at the end of the day, Courtiers clients are only clients because they want financial planning and tax advice. “So, it is marrying the two,” he said.
Learning on the job
While passing relevant exams is necessary to offer financial advice, Josh explained that learning on the job and particularly from colleagues is invaluable. On numerous occasions, Josh has tapped into Graeme and Paul’s vast experience and knowledge. How to deal with a client in a particular situation? How to tell a client for example, after analysis of objectives and options, that what they want to achieve isn’t actually achievable?
Support and commitment
Josh said the support and commitment, financial and otherwise, of Courtiers towards him achieving his professional qualifications “has been immense”, estimating that it takes around 300 hours of studying outside work to prepare for the two exams a year that he needed to take to become a qualified Adviser. Alongside this, there are well-established programmes within Courtiers for continuous professional development (CPD). Paraplanning and Technical Support Teams at Courtiers also play a key role in helping advisers to apply the technical knowledge they obtain through their studying and examination courses.
Another vital aspect of maintaining the quality of advice that Courtiers clients expect is through managing the number of clients each adviser works with, explained Paul. Josh currently has around 70 clients, but more experienced or senior advisers like Graeme can have up to 100. “No more,” explains Graeme, as this risks reducing the quality of advice. As Courtiers continues to grow, and the capacity of existing advisers is reached, Paul said the company seeks new trainees.
Enduring value of Private Client Advisers
For most Courtiers clients their Private Client Adviser is the human face of the company. They are likely to be the first person a client meets when they are introduced to Courtiers, and the person who is there to advise and guide them and their family.
While there are more ways than ever for people to obtain financial advice, the knowledge, qualifications, skills and personal qualities required of a Courtiers Personal Adviser, combined with significant investment by the company in the team, are testimony to Courtiers ongoing commitment to and belief in the value of the personal service that clients expect and deserve.
Combining skills with advancements in technology, the way Courtiers serves clients can become smarter and offer more convenience. “Having served clients for almost 40 years, the human factor between Courtiers and its clients will never diminish…” explained Graeme. “It’s crucial in building longstanding, trusting relationships.”