That seems to be the question now in relation to open-ended property funds. Our friends at Apricity summarised the main proposed changes under the Consultant Paper 20/15 which you can read here, including the options available to you at your firm. Here, we’ll look at some of the practical considerations.

Approach to making changes

Assuming the changes come in (or even if they don’t), you might make a decision on whether to keep or remove open-ended property from your portfolios. You may also have this forced on you if you use an MPS who can’t reconcile the rebalancing issues of a notice period. How will you approach each of the outcomes in terms of new and existing clients?

It may firstly be good practice to consider writing to all affected clients and prompting a review of their portfolio to:

  1. Outline your views and recommendations for their investment.
  2. Gather their thoughts on holding an investment with a restrictive access.

Following this, you may decide that (at least) some clients benefit from exposure to property via an open-ended fund.

If you continue to use an open-ended property fund in a portfolio

The main two that stand out are:

  • How will you manage rebalancing and portfolio drift and how will you disclose the limitations to clients?
  • How will you manage cash balances / proportional fund sales for clients with income needs?

You will need to potentially adjust your process when dealing with clients in the scenarios above.

In both the initial recommendation stage, and the annual suitability review, if a property fund is being recommended, you will need to alert clients to the fact that:

The XXXXX fund requires 90/180 days before holdings in the fund can be sold into cash. It will not therefore be possible for you to access your investment outside this notice period.

This would be followed by the risk warnings around the property fund being illiquid and more susceptible to suspension periods.

The important part here is the impact on annual suitability reviews. In the time between reviews, clients will have potentially gone from holding a fund with illiquid characteristics, to holding a fund that behaves in a similar way to a structure product or fixed rate deposit account (without the ability to ‘give up’ returns for access). It is important clients are made aware of the changes.

In the event an open-ended property is to no longer be included as part of your overall proposition, or a client’s specific portfolio, there are some things to consider.

Removing property funds

You will need to take the steps you would take with a standard fund switch recommendation, and follow the process in terms of assessing suitability.

If property is a vital part of your investment proposition, you may need to consider a closed fund if the open-ended structure with limitations on access will not work. There are a number of investment trust options for property, but there are a wide number of additional considerations you need to make before selecting these.

Alternatively, property as an asset class is not essential to achieve a diversified portfolio and we know of many an investment proposition that does not specifically allocate for property.

Summary

The consultation period is open until November and from this point, formal plans and rules are not expected until 2021. You don’t necessarily need to make changes now, but being aware of how you might approach the proposed changes, and what you can potentially do about it, will help you be prepared in the event the proposal comes into force.

In super exciting news (if you’re that way inclined, as I am) the FCA released their 2019 RMAR data recently. I’ll be going through it in a bit more depth next week, but we’ve been quickly dissecting (awful word) some of the key points from it. We’ve even popped it into a handy little infographic for you:

The good

So, on the plus side, since 2015 there has actually been an increase in adviser firms, with an additional 5% now in the market. This shows an increase in competition (which is a good thing for clients).

There had also been an increase in the number of advisers over the previous 12 months, increasing by 3% to 27,557. This shows that the extra firms are not just being made up of the same advisers moving around, but the number of individual advisers is increasing.

A note on this is the impact of SM&CR and whether these figures include everyone that is registered as a Certified Individual, which mightn’t necessarily mean they are the equivalent of the former CF30.

The bad

Despite overall revenue being up for financial advice firms, to £5.2 billion, the total profit is down, to £808 million. This varies hugely depending on the size of the firm, but as a crude measurement that’s still only a 15% pre-tax profit margin. It is very difficult to run an efficient, profitable advice company and, from these figures is getting harder.

The ugly truth

In related news, and as a surprise to absolutely no one, PI insurance premiums had increased over the year. In total, there was a 17% increase in the total amount paid, to £110.3m. That is a lot of premiums. And, not in the FCA paper, but very timely, was the FCA’s renewal fees landing on advisers this week. I think the lowest increase I heard of was 50% (lowest!). There were 100% increases and a Twitter mention of one firm whose FCA fees alone had increased by £100k.

