Transitioning a business from retiring to new directors
Eldon Financial Planning is gradually transitioning the business to a new set of hands. We talked to Gemma Siddle, director of Client Services, about the development and buyout of the business, the need for firms to embrace developments in technology and plans for the business going forward
Adviser Business Review: How is Eldon Financial Planning’s business transition being progressed?
Gemma Siddle: Tony Connor and Joss Harwood are founding directors of the business. Josh stepped down from her role as director last November. Tony and Joss don’t want to sell the firm as they want it to continue in line with their own vision. The intention has long been for me to step up to directorship to take the firm forwards with Tony when Joss retired.
I have two colleagues that plan to step up alongside me in future years; one a financial planner with a good investment background and the other our operations manager. That means that as and when Tony retires, we plan to move back to a position of three directors. This also involves becoming the company owners and we have already started the buy-out process. However, between us there is no longer an equal footing of business knowledge and financial planning qualifications so it makes sense to take charge of areas of specialism.
ABR: What does your role as director of Client Services entail?
GS: Our team isn’t huge; just 10 of us so my role has developed to meet the needs of the business over the years. As the founding directors have moved toward retirement I have had to develop my skills to be able to carry the business forward and keep continuity of service for clients. We have intentionally limited growth over the years so that our service doesn’t get ‘watered down’ by having individuals work with clients who we feel aren’t ready.
My role as director of Client Services means that I am now shaping the ‘next generation’ of our financial planners and paraplanners as well as ensuring the client service we offer continues to be the best it can and the firm is ready for future challenges. I’m still getting into my stride, but it has allowed me to make changes to our processes and documents to develop and improve the service experience we give to our clients. All of those things that I thought ‘wouldn’t it be good if…?’ are now able to come into being.
ABR: Do you think there’s a growing realisation among firms that they need to bring in new roles to run more efficiently?
GS: I think that every business is unique; it has its own structure and its own blend of individuals with their own skill sets. The key is to have a structure which brings out the best skills of each team member. This makes things run smoothly and ensures everyone is motivated to do their best. As time moves on and the team changes, this may mean that the structure changes but to use an old adage ‘a business that is standing still is moving backwards’.
ABR: Have you noticed client’s requirements changing in line with developments in the advice market?
GS: We work best with people who have more than £250,000 of liquid assets and pensions but less than enough to meet all their life objectives. I think this demographic has a lot more challenges and opportunities available to them than they did 12 years ago, especially around travel goals, retirement plans and tax and pension rules. I think there has always been a need to service clients who have smaller amounts of money but whose needs mean the cost of a financial planner is prohibitive. I have seen many robo-advice offerings but not yet come across any that fully satisfy this need. We have deliberated on offering an “Eldon Light” service in the past but not yet found a way to do this effectively. I hope that someone brings something more comprehensive to the market soon as I think there could be a huge demand.
Changes in technology over my time at Eldon have allowed us to bring much more comprehensive financial plans to clients in easily understood ways. I doubt that any profession can ignore the progression of technology and still move forwards. We already have clients embracing technology in corresponding with us; Skype sessions and JoinMe sessions are becoming part of our world now. However, I don’t think anything will replace that human connection that is vital between a financial planner and a client.
ABR: You started at Eldon 12 years ago as a paraplanner and developed your skills from there; how did you find the process?
GS: I started at Eldon with two years’ experience, and honed my report writing skills and an in-depth knowledge of financial planning solutions. I was encouraged to continue my qualifications and became one of the UK’s youngest Chartered and Certified Financial Planners and a Fellow of the Personal Finance Society. In 2008, I became a regulated financial planner and worked alongside a retiring director to look after his clients, which taught me just how important it is to build trusting relationships with clients.
The process has been a huge challenge and one of constantly developing and learning. The constantly changing landscape of shifting demographics, legislation and product offerings means that even outside of formal qualifications it’s vital to keep up-to-date.
ABR: What are the firm’s plans going forward?
GS: We have never sought more than a handful of new clients a year and we have actively controlled growth as we don’t want to be a big team with a mass market offering. We have a young team in place who are at the top of the qualifications tree and I am developing my business knowledge and taking qualifications to further develop my skills in this area.
Our business is one that we are happy with, clients tell us they love our service. Small improvements can always be made but we don’t plan to change the direction of the business for the foreseeable future.
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