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10 years of learning in Financial Planning

I have been reflecting recently.

When I started at Xentum I pretty much started in a small financial advisory practice.  There was 5 of us at the time, funnily enough we are still all working together.

My first day was actually assembling the computer that was still in a box on my new desk (facing a wall).

It is amazing to think that during my time at Xentum, I have probably done every job within Xentum and now I am in control of its destination as Managing Director.

I thought it would be useful to give some thoughts to those that are at the start of their careers as I was in 2008 as it has been a steep learning curve from day 1.

Your integrity is everything

I have been lucky at Xentum.  I have never been subjected to a target and from the moment I joined, I was taught to treat every client with complete respect and integrity. I didn’t appreciate the value of this until later down the line.

The issue with integrity is that once you lose it, you can never get it back.  You will face decisions throughout your career that will test this integrity.  Does it feel right and is there a conflict of interest?

If you ever feel like you are put in a position that your integrity is put at risk, my advice is to find a different environment as it is your career and sometimes unfortunately other people will gamble with this.

I say this often, but at the end of the day as financial planners, we are looking after people’s livelihoods and if you don’t treat this with respect then you don’t deserve to be in the profession and I certainly don’t hold you as my peer.

Patience is key

As an employer now, I am interviewing lots of potential financial planners that have either just left school or graduated.   One of the common questions I ask, is how long do you think it will take you to be a good financial planner (note the word Good in there).

I hear lots of different answers from 2 years to 5 or 6 years.  My personal reaction is towards the 5 or 6 years.  It takes patience to be a good financial planner.  If I look back on my own personal career, I wasn’t let loose on clients for the first 3 years, I did paraplanning and admin for nearly 4/5 years and I then started advising properly around 5 years ago.

This felt right for me.  Becoming a regulated financial adviser is a big responsibility and needs a strong support framework around it.  If I gave poor advice, that was both on me personally and also on the firm.

My advice to any aspiring financial planner is to take their time and be patient as I was.  Spend time doing qualifications and learn from the other financial planners that you respect.  You will know when the time is right to sit in front of a client and this isn’t about age, this is about confidence.

Go beyond the qualifications

When I first started in the profession, I had made the assumption that I would have to take a lot of exams to become Chartered (this was the pinnacle for me).  It was eventually 14 in all and a lot of hard work and lost weekends.  I didn’t appreciate at the time that this was probably a minimum benchmark for my financial planning career.

When I look back at this, I understand the importance of these exams, but I have only really improved as a financial planner when I have looked outside the qualifications.

I started reading books, watching videos, going on courses and conferences and I now believe this has been the more important learning for my career.

Understanding how to deal with certain types of clients or sell my services or even how to ask great questions is not in a textbook or on a structured CPD course.

These are all things that set you apart from the pack when you are a financial planner.  These are the things that you should be learning in addition to the qualifications and this is only going to become more relevant as we are starting to see some of the technical advice become more commoditised.

I wish I started this learning sooner and this is something I advise to new entrants.  Place importance on learning beyond the qualifications.

At the moment I am just finishing a coaching qualification and next on my to do lists are CFP and also corporate finance exams.  Never stop learning.

Seek the best out

You may or may not know that I host the NextGen Planners podcast.

Over the past couple of years I have had the privilege to interview so many great financial planners and the knowledge gained has been invaluable.

Beyond that, I ask the opinions of people I respect including my Chief Executive Dominic Baldwin who I have worked with for 10 years on a regular basis.

My general experience is that if you care about this profession and ask good questions there are plenty of well respected people willing to help.  I remember one moment in particular of a conversation I had with a very well respected financial planner about a client and a situation and talking it through with someone who had experienced it many times was such a great resource.

We often have this within the NextGen Planners community where we have some of the brightest minds in financial planning helping others be better.

Don’t be afraid to learn from people you respect and ask them directly for help, you may be surprised at the response.

This also relates to your employers.  You shouldn’t settle for a poor employer, you should seek the best employers out.

Understand that people have a lot of fear with money

This was a turning point for me around 4-5 years ago.

When advising successful business owners you always make the assumption that they are great with money and finance. They control their own board rooms and are usually competent with their company finances.

What was fascinating to me was how vulnerable these successful people were with money.  They were like the rest of us in their fear of dealing with it, managing it, outsourcing responsibility with it.  It is often the hardest thing for them to deal with.

We are all fundamentally the same and we often have certain things driving us including how we interacted with money when we were younger.  If you understand why this fear for a certain type of client exists then you actually have a lot of power in the trusted relationship – that should never be abused.

Be yourself

This is my final point.

I can’t stand the old fashioned stereotypes that people have on our profession, it damages all of us.

I haven’t worn a suit in nearly 3 years to a client meeting.  I deal with extremely successful business owners and they know that I care, I am direct in how I deal with them and I want to listen and understand.  This is my normal style and I don’t change it when dealing with clients.

My age also isn’t a barrier because I know my stuff which relates to the points above.  I spend hours a week learning my craft trying to get better.

Over the years I have learnt to be myself in front of clients and my confidence has grown because of this.  It is really important for your career that you learn to be yourself in front of clients and work with clients that respect this.

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