So, when we know profits are going down and (following the market battering of Covid are very likely to drop even lower), even if all other things are being equal (when all other things aren’t equal at all) and essential fees, levies and insurances keep rising (at a crazy, non-corresponding rate) there is only one direction for these profits to go. This can only reduce that extra competition that has been built over the last five years.

An extra thought

There’s been a huge wave of consolidators, networks and firms generally buying up other firms recently. In large part driven because of the aforementioned costs and difficulties. And I’ve written before about the sentiment that perhaps the FCA would prefer a small market of large firms, than a large market of small firms, as it would be easier to monitor. Take a look at this table:

Now, I’m not a financial services regulator, and I fully appreciate the concept of these large firms investing for growth and thus being loss-making for a certain length of time. However, if I was a financial services regulator, I would be weighing up the balance between the smaller firms (that currently make up 90% of the market by the way) perhaps being a bit trickier to keep a handle on vs the larger firms, that are in one place, and can be more easily monitored, but are not making a profit and therefore have much more systemic risks to their customers.

The average loss on these firms was £10m, with the average profit, on those that did make a profit, £2.5m. It’s just a reminder that bigger isn’t always better. I’ve always believed that financial services should be a varied and diverse industry, offering a huge range of options, to allow the end client to find the one that is right for them. And the smaller firms are the way to achieve that.

This article originally appeared in the weekly newsletter from Cathi Harrison, CEO of The Verve Group. Want to receive this every week? Sign up here.

I’ve had loads of questions around returning to the office and I know many business owners are struggling to figure out the best way to approach it, so thought I’d share our experiences.

There’s a lot of different views around IF a return to the office should happen. In the early days of giddiness around this new world and new way of working, I think many people thought that it might become a permanent structure for all. However, having worked from home, alone, for the first two years of starting Para-Sols, I knew first hand how quickly the thrill wore off and how difficult it becomes to maintain routine (and/or sanity).  

This recent survey from Citywire reflects this, showing the majority of firms have now decided to keep their offices, albeit with a bit more flexibility. Clearly, we all now know that working from home can work. Not only that, but we’ve also all been forced to put in place the infrastructure for that to happen (the logistics of which might have previously seemed insurmountable). And so it’s there, as an option, and I think any firms that go back to insisting their team are in the office, Monday – Friday, 9 – 5, with no flexibility at all, will find themselves at a disadvantage when recruiting in future. 

So, if we assume there may be some sort of returning to the office, how do we best do that? Well, practically, this article from Quilter talks about the logistics and legalities around this. But that is only a part of the puzzle; yes we need to do what is lawfully required, but we also need to do what’s right for our team, and that will vary from firm to firm.

Firstly, I would say, our return has been made smoother for a number of reasons: 

  • Very few in the Verve team use public transport in their commute. 
  • There’s also very few with children, meaning there aren’t too many childcare issues.
  • We moved into new, huge, offices in January. Any sort of social distancing in our previous chicken coop would’ve been impossible.
  • There’s 40 of us, which is manageable. The logistics of hundreds of employees is completely different. 

Your team structure and office set up will largely dictate your approach. Those aside, we realised that a huge part of the return challenge is the anxiety people are feeling right now. We’ve had months of our worlds being tipped upside down, being constantly fed conflicting information, and let’s not forget right at the start, when the media and communications we received instilled absolute terror in people. It was brutal seeing how extreme the fear was stirred up in some, and that level of fear doesn’t suddenly go away. So the concerns and anxieties are completely understandable. 

Our approach, therefore, has been: 

  1. All the necessary precautions around desk spacing, designated safe/private working zones, regular cleaning throughout the day, sanitiser / anti-bac etc. This stuff provides an important visual reminder, that can be regularly seen, acting as a reminder to everyone that we’re looking out for them, and they should be looking out for each other.
  2. Phasing the initial return, with half of the team back on Monday and half on Tuesday – to give that sense of coming together and have a big kick-off / catch up meeting, without it being overwhelming by having everyone back at once. 
  3. Encouraging flexible working/working from home for a number of days a week, and providing the equipment for this to happen.
  4. Arranging antibody tests for everyone who wants one (as inspired by Ray Adams at Niche. With this, we acknowledge the limitations around it and that there are no certainty antibodies result in immunity. The purpose of it comes back to the anxiety created around a lack of information and any tiny bits of extra knowledge or information we can give people can only help, albeit being a tiny part of the overall picture.
  5. Revamping our Vitality programme. This is our health and wellbeing programme, with physical (socially distanced) yoga and HIIT classes now taking place, and encouragement of the use of a counselling service we have for those who are struggling with the world as it is.
  6. All the fun stuff! Which we’re kinda known for – but making the first days back fun ones, with a New Chapter theme, pizza vans and breakfast mimosas meant that even those who had most been worried about the return quickly relaxed back into things. Sometimes that first step is the hardest one…

