What do clients value most in an adviser? Jennifer Hill spoke to them and their advisers to find out
When Billy Mitchell’s wife Susan died from bowel cancer two years ago, the 45-year-old baker wanted peace of mind that their son Jake, now 6, would have some financial security.
Billy received a life insurance payout of more than £300,000 following his wife’s untimely passing at the age of 42, and knew he needed help to invest it. In seeking the help of a financial adviser, one criterion was forefront in his mind: trust.
‘Good value for me is knowing that I have a very trustworthy adviser who I can rely upon at any time to always offer sound financial advice,’ he says.
Tom Munro, director of Falkirk-based Tom Munro Financial Solutions, came highly recommended from close and trusted friends.
After clearing debts, including fully repaying his mortgage, and placing funds on deposit to cover short-term cashflow requirements, Tom invested a total of £250,000 for Billy, from Coatbridge near Glasgow, using a cautious investment strategy that aims to yield long-term capital appreciation of around 3-4% per year.
‘At the time we met, Billy was still coming to terms with what his and his son’s future looked like,’ says Tom. ‘His life plan has now been implemented, securing both his and Jake’s financial future through a sound cashflow plan and agreed investment strategy.
‘At base, most clients want someone who will listen, understand their concerns, communicate with them in a clear and transparent manner and generally demystify the complexities. Building trust is essential, as any long-term relationship will only survive on this key characteristic.’
Clients often seek advice when life takes a turn for the worse, as well as leading up to milestone events like retirement.
‘People tend to come to me when an issue has arisen and specific advice is needed,’ says Kusal Ariyawansa, a chartered and certified financial planner at Appleton Gerrard Private Wealth Management in Manchester. ‘Death of a loved one, divorce, disillusionment with existing investments, retirement planning, defined benefit options and fast-growth entrepreneurs wanting proactive planning are common themes.’
One of his clients, David Drakes, 73, lived and worked in London for 45 years, the last 35 of which were spent running a small marketing and promotional consultancy. His life changed eight years ago.
‘My business fell apart around my ears due to a management buyout and coincidentally my marriage of 35 years ended in divorce,’ he says. ‘Having no money I fled to Nottingham seeking shelter and lodging with my elderly mother, who was in her mid-80s at the time.
‘Two years on she died leaving myself and my two siblings the sum each of £40,000 from the sale of her modest bungalow. With no assets and a small personal pension as a result of the divorce I knew I needed expert financial advice.’
David had worked with financial services companies as a marketing consultant and called on a contact for a recommendation, again with the key factor being trust.
‘One thing I’d learned from all my years as adviser to members of the financial services community was the value of trust,’ he says. ‘Above all, can I trust this person to give objective, honest and fee-based advice that takes account of my circumstances and concerns?’
Kusal believes the majority of clients are looking for trust, competence and independence in an adviser. ‘Many have specifically stated they searched online for an “independent financial adviser”, then “chartered” and finally got a better feel after visiting our website,’ he says.
Anecdotal evidence from advisers and their clients is backed up by market research. Trust, expertise and availability are the top three things that clients value, according to Cicero Research.
Its findings suggest that the exact services a financial adviser delivers – portfolio performance, tax planning and putting together a plan to meet life goals – are seen as a given. What matters more is the relationship and the confidence that having the right expert on board brings.
That is not to say that clients do not value specific services. When asked to pick up to three services they value most 65% said regular reviews, 46% ongoing portfolio management and 35% strategy and planning – underlining the importance of integrated financial planning and investment management.
Gender stereotypes are reflected in the figures with women placing greater emphasis on reviews and planning and men seeing greater value in the performance of their investments.
And, although there is some desire for reviews over the phone and portfolio management online, there is a clear preference for face-to-face service delivery – perhaps unsurprising in light of the importance clients place on individual relationships with advisers.
Regular contact is something that Unbiased, the site that connects consumers to advisers, has also identified as being important.
‘Clients want an adviser who has the right experience and qualifications to suit their needs; they want a safe pair of hands,’ says founder and chief executive Karen Barrett.
‘When searching for an adviser people want to know three main things: that their prospective adviser has the expertise to deal with their requests, what costs they will be charged throughout the process and when and how regularly they will be able to speak with their adviser.’
Back on track
Billy meets Tom every six months to review his financial plan and ensure his long-term objectives remain on track. Every quarter, he receives a valuation statement.
‘I also have online access to valuations and other information through the wrap platform Tom manages my investments on, which I think is useful,’ adds Billy.
‘The main value to me though is in knowing someone I trust is continually looking after my savings and investments and I believe this commitment offers good value; I’m confident that Jake and I are in good hands.’
For Kusal the value ‘lies in the journey’, something that David backs up. His finances have now stabilised and he feels good about life.
‘It’s important to set some clear objectives for your money, for your life,’ he says. ‘Above all, be realistic and fair in your expectations. Mediterranean cruises aren’t my cup of tea, but a seat at the Theatre Royal when Opera North is next in town definitely is!’
Jennifer Hill is a former deputy money editor of The Sunday Times, personal finance correspondent of Reuters and personal finance editor of The Scotsman