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‘Indie’ network wants to keep family feel to business

Mark Hobbs founder of 12-year old New Leaf Distribution tells Fiona Bond he wants to keep the business personal and to have a positive influence

New Leaf Distribution is a network with a difference, says founder and managing director Mark Hobbs. Labelled an “indie” network Hobbs says it has family, training and ethics at its core.

Hobbs says: “Since setting up in 2004, we have evolved greatly but our commitment to remaining a personal, family business seeking to have a positive influence hasn’t changed. Our purpose is to work with each adviser as an individual and train them to become whatever they desire.”

In the 12 years since its launch, New Leaf has grown to 124 advisers, all of whom Hobbs knows by first name.

“Our advisers are dotted all over the country, but it’s important to me that I have a personal relationship with each and every one. We meet in person a minimum of six times a year and also over webinar twice a week,” he explains.

The business welcomes both experienced advisers and newcomers to the industry, and offers courses to become a fully qualified mortgage broker, insurance broker, business protection adviser, equity release specialist and independent financial adviser. It has won an award for training from the IFS School of Finance and is Ministry of Defense approved to train staff leaving the Armed Forces.

Hobbs says he was inspired to set up New Leaf after recognising the huge gap in the market for such a business.

“The networks aren’t that interested in new people, but I am. I think training and personal coaching is hugely important and I enjoy watching people embark on a journey that is not just professional but academic and personal too,” he says.

Around 70% of New Leaf’s advisers came to the firm direct, while 30% came from other networks. Each adviser is charged £495 + VAT annual membership fee, which covers all their training, as well as a set monthly fee and a percentage of their returns, which is set individually according to the adviser’s productivity and needs.

Challenges of being self-employed

However, Hobbs admits that only three out of the 10 applicants seeking training will make it through the process, noting that the majority of people who apply often fail to realise the challenges of being self-employed.

When an adviser joins New Leaf, they are provided with the company’s branding and framework to grow their own business but while they are trained in how to find business, New Leaf does not provide them with clients.

Hobbs explains: “A lot of people come to us believing they have what it takes to set up their own business but they’re often in love with the fantasy rather than the reality.

“They need a financial buffer in the bank or a partner who can support them as they won’t be making any money for the first six months, as well as a real commitment and the right personality to go out and get business. We have to make sure it’s the right decision for where they are in their life right now; if it’s not, we tell them.”

Those who do go on to become part of New Leaf’s network receive a full paraplanning and compliance service. The company undertakes advisers’ research from the whole of the market, be it pensions, protection, investments, and writes suitability letters as well as completing online applications.

“Joining New Leaf allows advisers to develop their business to the highest level they want to achieve with absolutely no paperwork to do,” says Hobbs. “We set their KPIs and pay them, it’s that simple.”

Hobbs describes New Leaf as a “home service business”, whereby its advisers go into the family home and fill the gap many firms are unwilling to tackle post RDR.

“A lot of financial advisers won’t deal with people who have less than £200,000 to invest but I see a huge opportunity. Why wouldn’t we want to offer people with £60,000 assistance? The job of helping people to achieve their goals in life, be it a mortgage, a will or long-term holistic financial advice is massively important and hugely rewarding.

“Eventually those clients might turn into the £200,000 plus clients and we will have been there with them on that journey,” he adds.

Looking to grow IFA numbers

Currently, the majority of New Leaf’s advisers are mortgage and protection specialists, with just 30 being IFAs. It’s a ratio Hobbs is keen to change going forwards.

“We want our mass to be IFAs, so my goal is to grow that figure from 30 to 50 and then eventually 100,” he explains. “We are a profitable business and not under pressure to adhere to strict timelines but I do believe we will achieve 50 within the next couple of years.”

Hobbs believes there needs to be greater focus on encouraging new blood into the financial advice industry, and says IFA firms need to be “less short-sighted” and put in place training programmes to help the industry grow going forwards.

He says: “Mortgage and protection advisers tend to be much younger than financial advisers, and I think we need to recognise that young advisers have a harder job of winning over older clients.”

He adds: “The solution is investment; firms need to be willing to take on and train staff and there needs to be a change in mindset to consider the future. I do believe that there is very much a place for the banks in the advice industry. Some of our best advisers have come from building societies and banks and they do receive fantastic training and experience.”

Staying family focussed

Hobbs is full of praise for his advisers, and is very proud of the fact that nearly 50% of his network is female. Although wanting to grow the business it will be through organic growth he says. He has placed a cap on the number of applicants he will take on in a year, with a current waiting list of 12 advisers – a decision, he says, which is governed by his desire to remain a family business and not a corporate entity.

“I love what I do and I want to continue enjoying my job. I think growing the business to vast numbers would only breed discontent among my advisers and I take great pride and joy in the fact that they’re very happy with the current set up.

“My goal is to help my existing advisers on their professional development so that we have more fully qualified IFAs,” he says.

Visit the New Leaf Distribution website

Fiona Bond is a freelance journalist and media consultant

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