There’ll no doubt be many more challenges ahead for us all, but I thought it would be useful to share what we’ve done so far and why, right now at The Verve Group, we’re all very much looking forward to the future with a whole load of excitement.

Cathi Harrison – Founder and Director, Para-Sols & CEO, The Verve Group.

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It feels like we’re moving on to yet another phase of the Covid journey of fun we’ve all had the pleasure of experiencing so far in 2020; the immediate crisis is moving behind us*, and we’re now staring into an abyss of challenges and struggles as we deal with the aftermath.

Markets bouncing around quite giddily have created a bit of a false sense of bounce back for some. Each recession has its own characteristics, and I think this one isn’t going to be characterised by the performance of the markets, but by the human impact. 

It wouldn’t matter if the stock markets were back at their pre-Covid levels on Monday, the fallout is far more systemic. As we start to think about a rebuild, the challenges are far more nuanced than economics. As business owners, some of the problems we’re currently facing are: 

  • What impact has any furloughing had on staff, and how do those who have been on furlough restart their engines and get back up to speed?
  • What impact has redundancies had on remaining team members?
  • How do you begin to rebuild an office environment, albeit a new style one, when people are so used to being at home now?
  • How do staff balance their work lives when a lack of childcare is still problematic for many?
  • What about morale and team spirit? How do you rebuild that when Zoom quizzes have just about been milked for all their worth? 
  • Most people’s work focus comes from having plans and goals; what do you do when they’ve been effectively ripped up and the future is still looking so uncertain and unsettled for us all?

These are more emotional issues, but ones that will still have very tangible impacts. Most firms have done their absolute best to look after their staff and clients and guide their way through the choppiest of waters. But none of us have got it exactly right, as we didn’t know what on earth we were dealing with, and unexpected repercussions are starting to creep in and I believe will become more and more apparent in the coming months. The immediate health risk may be starting to fade away, but the shockwaves that it has created in individuals and therefore businesses (and therefore the economy) have barely got started.

But – it’s not all doom and gloom! Firstly, everyone is in the same boat. So it’s a great time for sharing and supporting one another (and a lot of good can come from authentic collaboration, and not just for commercial purposes). Plus, a new level of resilience will be borne out of this, whether emotional resilience (realising that the end of your tether is a bit further away than you expected) financial resilience (discovering that a huge amount of expenditure can be very easily cut back with little impact on the daily joys of life) or business resilience (discovering how to flex, adapt and innovate) and these will open a whole world of opportunity. Just as soon as we get out of the current mire. 

Anyway, speaking of the end of Covid, Jo and I optimistically recorded a podcast episode on this last week, as we begin to look back on lessons learnt, and I discovered what a sneaky little minx that girl is. I’ve also linked last week’s Apricity DB webinar, which was a busy one given the recent FCA updates. And, again with one eye on the post-Covid world, we’ve had requests to get our Suitability events back up and running, and so need your help for how these look / where they’re held. If you have 10 seconds to complete the survey below, it would be much appreciated. 

Have a wonderful weekend all. We’ve been working new courses from The Art of Finance and decided The Art of Cocktail Making is an essential one and so I’m kicking my weekend off by doing some essential background research… 

Cathi

*potential second wave / beach madness aside

Episode 10

Listen to: our post-Covid giddiness. And listen out for the post credits chat… weeeeeeee…! 

Suitability

Tell us: how you want our courses, and where. And we’ll be there with bells on.

