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Profile: Business owners, bucket lists and big industry changes

Lamb & Associates partner and chartered financial planner Bill Marshall talks working with entrepreneurs, his succession plan and what impact the Financial Advice Market Review (FAMR) will have on the industry

Adviser Business Review: What led you to join Lamb & Associates in 1994?

Bill Marshall: Shared views on business. David Lamb started the business in 1992 and I made the decision to join because David and I shared a very similar outlook in terms of what a business should be. I had previously worked as a broker rep, but I wasn’t happy and I knew I needed to do something very different.

David and I have always strongly believed in the “financial planning’ side of financial advice – it’s at the heart of the firm’s proposition. We want to know what drives our clients, what fuels their dreams and what they’re passionate about achieving and we ask them to fill out a bucket list so we can really get to the core of what they want out of life.

ABR: What kind of client does Lamb & Associates service?

BM: We work with a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs, and being based in the North East means we work with a lot of public sector workers too. Although many clients are entrepreneurial in their jobs, some are very cautious investors. If I had to generalise, I would say most of our clients fall within the ‘mass affluent’ category, although we also have some high net worth clients.

The age of our clients varies greatly; we look after individuals in their 90s and we also have clients in their 20s and 30s, often the children of existing clients. We have never discriminated on age, profession or assets; we are open to anyone and everyone who wants and can benefit from financial planning.

For us, it’s about making people’s money work for them and helping ease their worries, rather than selling products.

ABR: How have you built your client base?

BM: I started with no clients, and today I have a database of around 200 contacts of which approximately half are active clients. When I first joined, I offered mortgage advice as a way of attracting people through the door, but I decided not to pursue that side of advice for too long as it wasn’t an area I particularly enjoyed and my focus was upon financial planning.

As a firm, we’ve tried our hand at various marketing activities with varying success but generally speaking we’ve found the greatest source of new business has come through recommendations from existing clients.

ABR: What opportunities do you see for your clients?

BM: Most clients just want a fair return and don’t have an appetite for anything too risky.

We use passive portfolios, and have done so for the past five years, as we believe it’s the most effective way of keeping costs low whilst meeting client’s expectations.

In the current markets, if you’re looking for a 4-5% investment return per annum, why complicate risk and add layers of cost? Discretionary fund managers and so forth can mean very little to the ordinary investor. They simply want to know that their money is safe and that they can achieve out of life what they want.

In terms of opportunities, the pension freedoms have been a fantastic development and made the landscape much more interesting for clients and advisers alike.

The biggest change I’ve noticed is among the 40-something age group. Previously a business owner of that age would have very begrudgingly invested in a pension, but now there’s much more excitement to do so because their options are much greater.

Of course, it’s not without some risk as we all know the government can’t help but tinker with pensions and it’s very difficult to know what the pensions market will look like in 20 years’ time.

ABR: Has auto-enrolment presented a good opportunity for your firm?

BM: We’ve done bits and pieces for clients when they’ve asked but on the whole it’s an area we’ve decided to steer clear of.

You get two types of business owner; those who want to look after their staff and see auto-enrolment as a chance to enhance their benefits package and those who want to do the bare minimum and it’s simply a case of making sure they’re compliant.

The schemes we’ve helped with in firms where they’ve wanted to take care of their staff have been interesting because those directors tend to be more passionate about their workforce.

ABR: What impact do you believe the Financial Advice Market Review (FAMR) will have on the industry?

BM: What is likely to happen is that the vested interests, the large financial institutions, will hold sway. I think it’s good that they’re setting out to address what they see as issues in the market, and it presents a great opportunity to sort out the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) costs and create greater communication between the Financial Ombusdman (FOS) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), but in reality it’s difficult to know how successful these proposals will be. I think there’s doubt as to how much of an impact it will really have.

ABR: Do you have a succession plan in place?

BM: I’m 50 so I’ve got some time, but I’m very aware that at some point in the not too distant future I will have to consider my succession. Given the average age of an adviser, my view is that in ten years’ time it will be a buyers’ market for Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) firms, as a whole host of advisers look to retire. I’ve also thought why build a value in a business only to get rid of it? Would it not be nicer to pass on to one of my children, and keep it in the family? There are options but I’m in no rush to make a firm decision.

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