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We need to recruit skill and talent if we’re to be a profession

The financial advice industry needs recruits who are highly skilled and talented if it is to grow into the kind of profession to which it aspires. One way to do so is through graduate interns, says Tracey Underwood, managing director of DB Wood, Wealth & Risk Management

Tracey Underwood’s career in financial services has included head of research at Fiscal Engineers, operations director at Formation Asset Management, managing director of business efficiency consultancy Pace Solutions, partner of MODE FP with Brett Davidson (FP Advance) and Tim Hale (Albion Strategic Consulting) and most recently she was appointed as managing director of DB Wood Wealth & Risk Management, a Midlands-based financial planning firm of over 27 employees.

Underwood has ambitions for the financial planning firm and is looking to attract recruits who are highly skilled and talented and can deliver financial advice to the high standards required. Indeed, she says for the financial advice market to grow into a profession to rival the accountancy and legal professions, it has to look to bring in high calibre people who can help raise the bar.

“I think the industry needs to look at the quality of the people it is recruiting and to take it to the next level. Financial advice is no longer about picking products and working out a financial plan on the back of an envelope, it’s a profession and we need to have people who have the right qualities, skills and intelligence to do the job in the way that it should be done,” she says.

“What I’m looking for when I hire are high quality recruits who are able to use their initiative. The best recruits are those that you don’t have to tell them the job, you just have to tell them the outcome and they work their way to the answer.”

She acknowledges that finding recruits of that calibre can be a challenge. But the easiest route to market when looking for a skilled recruit is to take on a graduate as an intern, she suggests.

Asked for a practical example, she describes the process that saw DB Wood turn an undergraduate intern into a new member of staff at the level the firm required and with prospects for the future.

Recruitment case study

She says: “Through the DB Wood website we attracted a graduate from a local university who was keen to begin a career in financial services, in particular wealth management. He was predicted to get a first in maths and he wanted to go on to do a masters degree in business and finance.

“We had a telephone call, he came into the office and we spoke to him about what he wanted to achieve. We gave him a placement for two months, so he could see how he found it and to let us assess him.”

What was striking, Underwood says, is that the intern knew nothing of financial planning; his ambition was to work in the area he had heard about, fund management. “The two months was a means of showing him what we did here as a wealth planning business so he could understand what we are about,” she says.

The eight weeks placement saw the intern rotated around the firm’s departments – spending time in administration, paraplanning and advising – in order to understand the constituent roles within the business. “Then I gave him several projects to do, from understanding the investment committee to understanding financial planning. “We explained how fund management underpins financial planning and how an understanding of financial planning was essential if he wanted to work in the industry.”

Finally, Underwood gave him a case study and a cashflow analysis to undertake and present to the rest of the team. “Bearing in mind he had no technical knowledge whatsoever, he did a good job,” she says. “That’s what I wanted to see.”

The experience clearly made an impression as the intern went back to work with the firm over Christmas 2013, “and following completion of his Masters degree he came to work with us full time,” Underwood says.

Two-way relationship

When taking on graduates, Underwood says, she has been impressed by how confident they are in both tackling the tasks they are given and using technology.

Properly structuring their role and their career path, she stresses, is essential. “We have been very focused about what we want him to achieve in the business. He is very investment orientated but we’ve ensured he’s involved in the financial planning so that he gets a fully rounded picture of the business. We’ve also given him a target to achieve in terms of qualifications and a career path.”

From a career path perspective, she says, “we’ve given him a target to achieve in terms of qualifications and a progression path that might be possible within the business if his targets are met. We want to drive assets and value within the company and he has the option to be in financial planning or in the investment space.”

It’s important also, she says, that there is a two-way relationship between the firm and the graduate recruit. “I don’t want people working in the business just for the money – I want them to be in the business because they want to be working here and they enjoy working here. It’s like the relationship with our clients – we want it to be long term and that’s not going to happen unless people enjoy working together.”

To this end, the new recruit has a monthly meeting with a director “to ensure he’s still on track, from our perspective and his and at which he has the opportunity to ask us questions,” Underwood says.

DB Wood now has a formal contact in the university and the firm is going to follow a similar route with another graduate placement this summer.

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