Talk: Webinar

Watch back: Paul & Christian updating you on the evolving saga of DB transfers

Our Founder and Director, Cathi Harrison, recently took part in The Lang Cat DEADx event and spoke on the panel – she made some important points about value, specifically around MiFID II and investments. Catch up on what Cathi had to say below…

“The question of value, and the role of active and passive management within that, is something that came up at one of our recent training academy events.

At one of our sessions earlier this month, the point was made that when you compare a passive investment with an active one, why would you not be choosing the passive strategy in order to deliver the best outcomes for your client?

This was argued not just on the cost front, but in terms of performance as well.

Schroders were representing the active side of the debate, and they accepted that if you look over the past 10 years, passives were a good place to be.

But they also argued the value they add is when the market turns and we find ourselves in another downward market cycle. In that situation, they argue, active management has an important role to play.

What I think is interesting is when that turn does happen, which it inevitably will in the not-too-distant future, the speed at which markets change is very different now compared with even what we saw in the financial crisis.

The message we give to people who are new to the profession is there’s no single right answer when it comes to active versus passive.

But there is a potential advantage that active managers have in that when they are tested by tough markets, that could well be their chance to shine.

Explaining charges, and what is reasonable

There are many layers to the cost of investment, from advice charges and platform fees to various investment management costs. It’s easy for us to forget how difficult this can be for clients to understand.

Costs and charges disclosure is much clearer now than it ever used to be, particularly as the breakdown is now given in pounds and pence.

Yet it can still be quite hard for clients to really ‘get’ what it is they are paying for. And if they can’t really understand what charge covers what service, then how can they truly understand value and what good value looks like?

Given the adviser or planner is the one who’s closest to the client, arguably the advice charge is the easiest part to explain as it’s where firms can articulate their value.

It’s not about markets, or complex things that clients don’t necessarily understand.

It’s about the relationship, and sitting with that person through challenging times and helping them plan. That is intrinsically what value is all about.

The funds and the platform should offer value too, but that can be harder to explain.

Of course, there is then the issue of how you define what is a ‘reasonable’ total cost of investing.

On the paraplanning side of our business, you do still see some total charges that make you take a sharp intake of breath.

It’s not for us to say what’s right or wrong, but sometimes we do suggest alternative approaches.

Equally, there are some advisers where we’ve argued an increase in fees is justified for the amount of work they are doing.

There are people who are so scared of being seen as ‘overcharging’ their clients that they are not making any profit, and don’t have a viable business model as a result.

Value is subjective, but I think there are clear lines around where certain levels of charges aren’t viable.

The role of regulation and Mifid II 

We are well versed in the reality of costs and charges, and just how complex these can be.

Our admin team spends a huge amount of time on the phone to providers trying to get an accurate picture on costs, and having to deal with the fact that every company calls charges something different.

We’ll get a headline cost figure, but then when we double-check this and ask further questions, it can take a lot of work to get to the true cost figure.

So what chance has the client got in understanding this, or taking any kind of interest in financial services more broadly?

Whether more regulation would be helpful here, or even whether the regulations we have now are working, is debatable.

Take Mifid II as an example.

Mifid II was undoubtedly well-intentioned, and if its aims of greater transparency had actually been delivered as a result of its introduction then that would have been great to see.

Unfortunately, so far it’s been a mess and has just caused more headaches.

I’ve seen a whole load of extra work for advisers and paraplanners, and presumably the same goes for providers. But I haven’t really seen any positive outcomes for clients.

If there was a way we could cut through all of that, and get to one clear, all-in total charge, that would be much more meaningful for clients than whether one particular product, recommendation or strategy offered value over another.”

Just how does our Director, Jo Campbell, manage our growing team of paraplanners? She spoke to Professional Paraplanner to explain all… 

Click here for the article.

This really is an age-old question, alongside legends such as “why is the sky blue?” and “in the land of Cinderella, why did she have such unique feet that she was the only size in the village, yet the shoe was such a perfect fit, it still managed to fall off?”. I digress, sorry. So, the question of “just what is a paraplanner?” has haunted me at dinner parties, the occupation box on ANY application form and even in my own industry. It’s not one that is easily answered but SM&CR (Senior Management & Certification Regime) has dictated that we give it another bash.

