An insurance broker founded in Leeds in the 1940s, the company’s wealth arm launched a few decades later. Further expansion took place, including the launch of the Bartlett foundation in 1995 – a charitable venture that distributes 8 per cent of the broker’s pre-tax profits to worthy causes.
With eight CF30s as at the end of last year, the company’s financial planning arm remains smaller than many on the list. But it continues to punch above its weight.
Here David Bates, head of wealth management at the business, gives his thoughts on recent shifts in the industry and at his own company, as well as discussing issues such as changing priorities, service levels, and adviser recruitment.
What are you most proud of over the past year?
My team. Covid-19 has posed many challenges, but the team has responded fantastically well and adapted to the new way of working without complaint.
We’ve seen no drop in productivity – a fact that attests to their work ethic and commitment to clients. The support they’ve provided each other with has also been great to see.
Has the pandemic changed priorities for you or your clients?
I think many people have had time to reflect and reassess the priorities in their lives.
For us as a business, nothing has changed in that clients remain first and foremost our main focus. But personally, the additional time spent with family has been priceless and helped serve as a reminder of what’s really important in life.
What’s been the hardest part of the shift to new ways of working?
The film Groundhog Day springs to mind. One of the most enjoyable aspects of a financial planner’s role is the variety, which includes an element of travel and exposure to different scenery most days.
Clearly this has been lost in the short term, but we have to take the positives out of that – less tiredness from days stuck in traffic or held on a delayed train, more time with family and, of course, the benefit to the environment.
How have you used time previously spent on travelling to meetings?
The single biggest time-saver has been the significant reduction in time spent travelling.
This time-saving provides us all with more time to reflect and plan for the future, and, for me personally, to engage with my team on a more regular basis.
Communication is a vitally important component of any business’ results, and being able to catch up with team members via Microsoft Teams without the complication of travel has been really useful.
Which aspect of the advice industry do you think will change the most over the next five years?
I am convinced that there will be an ever-increasing obligation on companies to evidence the value that they are adding.
For companies that do not deliver the services that they promise, or that do not have the expertise to improve a client’s financial situation, the future will not look great.
At Bartlett we have always had improving clients’ lives at the centre of our advice proposition, and this will not change.
What back office tools have your business found most valuable over the past few years?
Cash flow modelling is now ingrained into our advice process and is something that our clients find of great value.
From an internal perspective, the management information that a strong back office system can provide can be the difference between a poorly thought-out business plan and a realistic, ambitious and successful one.
Service levels have inevitably come under increased scrutiny this year. What have you changed here?
We have introduced a more formal process around how many clients any given financial planner should be looking after, and introduced higher minimum fees for new clients to ensure that we make no compromises where client delivery is concerned.
Our biggest challenge remains finding quality individuals to help us achieve our growth plans and with a compelling advice proposition, we were getting close to ‘capacity’.
By investing in future talent and being more selective around the type of client we aim to serve, we have ensured that we will continue to be able to provide a quality service.
Can platforms and providers do more on this front?
Value for money, functionality of products and service remain the most important areas of delivery for product providers and platforms.
Armed with products that offer value for money, a high degree of functionality and administrative support when needed, financial advisers can concentrate on doing what they do best: improving people’s lives.
What are the biggest challenges facing the industry, the trials and tribulations of regulation aside?
Our single biggest challenge in recent years has been recruitment.
Sadly the financial advice industry still lacks kudos compared to its accountancy and legal counterparts, and we have found it difficult to get the right talent to help us achieve our growth plans, with those that we have wanted to join us often being ‘bought back’ by their existing employer after accepting an offer of employment.
However, at Bartlett, we are tackling this issue head-on with various initiatives including out-of-sector recruitment.
Dan Jones is editor-in-chief of FTAdviser