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Does your firm need a dedicated operations manager?

Rachel Kitching was appointed as head of operations for PKF Cooper Parry Wealth in early 2014. ABR editor Rob Kingsbury spoke to her about what the role entails and what benefits it brings to the wealth management firm

Rachel Kitching was appointed as head of operations for PKF Cooper Parry Wealth in early 2014, following a major review of the business by its chief executive Stephen Jones. This saw the company sell off its SIPP and employment benefit arms and focus on its core business, wealth planning for high net worth and business owners. It also saw the appointment of a five-strong management team to lead the business forward, including heads of technical, client delivery, business development and head of operations.

Since then the company has gone from strength to strength, increasing assets under management by £45m in the past year, from £135m to £180m.

Rob Kingsbury spoke to Rachel about the responsibilities of her role, how the role benefits the business, whether the benefit can be tracked to the bottom line, and the qualities of a good operations manager.

Rob Kingsbury (ABR): What are your main responsibilities as head of operations at CPW?

Rachel Kitching: It’s dealing with large-scale projects and supporting our CEO Stephen Jones and the team in delivering those, as well as delivering on our day-to-day targets. They include management information, financials, recruitment, learning and development, and processes and technology.

For example, we have recently undertaken a review and change to our back-office system. That has been a massive project because everything is touched by the back-office system that you use – your processes, the way that you handle your client information, the way that you look at your financials and deal with them, your management information, and so on.

But, while it has been a huge undertaking, it has been a fantastic opportunity to look at what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and to make changes where necessary.

In the past, the back-office technology available to financial planners has had limitations and to some extent it has driven the way that we’ve done things. That saw us build our processes around what the technology could deliver rather than having technology malleable enough to do exactly what we wanted to do as a business.

Now we have a piece of technology that is easier to manipulate and therefore to fit in with the way that we want to work. This opens up a lot of opportunity in the way that we operate and the service that we can deliver to our clients – as well as the management information (MI) that is accessible to the business.

ABR: How did you approach that project?

Rachel: With a project as far reaching as this, you have to be extremely structured about it. We split it down into phases. We looked at the entire project and decided that the first stage would be to transfer the data over, making sure that we maintained the data integrity and that we could continue business as usual.

Then we looked at a range of other steps, including how we could use the software to change the way that we communicate with clients, for example, sharing documents and information with them; how we could embed our processes within it – because being able to embed your processes in your technology means that you can draw out lots of useful information, such as how long individual processes are taking, who is doing what, whether things are running efficiently. You can get a different kind of MI out which isn’t just about financials, it’s also about efficiency and profitability and that can take the business to a whole new level.

ABR: What does the role of operations manager bring to a company?

Rachel: Perhaps one of the major benefits of employing an operations manager is that it helps free up the time of the chief executive to do the things that he or she should be focusing upon, the things that add value to the business.

Also it means there is a proper focus on the operational area. I think that is really important. Too often operations is the poor relative in a firm, taking a back seat to winning new business and the day-to-day servicing of that business. Without some kind of formal oversight, processes and procedures just get thrown together as and when someone has time to do it or there is a pressing need. Having a dedicated operations manager role means that there is someone there to focus on what needs doing and making sure it is done efficiently, and cost effectively. In terms of growing a company, bringing in an operations manager can be a big win from day one.

ABR: Do you think more adviser firms will start bringing in this type of role to their businesses?

Rachel: I hope so. I know a few people who are now doing the same or a similar role to me within different businesses. I think it is growing and I hope that other firms will follow suit because we have certainly seen a lot of benefit from splitting out the role within Cooper Parry Wealth.

ABR: Can you track that benefit back to the bottom line?

Rachel: Absolutely. You can see the benefit in terms of the client advisory side of the business, as the advisers have more time to focus on bringing in new business and serving clients, and it can be seen also in the improved efficiency in the way that the whole machine works, how the clients are engaged and in an overall improved client experience. That can have the added benefit in terms of client retention and staff retention, as well as other factors that may not be as easy to measure.

And it’s about taking that step up. The reason for Cooper Parry Wealth examining whether an operations manager role was needed was our ambition to take the company to the next level. As a business you have to think about how that next step is taken because you are not going to get there just be doing the same old thing, you have to look at where you can make savings, where you can create efficiencies, where you can create a greater focus, and what you need in order to scale the business to where you want it to be.

By having a distinct operations manager role within the business, just as you have distinct roles for client advisory, paraplanning, client service, and for the CEO, it’s bringing a greater clarity to the business. Before we created the operations manager role there were probably four or five people doing the different elements alongside their own role. By bringing it all together in a focused way, those people are now free to concentrate on and be more productive in their core roles.

ABR: Are there particular qualities that are prerequisite for a head of operations?

Rachel: I think you’ve got to be able to turn your hand to a lot of different things, because you do have to deal with a wide range of different elements within the business. For instance, HR comes within my role as head of operations as well as conducting projects into technology, and also looking into financials. These are massively different disciplines. So you need that ability to put on different hats in different situations.

Most importantly, you have to enjoy doing it. I really love this role; I’m very passionate about this business and its success and that drives me to find efficiencies wherever I can. Other things a good operations manager needs, I would say, are a keen eye for detail, enjoying challenge, the ability to negotiate – with suppliers and internally – and managing personalities.

One of the advantages I had was that I had worked in many areas of the business. I started out of university as an administrator, I was a paraplanner for a number of years, I was a financial planner, and then when I started to get involved in some of the strategic thinking of the business it all came together for me. But you’ve got to have an real interest in the areas that you will be dealing with – if you don’t have a love of technology and can get excited about the possibilities it offers and if you are not fascinated by cashflow modelling and profit and loss statements, then you’re not going to be loving your day-to-day job.

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