For those not familiar with the new SM&CR proposal, in a nutshell, it is new FCA legislation around ensuring the people in your business who can impact upon the client are properly regulated and appropriate for that role. Senior Managers and Certified People. (Learn more about how our sister company, Apricity, can help you in your SM&CR preparations here).

The Senior Management side of things is pretty easy to define, but the second area; the Certified personnel is slightly more obscure. The relevant factors that firms would be required to consider in assessing individuals include whether the role is simple or largely automated, or involves exercising discretion or judgement.

In essence, the FCA has said it is up to advice firms to conclude whether paraplanners should be considered to hold the Client Dealing Function. The FCA rule has been drafted in a way “that provides firms with the flexibility to exercise judgement on whether a role requires certification” Helpful.

Therefore, it may seem quite obvious for the majority of people in your business. You know yourself who has what impact (planners/advisers) and those who have less impact (administrators etc), but what about that weird hybrid we call the lesser spotted Paraplanner?

In general, there are three species of paraplanner.

The in-house paraplanner.

Usually found around the same watering hole and highly skilled in client relations, business models and specific investment propositions. They tend to have the larger impact on your business and depending on the genus of your particular paraplanner, are the most likely to be needing certification. This is especially important if they are involved at any decision level of the advice process or if they contribute to any investment proposition choices.

The outsourced paraplanner.

These tend to roam around the habitat and are curious creatures. They taste a lot of different foods and specialise in a number of different providers, investment strategies, tax areas and financial planning solutions. They tend to be less involved with the client, interacting more with the adviser and thus tend to have less impact upon the decision making of the business and are less likely to require certification.

The third is the middle ground. The Liger, if you will. Those paraplanners who are either inhouse but make no decisions and perform more administrative duties or are just essentially report writers; or the outsourced paraplanners who have such a strong relationship with the adviser they do assist in decision making and can impact upon the end client. 

Essentially, it will be up to adviser firms to decide whether your chosen paraplanner should be considered a certified employee and whether or not they should be included in the second tier level of the SM&CR rules. My advice is to use discretion, but to err on the side of caution. If you think they may have any impact, have them certified. It can’t hurt. Unlike Ligers which apparently can hurt you. (I appreciate I’ve stretched this metaphor really far now and am going to leave before I turn full Attenborough and start preaching about how we should recycle paraplanners to stop turtles getting their noses stuck in them).

Jo Campbell – Director of Quality & Operations. 

On 1st June, we turned the grand age of ten! Below, our Founder and Director, Cathi, shares her reflections on the last decade…

“Well – 10 years – that went fast!

The official birthday for Para-Sols is 1st June, as June 2009 is the month I did my first freelance paraplanning work and was able to do a huge invoice at the end of the month for around £40…  

I had, however, been working on the business for 3 months by this point. I had quit my employed paraplanning role, sold my car, and figured the proceeds from the car were sufficient to pay my mortgage and basic expenses for those 3 months, by which point I would surely be living the freelance dream.  

In reality, I hadn’t factored in things like needing to eat, and so by the end of the 3 months (end of May), I was completely broke. Literally the most broke I’ve ever been in my life. I was recounting a story the other day of, around this time, feeling depressed that my new business wasn’t going how I wanted, I dug around and found 20p in my flat. Literally the only 20p I had left in the world. And I went to Greggs to treat myself to an iced split which I recalled being 17p. But, when I got there, I discovered that, thanks to the wonders of inflation, they were now 25p, and I couldn’t afford one.  

I walked down to my Mum’s (obviously couldn’t afford petrol) and sat and cried at the fact I couldn’t even buy a cream cake. She gave me 10p, told me to go and buy one, and then to go and get a job, as I obviously couldn’t carry on like this. I suspect the majority of new businesses go through similar struggles and lows at the beginning, and I can easily see why many people would choose to stop at this point. I almost did.  

Fortunately for me (not so fortunately for the people who have to deal with me on a daily basis), my intense stubbornness wouldn’t let me quit just yet. I managed to get a repayment holiday on my mortgage, did some part-time waitressing (terribly) to feed myself, and, at the end of that month, was able to do my first invoice… and away we went.  

