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How Alston Hill is targeting younger ‘first-time’ clients

How do you make finance more appealing to people who haven’t yet sought advice but need it? That’s the question financial advice firm Alston Hill is looking to answer. Fiona Bond writes

Lancashire-based Alston Hill is the latest brainchild of financial group Palm Financial Care, and is focusing its efforts on drawing in a younger client, for whom financial advice is a new experience.

Director Douglas Dugdale says: “The aim is to get first timers, those who have never really considered financial advice before. Of course, that means our age group is at the younger end of the scale, with clients in their 30s, 40s and early 50s.”

Dugdale believes financial advice is currently divided between very wealthy clients at one end and DIY solutions at the other end. It’s the “huge” gap in the middle which Alston Hill is looking to help plug.

“There’s a vast number of people out there whose needs are being overlooked because advisers might not consider them very profitable,” he says. “We want to be able to offer solutions that aren’t solely product-focused. Sometimes people just need someone to confirm they’re making the right decision with their money.”

As part of its drive to appeal to this target market, Alston Hill has set itself apart from the more traditional IFA firm, Douglas says: “Traditionally, advisers have liked to focus on accumulation for their clients but we take a different approach, we actively encourage our clients to spend a little money.

“Our overarching philosophy as a firm is to offer people a contented lifestyle – we want our clients to feel safe and that their life today has become easier because they’re a client of ours.”

As a team, Alston Hill places great importance on being approachable and simplifying financial advice.

Dugdale says: “A lot of younger people are sceptical of regulated products and the financial advice market as a whole so we need to break down those barriers if we are going to help people for the future.

“There’s no getting away from the fact financial advice can be perceived as dry, so we know it’s really important to be friendly and approachable. Many advisers feel the need to demonstrate their knowledge but we are the opposite – our clients know we have the capability and experience so we try to make things as simple and straightforward as possible.”

Attracting new clients

But how does a new business seeking to attract younger clients find them? “That is the biggest challenge we face,” admits Dugdale.

The firm, which was founded in 2014, has 130 clients, of which around 40% came through Palm Financial with a tax or accountancy query.

He says: “We found that client’s needs were maturing; they originally started off with a tax matter, but came to demand different services as their personal situations evolved. We realised we needed a one-stop service that would offer more general financial services under one roof.”

As par for the course, Alston Hill will look at any tax or accountancy client’s general financial planning situation, providing a prospect overview. It is a strategy that has a high success rate, says Dugdale.

“As part of our overall package, we look at what we believe the client needs and approach it that way. As long as you’re having the conversation in the right way, they are usually responsive and I would say three quarters of clients engage in the financial planning process.”

Somewhat unusually, Alston Hill makes no distinction between transactional clients and ongoing clients. Dugdale explains: “Even if a client has done just one piece of work with us, we keep the contact going and I think that’s very important. People like to know they have an adviser they can call on if they have a query or would like help. We focus on the relationship aspect regardless of what we’ve done for them and treat everybody the same.”

The firm has a strong referral network, receiving new enquiries both through existing clients and professional connections, but is pushing ahead with new methods to increase its client bank.

Dugdale says: “Of course the challenge with our target market is you’re trying to convince someone to do something they’ve never done before. Financial advice may not have even come on to their radar. Social and digital media is going to play an important part in helping us approach those people.”

The firm already has a presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and is looking to introduce podcasts and webinars to its online presence.

“It’s a matter of getting content out across different channels,” says Dugdale. “I think making that connection with someone is about producing good quality content. You need to be prepared to give away some of your knowledge for free that people will find really useful. For the next three months, we will be very focused on creating content and pushing that into the public domain.

“In this market, you’ve got to be prepared to play the long game,” he says.

Future growth

To complement its drive to grow its client numbers, Alston Hill plans to treble its number of advisers.

Palm Financial group has 10 employees, 3.5 of which are specific fee earners for Alston Hill, and five of whom provide administrative support.

Dugdale says: “We would like to grow to 10 dedicated Alston Hill advisers within the next three years and 12 admin staff. Some may think that’s a strange dynamic but good service is our number one priority and admin is invaluable in achieving that. We ensure every client has a designated adviser and admin person they can talk to.”

Alston Hill doesn’t have a specific target for client numbers, says Dugdale, admitting “it’s difficult to predict exactly how demand will go,” but the firm is confident that its more “approachable” proposition will continue to attract new clients through its doors.

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