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Five months old IFA business is helping victims of bad advice

Christopher Foster and David Neale set up Pennines Independent Financial Advisers in September 2015. Christopher talks to ABR about setting up a new business, what he feels is a strong moral obligation to help those who’ve received bad advice and the firm’s plans for the future

Adviser Business Review: You set up Pennines just five months ago, what sort of firm did you set out to build?

Christopher Foster: Dave and I have known each other for a long time and we’ve always talked about setting up our own business. I made the decision two years ago to become self-employed, and Dave was made redundant, so it was the right time for us to act. We joined the network pi financial, who have been really fantastic in offering us the support we’ve needed as a new firm. We’ve also got a fantastic office manager, Kellie Mahon, who has been central in setting up and running the business.

Dave and I share the ethos that ours is a client-focused business and that was our intention from the very beginning. When you’ve previously worked for a bank like I have, you see how much is profit-driven, but we’ve always felt the right and better approach is to put the client’s needs at the heart of what we do. Setting up Pennines meant there was no contention between profit/ sales and clients; we could simply focus on giving the best advice possible and building great relationships with our clients.

ABR: Do you have an ideal client?

CF: Dave and I have been doing this for a long time and we’ve both realised that if you’re too prescriptive in whom you’ll work with, you’ll miss out on a lot of great business. Our typical personal client is middle of the road – someone who has built up a pension pot of around £100,000. We also have large corporate clients we look after, who account for around 20% of our client bank.

It’s a very organic business, we like to look after whole families from grandparents to grandchildren and we don’t limit ourselves in the advice we will offer. We are fortunate that our business has grown through recommendations and referrals, as well as enquiries from Unbiased. Our approach is that we will look at everything and we find that because we’re open to talking through all of our client’s needs, they are more likely to refer their friends and relatives to us.

ABR: You say you like to help victims of bad advice/scams. What led you to this?

CF: Without wishing to sound trite, I’ve always been really bothered about people and making sure we do the right thing as an industry. When I started at the bank, my first job was in the enquiry centre and I found myself getting very involved in the disputes and stories I would hear. If people get ripped off, there are very few places they can turn to and the Ombudsman won’t be able to deal with the practical side of things.

If people approach me for help, I feel I have a duty to offer any advice I can. A couple of my professional connections know I am willing, so if they come across a client in a difficult situation, they refer them on to me, and I’ve also had people call the office asking for advice. I know a lot of advisers wouldn’t bother with questions or enquiries of that nature because there’s no fee involved, but I’m a firm believer we have a strong moral obligation to help. I always think what goes around comes around and if you’re in a position to help, why wouldn’t you?

ABR: As a new business, how do you compete with more established local firms?

CF: I’ve never really viewed others as competition. On the contrary, we like to work with other IFAs. In my opinion, if we can collectively raise awareness about the need for financial advice, and do the job properly, there’s enough work to go around. There’s been mention of banks possibly posing a threat, but if anything, we receive more work because of their unhappy clients failing to receive the right service or advice.

ABR: What are your plans to take the business forward?

CF: We don’t have specific numbers in mind but we would like to grow the business so we have enough clients to run it comfortably on a daily basis. I envisage we will take on one more member of staff, an administrator, to help us but this wouldn’t be for another 6-12 months as the business is still very young. There’s a great deal of opportunity in the financial advice market, especially in the wake of the pension reforms, and it’s down to us an industry to educate the public that advice is at the core of what we do, not pushing products.

Date company started: September 2015

Number of clients: 40

Assets under Advice: £9 million

Number of staff: Two advisers, one administrator.

Visit Pennines Independent Financial Advisers website

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