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Profile: Nicola Watts, Jane Smith Financial Planning

Nicola Watts, director, Jane Smith Financial Planning talks to Adviser Business Review about taking on the family business, the advice gap and her plans to grow the firm’s client base through a rebrand.

Adviser Business Review: What made you decide to join the family business?

Nicola Watts: It’s often said that many people in the industry didn’t aim to work in financial services but fell into it. I suppose my story is a similar one; I left university with no clear idea of what I wanted to do. However, my mother ran her own IFA practice and I found myself taking an increasing interest. I really like the fact that this is very much a “people business”, but that there is also a technical challenge to it.

ABR: Is there a particular area of the market you’re interested in working with?

NW: Our focus is on financial planning and key to that is cashflow modeling and planning for clients’ future objectives; helping clients get the answers to the questions that really matter to them. Although it’s key to the advice process, they’re not that interested in investment performance and tax wrappers – they just want to understand that they are going to be able to retire when they want to, that they can help their children with the expenses that might crop up such as house deposits, weddings and so forth, and that they can maintain their current lifestyle if they wish.

Most of our clients are well-established professionals, who come to us at a point in life when priorities are starting to change; their children may be approaching further education or have flown the nest, and suddenly thoughts around new options including retirement are beginning to sound attractive. They tend to have various pensions and investments, normally in excess of £300,000, but aren’t sure how to bring those together to achieve their future goals. They also tend to be employed, rather than business owners, and have a firm idea of their annual income.

ABR: What’s been your proudest moment to date in running Jane Smith Financial Planning?

NW: We’ve received various industry awards and accolades, but while it’s lovely to be recognised within the industry, it’s actually client outcomes that really affect us. Only this morning, we received an email from a client thanking us for helping them buy a new home. The client had seven different pensions; final salary, guaranteed annuities and guaranteed minimum pensions were all thrown into the mix so we unraveled all of those for him and managed to secure him the income he needs to retire in five years’ time, extra for dream holidays and a new home.

ABR: What’s the biggest challenge in running your own business and what advice would you give someone looking to do the same?

NW: Delegating! Many of us are great practitioners, but we have to admit that we can’t, or might not be very good, at doing everything. It’s vital to get a good team around you, people you can trust and be confident in that they will get on with things. Obviously, as a firm you need to have processes and systems in place, but time spent investing in your team will pay ten times over.

My advice to someone wishing to set up their own business is learn from your mistakes but don’t give up. We’ve tried various things and sometimes they don’t work so you go through a process of working out what’s right for you as an adviser and as a business. Don’t give up at the first hurdle!

ABR: What are your views on the advice gap?

NW: Currently, we don’t feel that we are able to service lower level clients profitably, so we’ve focused our attentions upon slightly higher net worth clients. That said, the advice gap is an issue that needs addressing and the problem we need to tackle is how to educate and encourage those with slightly less funds or just starting out. Initiatives like CISI Financial Planning Week help raise awareness of the need to plan not only for the here and now, but also longer-term. I think a lot of the larger firms will be able to offer robo-advice or a proposition that allows them to service clients with smaller pots, but creating that requires time and money which is difficult for smaller firms like ours.

ABR: What are your plans for the future?

NW: We are just in the throes of a rebrand, including a new website, which we hope will help us to communicate our proposition far better, and attract new clients. We currently have 105 clients and a comfortable capacity for me would be around 120 clients. Having just recruited a new administrator, the focus isn’t on growing the existing team for the moment, but of course taking on a new adviser might be our next step. The trouble is, clients like our personal approach and my direct way of dealing with them so the challenge would be to find someone who could emulate that.

Visit the Jane Smith Financial Planning website



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