FMB managing director on how a university business programme helped to differentiate her company
What makes you stand out from your peers? Highlighting your chartered or certified status on your website may have been enough several years ago but many more advisers have added those credentials to their armoury. Post-RDR, differentiation requires a little more creative thinking.
When Kendal-based Financial Management Bureau managing director Liz Beavis wanted to explore ideas to make the family business stand out, she joined Lancaster University Management School’s Innovation Development Programme. This six-month programme is designed for Cumbria-based small and medium-sized firms to explore new ideas using their peers as a sounding board, then learn how to put them into practice.
“Some of the things that came out of the programme were around the advice gap. Quality one-on-one financial planning is quite expensive so we discussed how we could deliver it to a group of people so the cost is more manageable. We came up with the idea of offering financial planning through businesses as an employee benefit,” Beavis recalls.
That idea became FMB’s Flourish, Prosper & Thrive financial education package. Highlighting that the financial wellbeing of employees is linked to their mental wellbeing, FMB is promoting the package to firms as a way of attracting and retaining staff, and reducing financial enquiries to HR and payroll. It is run as a programme of team workshops that can be followed up with one-to-one coaching sessions.
“We developed the Flourish workshops for apprentice-level employees and younger people. Prosper workshops are for those in their mid-career and Thrive is for those coming up to retirement,” says Beavis. “We trialled it with another business on the programme a few months ago and they were really happy with it.”
Beavis says students at Lancaster University Management School looked at how the package could be marketed and drummed up plenty of interest during their initial approaches to businesses.
Running through the content of the workshops, Beavis says Flourish covers anything from how payslips and tax codes work to avoiding the pitfalls of credit cards and what to do when financial difficulties arise as a result of debt. “We do a similar thing for people later in life and when planning for retirement if they can’t afford to take full advice,” she says.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
At a strategy meeting once, Ruth [Power, FMB director] said “keep it business, not personal”. She meant always think of things from a business viewpoint.
What keeps you awake at night?
Sometimes the unknown. There are changes in our business all the time.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Technical issues with replatforming have had a big impact on us delivering advice.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Safeguard the reputation of the financial services industry by cracking down hard on bad advice.
Any advice for new advisers?
Invest in yourself, not just technically but also develop your people skills, as you need elements of both.
Beavis is passionate about financial education and also does her bit to promote financial services in schools.
“Everyone knows about solicitors and accountants but it’s important to get out and promote financial services as a profession to young people. It’s a shame our profession is not seen as a career you choose, but a lot of people are trying to do something about that,” she says.
Awareness of financial planning as a career choice is only one aspect of what Beavis feels is lacking in terms of financial education. She thinks consumers have a hard time working out whether the service they get from advisers is good or bad. She adds: “It makes such a difference to people’s lives when they have access to good financial planning. But if you were to line up 10 financial planners for someone, they wouldn’t know what good looks like. If you’ve only seen one financial planner, you don’t know if they are good or bad.”
Beavis would like to see some consumer-focused education about what good looks like and potentially some sort of kitemark system. She does not think chartered status, often described as the “gold standard” of financial planning, does this because it relates to technical competency, rather than advisers’ behaviour towards clients.
She says: “Technical qualifications don’t necessarily mean you will go and do a good job. Anyone without an ethical stance can get qualifications.”
Beavis started her financial services career at FMB in 1999, having previously spent a year in admin at the local chamber of commerce. At FMB, she focused on the marketing side initially, as she was skilled in desktop publishing.
The firm was co-founded in 1987 by her late father, Leslie, but Beavis had no particular ambition to pursue a financial services career. “It’s the usual story of falling into it,” she says. “I took an interest in marketing and as I progressed, I ended up doing every single role in the business – reception, admin, team leader and marketing on the side.”
After taking her exams, she became a trainee financial planner and a director, before becoming managing director in 2008 following the death of her father. At the same time, her sister, Ruth Power, became a director too, having joined the firm the previous year. So how have they gone about retaining the things that clients loved about their father’s business, while making it their own and bringing in fresh ideas?
Beavis says: “A lot of the values my dad brought to the business remain. For example, investing in people and for everyone to share in the success of the business. He wanted to give everyone a voice in the business.”
Wanting to preserve that element while bringing it up to date, Beavis and FMB’s three other directors introduced focus groups, where staff are given the chance to put ideas forward for all aspects of the firm.
“It feels good when clients say my dad would have been proud of our achievements. He was an early promoter of financial planning and cashflow modelling 12 or 13 years ago as he could see that was a huge benefit for clients,” she says.
“We’ve taken his core values and run with them, formalised them and made them more explicit – like the focus groups. We brought them in over five or six years ago; it was not something he did.”
Looking ahead, Beavis says the firm wants to improve and increase corporate work. It is reviewing its service standards and charging structure for the first time in nine years. “We want to get it as right as it can possibly be. The financial element is important; you have to be profitable otherwise you will not sustain a business for long,” she says. “But we also look at cultural elements – being the best we can be and getting the right outcomes for clients. It’s very important for us to uphold a good reputation, as if you don’t, you are not going to get new clients through referrals.”