Understanding people before products
Steve Martin launched the Smart Training Academy to help financial planners to improve and refine their soft skills and effect permanent change in their business model
Steve Martin, founder of Smart Financial, wants to help financial planners around the country communicate more effectively with their clients through the expansion of his Smart Training Academy.
Just four months after launching, Steve has ambitious plans to increase the number of academy training sessions, with two planned this month and a further two to three in mind for the months thereafter.
“We’ve held two in the North west so far, one in London and the next two will be in London also, but we’re looking at Scotland, perhaps somewhere in the Midlands and maybe Belfast. We want to broaden our reach and add value where we can,” says Steve.
The training Academy was borne out of frustration at watching good planners struggle, Steve says, and aims to provide them with the soft skills required to make lasting and meaningful client relationships.
“Having been active in the IFP world for many years, something that surprised and disappointed me was the number of people who purported to be financial planners but actually didn’t practice true financial planning,” explains Steve. “By my definition, a financial planner is about understanding people before products.
“I used to do a lot of presentations around creating the perfect first meeting with clients and noticed that people were very interested in that but didn’t know how to change, so they reverted back to their old ways. It made me wonder how many people would benefit from having a guiding hand and someone to offer critique.”
Along with his team at Smart Financial, Steve made the decision to found the academy in September 2016 and within a month, held its first training day attended by 12 people. Steve describes the first event as an experiment to gauge appetite for this type of training. Such was its success that Smart Training Academy went on to hold a further two training days with 12 and 18 attendees respectively.
Creating an initial connection
Steve says: “Our clients are not those who see Lifestyle Financial Planning as a new tool with which to build their assets under management or sell products; it’s aimed at those people who recognise they need help creating that initial connection with clients. We are a non-denominational academy; we are happy for one man bands or employees of larger firms to attend. All that matters is that they share a desire to learn and improve and refine their soft skills.”
He explains: “We offer a microcosm of what we do as a firm and it really resonated with those who attended. I think it’s a very brave thing for people to do, as they’re trying something different and willing to admit they may need help. We’ve received great feedback and it’s made me realise we really have something to offer.”
Steve, who promoted the academy through Smart Financial’s website and Twitter, believes financial planners can often be too caught up on trying to solve a problem or recommend products.
He says: “Financial planners need to be able to distinguish between a good and a bad question as it can truly be make or break for them. Of course, we all have academic skills, but unless you can forge that relationship with a client it’s pointless and you’re directing those skills in the wrong direction. You need to ‘get’ the client and know how to truly understand them.
“If I can help people understand what financial planning is really about, and move them away from the idea of transactional advice, then that’s great for us as an industry. There’s plenty of work to go around, but we need to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the differences between financial planners and IFAs,” he adds.
Practicing successful interaction
As such, much of the training is focused upon role-playing, which Steve passionately believes is the key to learning soft skills and becoming a successful financial planner.
“Practicing role-play is vital to see how a financial planner interacts with clients and steer them towards asking good questions which will open up the relationship and enable them to offer true lifestyle financial planning,” he says.
Going forward, Steve is considering running sessions that will be completely role-play based, in order to provide financial planners with an environment where they can practice.
He says: “When they first attend, supervision is absolutely necessary as they require that guidance and someone to point them in the right direction, but as they improve they may just need the opportunity to practice their skills so it is something we are giving thought to for the future.”
Steve is also entertaining the idea of running an ‘advanced first meeting skills’ course, which would focus more heavily upon the theory of questioning for those who have attended the initial training.
The Academy currently has three trainers, including Steve, but will look to bring guest presenters on board who can share their experience, as well as other facilitators.
He says: “I’m keen to get more people involved and have word spread; our aim is to help people and share experience so that we can improve our industry. This is still very early days so there are lots of options to consider and it’s really about seeing what interest is out there. If it dies a death, then it was fun while it lasted but if it continues to grow and add value then that would be fantastic.”
Visit the Smart Training Academy website