And what a ten years since! So many highs, so many challenges, so many lessons learned, and the ability to meet and work with so many wonderful people along the way. I’ll be forever grateful to those who have taken a chance on me and Para-Sols; the team, especially the early employees (I’m looking at you Jo Campbell) for taking the risk of joining a fledgling company. And the clients that give us the opportunity to support them and their businesses, and understood when the inevitable growing pains hit and things sometimes got difficult.  

There’s an old adage that ‘overnight success’ actually takes 10 years to achieve… and I have felt every day of those 10 years to get to where we are now! But where we are is somewhere phenomenal, with a huge amount to still look forward to as we build out the businesses within The Verve Group over the coming 10 years.  

So Happy Birthday Para-Sols; thank you to everyone that has supported us, and roll on the next 10 years! Time for an iced split or two I think…”

 

For those internal administrators out there on the verge of pulling your hair out, look no further… we have the answers for you!

Let’s face it, we all know how painfully time-consuming chasing insurance companies can be! Unfortunately, we can’t create any miracles here – however, we may just have some handy hints and tips to ease your stress levels when sending off a Letter of Authority (LOA).

Letter headed paper

To begin with, we would always recommend your LOAs are printed on letter headed paper. You may slip through the net on occasion without a letter headed LOA, but the chances are slim these days. There’s an hour of your life you won’t get back sitting on hold, waiting to find out it’s been declined! If your letterhead doesn’t include the firms’ company address and FCA number, we would recommend that this is to be included within the main body of the letter. This is always required by insurance providers so shouldn’t be avoided.

Info, info, info!

No doubt you will have come across a situation where the adviser has met with a client and the client has no idea what type of plans they have, just a few annual statements stored away from previous years. Our advice to you would be to find out as much information you can from any documents the client has such as, what type of plan this is & plan numbers etc.

You should then have enough information to confirm with the provider which department to send the LOA to, how they would prefer to receive this and whether they require a wet signature, or are happy with a scanned copy. The more groundwork that is done at this stage, the easier it should be once the LOA has been sent off, as you should have a specific department to chase and confirm turnaround times etc. Otherwise, the LOA could disappear into the depths of Aviva, never to be found again.

Most providers will only implement LOAs for a certain period of time. Therefore, if your firm is looking to retain ongoing servicing for the client until requested otherwise, it’s worth including a brief sentence stating this.

What else?

Other points we would recommend to include in your LOAs would be the following;

Clients’ Name

Clients’ D.O.B

Clients’ Address

Clients’ NI Number (required for Final Salary schemes, not generally necessary for money purchase & investments)

Clients’ Signature

Plan Type/s

Plan Number/s

We hope this provides you with some guidance – good luck!

Our Founder & Director, Cathi, will be speaking at Money Marketing Interactive on 4th April  2019 – in the meantime, they’ve conducted an interview with her which you’ll find below…

What is the most encouraging advice market trend you are seeing at the moment?

Advisers changing their mindset from being advisers, to being business owners who happen to give financial advice. Not only does this mean more professionalism, it means more robust, long-term business. It also means better client outcomes and advisers embracing things like technology, outsourcing and implementing compliance frameworks – not because they have to, but because they can see sound business logic in it. This shift will escalate in coming years and turn financial services into a true profession.

What one word or phrase do you think sums up the state of the financial planning profession today?

Trying. Both in the sense of regulation and market conditions making it a very trying time for advisers, but also that all the advisers I speak to and work with are trying so hard to navigate through all of this, to support their clients, to give them piece of mind and to build sustainable profitable businesses. It feels like there’s a huge amount of effort from all angles at the moment, and I think that bodes really well for the future of finance.

What do we need to do to improve financial literacy in the UK?

It simply needs to start earlier. It was hearing about someone receiving an inheritance, when I was 22, that made me question what they would do with that inheritance, and realise I literally had no idea about the world of finance whatsoever.  Not even what an ISA was. Or how a pension worked (despite being in a GPP).

Realising there was this huge gap in my knowledge of something so fundamental is what drove me to begin a career in finance. But I was already 22 and had made some poor financial decisions in life. It’s been said a million times before, but the fundamentals should really be taught in school – as a minimum.

