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Profile: Secrets – and ambitions – of a Financial Adviser

Helen West, founder of West Financial Management, talks to Adviser Business Review about the challenges of setting up a new business, growing the firm’s assets under administration, writing her book Secrets of a Financial Adviser, and her personal goal for the Million Dollar Round Table. 

Adviser Business Review: What drove you to set up West Financial Management in 2005?

Helen West: I’ve been a financial adviser for 26 years now, and it came to a point in my career where I felt I needed to be organised and decide upon the path I wanted to take. I made the decision to become directly authorised and set up West Financial Management, which allowed me to strike my own work-life balance. I employed SimplyBiz, who were fantastic in providing the support I needed and whom I still use today.

When I founded the company, I was fortunate that I already had several clients to get the business off the ground running. I started by myself but realised almost immediately that I needed administrative support so I brought in a lovely lady on a part-time basis, who quickly went on to become full time.

ABR: You service both corporate and personal clients, who is your typical client?

HW: Corporate clients account for just 2% of our overall client base, but this is an area I would be very interested in growing as there are lots of opportunities for this market, especially within pensions.

My typical client is 75 years of age and retired. I would like to engage with a younger client base, but I haven’t yet had the time or resources to focus upon targeting that segment of the market. We are looking to work more with the next generation of our existing client base, but I must admit we haven’t been great at replacing our deceased clients and this is something we want to work on going forwards.

ABR: How have you built your client base over the past decade?

HW: It’s been a combination of bringing clients with me from my previous job and acquiring new clients. I acquired two client banks from John Wright Financial Services and Ernest Bertie Financial Services, which were instrumental in building the firm’s assets under administration. I also bought 10 Devonshire-based clients from a financial adviser in Wales I knew well, who felt it was better for a local adviser to service those clients. The money generated from the client banks I’ve acquired has played a vital role in growing the business over the years.

We are also exploring other ways of boosting our profile in order to attract new business. Social media, while not fantastic in bringing new clients on, is a good way of raising awareness of our business. My marketing lady, Christine, posts “Words of Wisdom” on my Twitter and Facebook page, which is less sales-orientated and more about personal development. I’m also very active on Facebook (where I’m known as a bit of a foodie!), and I have lots of connections on LinkedIn I would like to tap into going forwards.

We have done seminars in the past but I believe you need to do those on a monthly basis in order to produce decent results, and we don’t yet have that marketing vehicle in place.

ABR: What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own firm?

HW: It can be very difficult to start your own business and you really need a leg up to get it off the ground. I was very fortunate that I had clients I was able to bring with me from my previous job. The first year I didn’t pay myself a penny and the second year I only took £10,000 from the business. I had rental income from properties I owned, as well as the financial support of my husband, which enabled me to be able to build the business without generating an income.

Advisers also need to make the decision whether to join a network or go directly authorised and there’s no easy answer. A network can provide a security blanket, but we’ve all witnessed the horror stories about advisers being left stranded. However, it’s extremely expensive to become directly authorised and you’ve got to be willing to carry the full responsibility of compliance yourself.

ABR: You wrote Secrets of a Financial Adviser aimed at educating youngsters on finance, is this an area you’re passionate about?

HW: I used to do a lot of voluntary talks at schools and really found that financial education was lacking. I’m very passionate about children learning the need to budget and understand the concept of interest and debt. We want to avoid creating a society where youngsters rely on their parents or the welfare state to fund them and I felt there needed to be something out there to address the issue. Of course, financial education is now part of the curriculum but how much onus each individual school places upon it varies. I still firmly believe we need to get the message of financial education across – it’s absolutely vital for future generations.

ABR: What are your plans for future growth?

HW: This year the focus will be upon transitioning clients from commission to adviser fees. There is still a large proportion of assets that could be moved across and I believe that advising people to wash out their chargeable events before they die is best advice. Once that is done, we will focus upon exploring ways to grow a younger client base.

Over the next 10 years, by the time I reach 65, I would like our funds under management to stand at £100 million. I’m currently in discussions with another adviser about how to make that happen and he could possibly be my exit plan.

A personal goal for me this year is to reach the Top of the Table of the Million Dollar Round Table. I’ve been a member for 16 years and it’s been a rewarding experience, with five Court of the Table honours. This year, I shall be focusing upon how I can achieve Top of the Table.

Firm founded: December 2005

Number of clients: 1,000; 130 active

Staff: 7 – 3 financial planners, group business manager, compliance officer, admin officer and PR and marketing manager

Assets under administration: c. £45 million

Visit West Financial Management website

Visit Secrets of a Financial Adviser website

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