My Dad the hero, Selling Shovels and the danger of paternal subordination

I love my Dad.

He’s far from perfect but he has been fundamentally important into shaping me into the man I am today and for that I’m really thankful!

Years ago my Dad was my hero.

Someone to look up to and admire.

Someone who always did the right thing.

Someone to aspire to be….

However whilst all of this is true I’ve found that as we’ve both got older the reality is a little more complicated. Now my dad and I disagree on loads of different subjects.

He comes from a generation where things were done differently.

He’s used to being part of huge industrial workforces and although I’ve been in those environments I now understand the power (and impact based on their scale) of a larger number of small and medium sized businesses.

He believes in the power of the gang. I believe in the power of the individual.

He believes that a large collective voice is powerful. I believe that a number of different interesting opinions, although potentially chaotic, makes the world a far more interesting place to live and work.

Weirdly, I think the relationship with my Dad is a lot like the relationship I’ve got with the profession I’m proud to be a part of.

Traditionally our industry (I believe we’re slowly moving towards being a profession, but not there yet!) has always had the feel of the parent / child relationship about it…

Big Banks tell bancassurance salespeople what to do and how to do it sometimes to the detriment of anyone but the bank.

Large life companies guiding Financial Advisers (Independent or otherwise) on the best way to make profit, manage their businesses and promote their propositions without truly trying to understand what the adviser (or firm) intends to achieve.

Networks promising to provide ‘umbrella’ solutions designed to make life easier for individuals to run their businesses but potentially making their lives both more expensive and unnecessarily difficult.

At one point in my career (and actually not that long ago) I would have comfortably accepted the fact, without argument, that in the world of Financial Services “bigger is better”.

I still know many financial planners and advisers who still do.

However the more I think about this subject I find myself coming to the conclusion that assuming that “Big Knows Best” is wrong and any form of dependence on either Large Financial Institutions, Life Companies or Networks opinions on how I should run my business, how I judge success and how to best to promote my proposition is fatally flawed.

I believe there are a number of reasons behind this (too many to detail here) however I just want you to consider this…

In the California gold rush of 1849, a few prospectors got lucky. A few did OK. Many failed….

….the guys who made the money consistently are the ones who sold the shovels.

The guys who sold shovels weren’t interested in prospecting for gold…the advice they did or didn’t give wasn’t based on helping the prospectors find more gold. Their interest was to sell more shovels.”

The interests of the shovel sellers and the prospectors couldn’t be entirely aligned.

It’s the same in financial services. The interests of large product providers and small and medium sized financial planning firms are never going to be entirely aligned.

The reason many of us use “Assets under Management” as a sign of achievement is, in part, because that’s how the large life providers define success.

For product providers that’s entirely correct (the definition of a successful shovel maker is selling more shovels). Within my business I’m not interested in playing that game.

Interestingly a lot of the people I admire. like  and respect work in or run large businesses, many of them working within the institutions I’ve talked about in this article.

People with an opinion. People who will listen, think and engage. People who are prepared to engage in intelligent debate with a desire to learn. People who understand that the status quo might not be the best way to continue and constant innovation might be better for all.

The reason I tend to admire and respect these people is similar to the reason I still love my dad….

We might disagree, often fundamentally, but I believe the way forward is mutual respect….not “paternal subordination”

As ever I’m interested in your thoughts….