Alan Moran: Here’s what I’ve learned after 30 years in advice

Advice milestone

I noticed the accompanying article in the financial press recently and was struck by the similarities with our own business.  Maybe the writer’s age and length of marriage differ slightly but…

Alan writes. Welcome to the 2020s! As we start the new decade, I reach a personal landmark because I can now reflect back over 30 years of helping clients as their financial adviser.

How different things were in January 1990 when I took on my first clients when I was an agent for General Portfolio; the stories I could tell…Their products gave dreadful value but, to their credit, they gave me the grounding in financial planning that has remained the core of what I do. The 1986 Financial Services Act had only been in operation for a little over 18 months and Financial Planning Services had tied up with General Portfolio.

It was the financial planning that I immediately took to heart and, at a time when fact finds for many were literally on the back of a fag packet, mine were held up as an example of how to complete a comprehensive fact find. On the other hand, my managers were often reprimanding me for not selling high commission products, but putting clients first has always worked and I am proud the clients from January 1990 are still my clients today.

Career shift

I am often asked why I started as a financial adviser and there are many reasons why we reach a turning point in our lives. I had been a teacher for 16 years and I saw the opportunity to ‘teach’ people how to manage their finances. From the start, I was attracted to the idea of making a difference in clients’ lives by applying my financial and consultancy skills.

I completed my CII Financial Planning Exams in 1991 and became an independent financial adviser in February 1992. I understood that the more knowledge that I gained the more that I could help clients, so I completed my advanced financial planning exams soon afterwards, gained my CFP certification in 1995 and was awarded my Fellowship of the Institute of Financial Planning.

I became fee-based in 1996, a foresight that meant that in January 2013 the only effect of the Retail Distribution Review was to increase my fees.

Regulation over the decades

Over the years I have seen a succession of regulators starting with LAUTRO, then FIMBRA, the PIA, the FSA, and the FCA. Each change of regulator was an attempt to improve value for clients, but have they got it right? Absolutely not!

Do not get me wrong, I would never want to go back to the ‘anything goes’ days of the 1990s, but successive mountains of administration have made it more difficult and more expensive to provide good, honest advice to ordinary people.

To be fair to the regulators it is much easier to objectify everything and turn things into a tick-box exercise than it is to measure values such as honesty, compassion, empathy, and contribution. Values are intangible and difficult to objectify but if the FCA could find a way to assess the values of the adviser a lot of the box-ticking could disappear.

For myself, there is absolutely no way in which I would ever do anything that was contrary to a client’s best interest and I have often done things for no charge as long as it was right for the client.

Have I always done everything perfectly? Of course not, and I will never apologise for being human. However, did I always set out to make my clients lives better? Absolutely. And have I succeeded? I am a perfectionist, so I will have to accept that 99% of the time is probably good enough.

On reflection, I find it amusing that the regulators have had their work cut out keeping up with me: I was qualified before advisers needed to be, I was fee-based years before the FCA demanded it, discussing vulnerable clients, disability, or diversification.

Golden wedding

My wife probably, justifiably, won’t forgive me if I forget to mention another landmark this month: we were married on the first of January 1970, so we have just celebrated fifty years of marriage. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife, three amazing children, and a grandson who makes me feel great every time I see him.

Top the golden wedding with a golden career where I have helped clients and made a difference almost every day and I could not ask for anything better.

To the younger advisers out there: if you wear your heart on your sleeve and put your clients’ interests first you will have a wonderfully satisfying career where you will make a difference to people’s lives. Then, when you are 71 like me, you can look back with great pride and say that you made a difference (as long as you tick enough boxes to satisfy the FCA or whatever regulator replaces them of course…)

I wish you all the best for the next decade.

Alan Moran is an IFA of some 30 years standing.