When it comes to a platform partner, a high level of support and desire to work collaboratively to help advisers achieve their aims are paramount. Jennifer Hill speaks to six advisers who use the Zurich platform about their experiences.
Prosperity Wealth hired Stuart Watson in 2011 to help with its RDR readiness and identify one or more platforms that would enhance the firm’s proposition. Stuart and the board heard presentations from all major players in the platform space. It was around this time that he came into contact with Dan Powell, who has been Prosperity’s business account manager ever since.
Prosperity introduced its first client to the platform in October 2012, prior to its wider launch, and has since placed £97 million onto it.
“Dan was genuinely enthusiastic about Zurich’s upcoming proposition and was instrumental in convincing the board it was a viable option,” says Stuart. “Whilst the main aspects of the platform were pretty much in place, there was still a bit of fine tuning to do before it would be ready for launch to the intermediary population at large. We were incredibly impressed by Zurich’s preparedness to take on board our thoughts and ultimately incorporate some into the final proposition.”
Aspects of the platform that impressed Prosperity at the outset, and continue to be of real value to the business, include pre-funding of buys, sells and tax relief for pension contributions; ease of navigation; strong and readily accessible support at central and local levels; and competitive costs.
Dorset-based Strategic Solutions was an early adopter of the Zurich platform and now has £54 million on it. “All projects naturally have times when things don’t go as planned and we felt very pioneering in the early days,” says principal Kevin Forbes.
The response from senior personnel at Zurich showed their commitment to making the platform work. “This was particularly emphasised when David White [managing director and head of retail management] and Mark Peters [head of retail propositions] came down to Bournemouth themselves to meet with us to discuss how they could make things better,” says Kevin. “One of Zurich’s big strengths is its willingness to listen and improve – something that has continually been done with the platform since launch.”
Kevin hails the platform’s client reporting “second to none”, giving clients easy to understand overviews of their assets and investment charges.
He believes the future success of the advice profession hinges not on technology, however, but on attracting fresh talent. “We need far more help from our professional bodies and regulator to encourage firms to invest in future advisers; big, strong and wealthy firms like Zurich should be encouraged to build adviser academies.
“It won’t matter how whizzy the products and platforms are without good quality advisers.”
THE ADVICE NETWORK
The Advice Network, of Berkshire, has used the Zurich platform since launch and today has £80 million on it. Practice principal Ramon Puig, an adviser for 28 years, knew Rob Henderson, regional account manager for south west England, beforehand and hails the relationship with Zurich staff as “priceless”.
“Our relationship with the senior directors and their proposition team is superb,” he says. “We receive weekly support visits to ensure our staff – new or existing – know how the platform works.
“That level of support is rare. Zurich has invested in people – very stable and knowledgeable people; Rob Henderson has the same qualifications as me.”
Ramon also rates Zurich’s willingness to listen to what advisers want. It is in the process of introducing a children’s pension, junior ISA and corporate investment account to the platform – three wrappers Ramon wanted to see – albeit it has taken longer than he would have liked.
He would like to double The Advice Network’s assets under management over the next five years and is “incredibly optimistic” given dwindling numbers of qualified advisers to 20,000.
On a personal level, his biggest goal is to help his 24-year-old daughter return to full health. “Her condition is recoverable, but it will take a lot of support to get her there.”
At the time Zurich was looking to launch its platform, Manchester-based Halstead was seeking a strategic partner to provide a trading platform for the in-house discretionary fund management (DFM) service it wanted to offer.
Today, Halstead has around £30 million on the platform and intends to continue to grow its DFM assets under management. It also hopes to offer its ethical investment service to other firms and introduce an online alternative to its face to face proposition, while working towards a four-day week for all staff to promote a better work/life balance.
Mark Halstead, a chartered financial planner and investment manager who runs the company his father founded in the 1970s, describes Zurich in five words as “safe, secure, efficient, global and quality”.
“We have appreciated having a number of high quality Zurich staff available either on a face to face basis to provide in-house training to relevant members of staff or to answer queries at the end of the phone.
“We’ve particularly appreciated the fact that staff take ownership of issues that arise and look to create solutions in a timely manner. Of special note is the flexibility there is for us to request new investment funds be added to the platform panel. This happens within the stated timescales.”
The Zurich platform was used to some extent at Martyn Allum’s previous employer and since October 2016 it has been the platform of choice at his current firm, Cambridge-based Tees Financial.
The director sums Zurich up as “supportive, encouraging, professional, friendly and understanding”. His Zurich business account manager, James Judge, had a clear understanding of the company’s objectives from the outset and the relationship has been strengthened by support visits to Tees and a visit to Zurich’s office in Cheltenham.
“This further embedded our relationship at many levels across Tees and Zurich,” says Martyn. “The time and effort Zurich takes to understand our business is a key factor in our shared success.”
Tees has £28 million on the platform and Martyn sees the relationship as central to the company’s future. The adviser plans to develop its DFM proposition and wants Zurich’s capability to evolve further to manage its future proposition. Martyn would also like to see further two-way integration with Intelligent Office and the introduction of more tax wrappers on the platform – onshore bond, junior ISA and full SIPP.
The industry’s greatest challenge, he believes, is recruiting quality advisers. He advocates putting more time and resources into “old school” skills training and offering a clear career path from the outset.
UNIQUE FINANCIAL PLANNING
The introduction of Zurich’s retail platform has been “transformational” for Swindon-based Unique Financial Planning.
“At a stroke, we had a stronger proposition to offer to our clients – one that strengthened our relationships and made our planning conversations more meaningful and transparent,” says practice principal Stewart Williams.
The Zurich platform now looks after more than £130 million of its clients’ investments.
“The support we have had from the whole team has been terrific. They have helped our advisers understand how the platform operates and its more intricate features that can assist our customers in understanding their holdings, tax positions and investment performance.
“Use of the platform has also been a real benefit to me in running the business. At last, I have clear sight of our assets under management and a far better understanding of the fees that it will generate. This seems a simple point, but it is key to predicting cash flow in the business and supporting its management. It also enables far better valuation of businesses that we may wish to purchase as we grow.”
Stewart has designs on Unique growing significantly, both in assets and advisers, in “short order” and believes its relationship with Zurich will continue to be a catalyst for development.
Jennifer Hill is a former deputy money editor of The Sunday Times, personal finance correspondent of Reuters and personal finance editor of The Scotsman.