What is the one key skill all aspiring advisers should learn?

It always has been, and always will be, about people, about building their trust, connecting with them to a level that they feel comfortable talking about their money, something that doesn’t come easily to most people.

Having knowledge is important. But listening skills, empathy, and being able to explain the complex in simple terms will always be the mark of a truly great adviser.

Read the original article here.

Most people associate me with Para-Sols, my original baby, and a paraplanning business that has exceeded every hope I could have ever had for it. Paraplanning was my background, my first love, and building a company that enabled me to do what I truly enjoyed for a living was an absolute dream.

But, as all babies / businesses do, it grew up. It didn’t need me as much. Para-Sols has an incredible team, and a brilliant grad scheme that brings trainees through and takes them on the paraplanning journey. And so, without it needing 100% of my attention, I was able to look at what other issues there were in financial services that I thought I could help do something about; and along came Apricity. Still in its relative infancy compared to Para-Sols, it nonetheless has had its stabilisers removed (sorry for all the metaphors!) and I was once again able to scratch another itch I had.

And so today sees the launch of two more entities; The Art of Finance, designed to bring more people into financial services and show them what an amazing career option it is, and, pulling all of these together is The Verve Group.

Within the group is the existing brands and companies; Para-Sols, Apricity, The Grad Scheme and The Art of Finance, which all support at least one of the two missions of Verve:

To provide financial planners, of all shapes and sizes, with the best support services around and; shout about how brilliant a career in finance is, and provide opportunities for those wanting to get into it.

In addition to these, I have my own personal mission – to run the type of businesses I always wanted to work in. I regularly pledge to my team that working with me, they should never have ‘the Sunday night dread’, and if they do, I’m failing. Our employee total is approaching 35, and so the environment from when there were 5 of us is very different, and sticking to this mission means constantly changing and evolving; but it is one I am completely committed to.

So a lot has changed in the last 10 years (10 years!) but also a lot has stayed the same; a love of paraplanning, a desire to help promote financial services, an enthusiasm for supporting advisers and enabling them to build their businesses further, and a determination to be the best employer I can be.

It’s been an absolutely thrilling 10 years, and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 hold. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped and supported and generally been lovely to us over the years. It really is a wonderful profession to be part of.

Cathi x

Recently our Director, Cathi, took part in an interview with Professional Paraplanner where she was asked her 3 top tips from a compliance perspective to help paraplanners – this is what she said…

1. Get your head around charges disclosure – as best as you can!

Mifid II has caused all manner of bother, with very complex requirements that, for the most part, simply can’t be met right now, due to lack of information from funds and providers. But this will change from April, with enhanced reporting required from them.

So it’s important to start with a clean sheet, understand what disclosure is needed, and how you will turn that into something clear and understandable for your clients. As ultimately, that’s all that matters. Don’t get bogged down in detail that doesn’t benefit the client!

2. Be clear on the difference between a client’s needs and objectives.

Objectives being what clients want to achieve (retire at age 60, pay off mortgage, for example) while their needs are often identified by the planner, being more quantifiable, and more essential (£1,500 net per month in retirement for example).

Sometimes needs and objectives work in harmony. But sometimes they are mutually exclusive, and the planner may have to work with the client to understand the importance of their needs.

As a paraplanner, knowing this distinction, and challenging a factfind that doesn’t provide sufficient detail to enable you to identify both objectives and needs, will mean a more robust file, clearer process and more suitable advice.

3. Familiarise yourself with COBS 9.4.

Before you fall asleep, hear me out! At the recent Professional Paraplanner Technical Insight Seminar I presented at, almost every single paraplanner was amazed that in the Conduct of Business Sourcebook, the FCA only ask for three things to be in the suitability report.. 3!

1. The client’s objectives

2. Why the advice meets those objectives

3. What the disadvantages are.

Everything else, in theory, will be on the file, or in supporting documentation, such as an illustration.

In reality, we all put more than this in, as you want a single document clearly explaining the advice to clients.

But being familiar with the actual FCA requirements can really help you assess how your firm is approaching reports, and whether any improvements can be made.

For more information on how our sister company, Apricity, do compliance – head over to their website.