Where are all the Independent Financial Advisers?

A dearth of quality Independent Financial Advisers is hampering the expansion plans of one of the oldest and largest financial advisers and law firms in Essex. Birkett Long partner and Business Development Director David Cant explains how the firm is grappling with this recruitment challenge.

Over 25 years ago we added financial services to our range of services to complement our legal services offering, extending the “trusted adviser” experience for our clients. It’s been a great success.

Over the past 16 months we have struggled to fill just one of up to three IFA roles available. I’m sure we’re not alone, but how frustrating!

Significantly, over the past six years, Birkett Long has acquired six law firms throughout Essex and we now wish to expand our financial services operation to deliver independent financial advice to the many clients this acquisition strategy has brought to us. 

Operationally, our aim over the next 18 months is to have at least one IFA situated in each of our three offices – Chelmsford, Colchester and Basildon. Sounds quite straightforward and achievable.

As an employer our pedigree is second to none. We’ve got a great brand that people trust, and a reputation for looking after our staff very well. We hold a Gold Investors in People Award and we are offering a very good package with excellent prospects. But for now it doesn’t seem to be making a difference.

Our existing Financial Services team is very strong and experienced, and has delivered considerable growth over the years. Six of my colleagues in the 13-strong team have worked here for 15 years, or more, so we have a habit of retaining our quality staff. 

Therefore, you can see recruitment is a new challenge for us. And it’s tough! That said, it’s not through lack of trying either: online recruitment, traditional newspaper and magazine adverts, almost daily contact with specialist recruitment agencies. Quality CVs have been few and far between. My scant consolation is that the agencies and competitors we speak to say it’s a problem throughout the market.

On a positive note we actively encourage career progression within the firm and fervently believe in developing our staff through the ranks. Two of our existing paraplanners are looking to train and qualify as IFAs over time and although qualification of one of these is imminent, that doesn’t solve our recruitment issue in the short term. Across the whole team we’re also open to recruiting apprentices as we recognise that home-grown talent is a positive long term strategy.

We’re still acquisitive so that presents other opportunities to increase our IFA team, but in some ways that’s not the most cost effective way to recruit.

We acknowledge that the industry has to regroup and find itself again and we are looking for the cream, the most experienced. As an employer if you are looking for that ultimate role of “trusted adviser” you are looking for the very best.

Furthermore, many IFAs have left the market following the Retail Distribution Review. Many IFAs facing the prospect of requalification and the ongoing regulatory changes and compliance issues have turned their back on the industry for good –enough is enough. Our competitors understand the marketplace too and not surprisingly are taking good care of their quality IFAs and consolidating their businesses.

What I want to get across is a career as an IFA has great longevity; it’s a profession of which to be proud. With an ageing population and a silver economy dependant on quality advice it really is an amazing opportunity. 

Many IFAs we interview appear to have ‘lost’ their whole of market knowledge, seriously diluted in their restricted advice environment. Candidates need to demonstrate their market awareness, product and fund knowledge. They need to evidence their understanding of more complex investment scenarios and advise on what the client needs rather than just focus on what they can sell to the client. Above all they need to demonstrate their value to us – few can!

The industry has to do its bit, too, and ensure it attracts new blood. Young people need to be given more encouragement to pursue a career in financial services (perhaps with better academic representation at further and higher education stage). 

We need to see greater promotion of the industry and look to rebuild confidence, focusing on examples of good advice, advisers making a difference, and much less of the over-stated negativity we’re always reading about. Quality IFAs should stand shoulder to shoulder alongside other professional advisers such as lawyers and accountants. The industry needs to highlight why IFAs play such an important and valued role and why they should be proud of what they do.

One thing’s for sure we won’t compromise on quality and, despite our frustration, we remain optimistic that we will achieve our recruitment objectives and watch our financial services business grow from strength to strength.