Paul Armson: Advice needs a sea change – what if life depended on it?

Advisers must be more committed to updating their service proposition if they want to survive

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Aug 15, 2019

It was mid-November and my partner and I were sailing back from the Greek Islands to Sicily. The wind had just died, leaving a bumpy sea, and we were motoring approximately 100 miles offshore.

Suddenly there was a loud bang. The boat, Spellbound, shuddered. Then her engine came to a complete stop. That’s not a good feeling when you’re 100 miles offshore, with no wind, and you’re drifting towards a major shipping lane.

First I checked the engine room. No sign of trouble there. But the engine would not start.

We must have hit something. There was only one thing for it: I had to go into the water and check the propeller.

So, down into the cold sea I went and, peering into the darkness with two miles of water below me, I spotted the problem. The propeller was tangled in a huge mass of yellow.

It was an offcut of commercial fishing rope, more than six inches in diameter and multi-plaited, consisting of thousands of individual threads.

Somehow I had to cut through it but I’m not a strong swimmer, nor a big fan of snorkelling. However, this was no time for fear; it had to be done. So, I attached our best bread knife to my boathook and, for more than two hours, underneath 32 tons of boat that was rising and falling in the waves, I worked to remove the tangled mess.

This made my partner, Lynn, think it a great idea to book me on an Open Water Scuba diving course for my 60th birthday.

She knows I hate the thought of diving under water. In fact, I freak out when a little saltwater enters my goggles when just snorkelling on the surface. But I had to follow through with the course.

Within a few lessons Vasilis, the instructor, had got me taking off my goggles, completely, 40 feet underwater. I’m now a certified open-water diver – achieved in seven training dives and around four hours of underwater instruction. And I’m addicted. I’ve dived almost every day since.

How did I master these new skills so quickly? How was I able to conquer my fears? How did I break bad habits? One reason: my life depended on it.

Breaking old habits

When you learn to Scuba dive your life depends on your quickly breaking old habits and creating new ones. If you don’t, you could die. It’s as simple as that.

In order to change you commit, you learn, you practise, you succeed. Or, you get out of the water, never to return, missing out on a whole new, amazing adventure.

Right now, advisers need to change. They need to change from being primarily money and investment focused to being truly life centred – where the focus is their clients’ lives, not their clients’ money. The financial aspect of everything advisers do is quickly becoming commoditised. Technology will be the death of traditional financial and investment-based advisers, just as it has been for travel agents and record shops. It’s just a matter of time.

Yet it seems to me most advisers are refusing to accept this; holding on to a service proposition that, in many cases, is not worth the money that is being charged for it.

In the US, things are changing fast. The 1 per cent assets under administration charging model is under threat. There are the likes of Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, with its hybrid model delivering full investment management and financial planning with access to a certified financial planner for just 30 basis points all in. Others like Schwab are offering all this too, but for free. Technology is changing things.

Life first, money second

Now is the time to deliver what a computer algorithm could never deliver. It’s time to connect with clients about what matters most; understanding what their money is for and aligning it with their life. Life first, money second.

I’m often told by advisers they have every intention of changing – they want to deliver a more meaningful service. They want to secure their fees by delivering more value and better client outcomes; they want to adopt a lifestyle financial planning service proposition; they want to change their client conversations, to ask better questions; they want to adopt comprehensive cashflow modelling software; they want to help clients see where they are heading financially; they want to keep the focus on what matters most, to help clients get a better return on life, not just a better return on their investments. But, they say… they are finding it hard to do so.

That’s because they haven’t realised yet: their life depends on it.

Paul Armson is founder of the Inspiring Advisers Lifestyle Financial Planning Online Coaching Programme and co-founder of Life Centered Planners

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