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What does it take to lead an adviser business?

Running your own business can be tough. ABR talked to adviser business leaders about the key attributes they believe are needed to be a success.

Running your own IFA firm may sound like an alluring prospect for many advisers, but there is little doubt that it has its own challenges. In an environment of constantly changing legislation, competition and political and economic unknowns, business owners have to be both adaptable and resilient.

Anna Sofat, founder and managing director of Addidi Wealth, says: “Setting up your own business and then making that leap from a one-man band to hiring staff will only work if you are very clear about your own goals.

“You must have a vision of where you want to go and be completely engaged with that vision.”

Being passionate and dedicated is something Ray Adams, founder of Newport-based Niche IFA (pictured), echoes.

“First and foremost, you must do something that will interest you; there is absolutely no point in setting up a business simply for money if you hate every second of it.

“If you find a job you truly love and care about then it won’t feel like work and your clients will recognise and value your passion,” he says.

Since starting Niche IFA alone in 2005, Adams now has a team of 24 people and cites careful planning as key to its growth.

He says: “I’m naturally a very cautious person and have avoided taking any unnecessary risks. I have 24 people now reliant upon me, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I keep one-year’s worth of staff wages in cash as an insurance policy, which protects us from outside influences.”

For Adams, his staff play an integral role in the success of the firm and he advises creating a positive environment.

“A happy and supportive culture is vital and the lead starts with the business owner and feeds through,” he explains. “A jolly disposition is infectious and my commitment to the clients and offering the same level of quality service, irrespective of their assets, is the same throughout my team.”

For many business owners, their approach and zest is one that they want to see mirrored in their workforce and Adams prides himself on creating a desire among his staff to learn and attain new qualifications.

“I’m a huge fan of exams and as a firm, I want both clients and prospective clients to know we are always up to date with developments in the market. I’ve built a business whereby everyone is on a mission to improve and that’s especially important if you want to stay ahead and build a successful business in this day and age.”

Strengths and limitations

Business owners agree that recognising their own strengths and limitations and that of their staff is an important part of running a successful business. Being able to utilise the differing skill sets across the team, and trusting team members to handle different aspects of the business, is key.

Sheriar Bradbury, managing director of London-based Bradbury Hamilton (pictured), looks for a strong work ethic and the right attitude in prospective employees. He says employees need to be commercially aware, so that the decisions they make benefit the business’ growth.

“I’m very disciplined in my approach to hiring staff. My experience is that some of the younger generation lack the focused goals my generation had, possibly as a result of unattainable house prices and the cost of living. Technical ability and knowledge can be acquired, but you need to have the right work ethic if you’re going to be an asset to the business,” he says.

Bradbury points to a change in the advice market, noting that the era of adviser being at the mercy of clients has shifted, with advisers now in a position to take greater control. He believes firms seeking to stay ahead of the competition need to recognise their value and have it reflected in their business structure.

“Advisers need to start charging a sensible amount for the work they do, like other professions. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, such as compliance, and this should be factored in,” says Bradbury. “In order to run a profitable firm, advisers should have in place a fee system that is fair to both adviser and client and refrain from doing work that is uneconomical.”

Bradbury offers the first meeting at his expense but would charge for any time thereafter and describes firms who carry out work without assurance of payment as “old-school and unprofessional.” He speaks from experience; he reported a rise in the firm’s profitability when he put a stop to his staff carrying out unprofitable business.

“Having a rigid and fair fee structure in place that is not open to negotiation, ensures that we are completely independent and not incentivised to steer clients down a particular route. I think it’s highly unprofessional to work on an incentive basis as it doesn’t put the client’s needs first,” he says.

Certainly, those at the top of the business need to demonstrate an ability to be both resilient and adaptable to changes in the market. Against a backdrop of increasing regulation and growing consumer awareness of differing types of financial advice, business owners need to be flexible and ready to develop their proposition to deal with change.

Many of those heading up their own IFA firms have come through the traditional adviser route, rather than business management, and it is their responsibility to learn and develop an understanding of the many different aspects involved in running a business.

Bradbury says: “You need to understand legal requirements, accounts, have technical know-how; setting up your own business requires you to be a bit of an all-rounder.

“We are in a changing market and you’ve got to constantly think about what’s round the corner and be braced for how it might affect your business. Running your own advice firm is difficult, but incredibly rewarding and encourages you to develop lots of different skills.”

Offering trust and reassurance has long been the pinnacle of being a successful adviser, but Sofat (pictured) says that having a desire to personally develop and trust those around you is key when leading the business forward.

She says: “Of course, you need to be good with people and have the ability to attract new clients, but beyond that you need to have more to you than simply offering advice and being a good salesperson.

“Successful business owners are good at doing things their own way; they have a specific set of values and a vision and strong businesses reflect that throughout.”


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