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AE: A stepping stone to the masses?

Diversification has been a buzzword among the adviser community in the wake of the groundbreaking changes to remuneration ushered in by the retail distribution review.

Many advisers have entered the corporate advice arena to facilitate the perceived loss of business in the fallout from the switch from commission to a fee-based model.

Now The SimplyBiz Group, which provides compliance and business support services to adviser firms, aims to support advisers already active or moving into the space with the launch of what it claims to be the UK’s first workplace academy.

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Speaking to Financial Adviser, Tom Nall, workplace solutions director of the SimplyBiz Group, said the sector is brimming with income opportunities – further augmented by the advent of auto-enrolment (AE).

He said: “Something like AE is a great opportunity for advisers to acquire new clients but it is not going to last forever. Advisers have had to respond to auto-enrolment because it has probably had a significant impact on their existing corporate clients. If advisers are not in a position to assist their clients through the legislative change, clients are likely to go to another who can.”

According to The Pensions Regulator, as many as 1.3m small and medium-sized businesses, micro businesses and new employers are expected to reach their staging date over the next two years.

This means that a plethora of these businesses will require financial advice on a scale they have not needed before.

A 2015 survey conducted by Jigsaw on behalf of the pensions watchdog, which took the views of 585 small employers (with between 5 and 49 employees) and micro employers (with between 1 and 4 employees) with a staging date from August 2015 onwards, supports this sentiment.

Of the small employers interviewed, 85 per cent said they will rely on an adviser to some extent to help them through the AE process, while only 10 per cent said they would be completely self-reliant.

There is a wide selection of workplace pension schemes offered by leading insurers to choose from, and there is also the taxpayer-backed Nest. Therefore, AE presents financial advisers with the opportunity to show their mettle and proficiency in their trade to find a satisfactory solution for employers and their staff, according to William Annison, employee benefits consultant at Derbyshire-based HWWA Consulting.

However, the transition from advising individuals to advising scalable firms is not necessarily a smooth one. The latter is a different kettle of fish that requires different skills, experience and charging models.

Some adviser firms have repositioned their practices and have forged alliances with accountancy firms to deliver the best possible outcome for staging businesses.

Mr Annison said: “Unlike accountants, financial advisers are not involved in providing payroll services, but an accountant would be crossing the line if he or she were to offer advice on pensions. That is where financial advisers come in.”

Meanwhile, some of the larger IFA practices have established an entire corporate advice arm to reap the benefits of AE.