Your IndustryOct 23 2020

Top 100 firm: This year has shown the power technology can have

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Top 100 firm: This year has shown the power technology can have

Quilter has topped our list of the Top 100 Advisers for the second consecutive year, a methodology change proving no barrier to their success. 

The company is one of just two to maintain their place in the top 10 this year, in part because of the strength of its net flows over the year to June 30. But 2020 has brought challenges of a different kind for all advice companies.

Here Gemma Harle (pictured), managing director of Quilter Financial Planning, discusses successes, challenges, and the way in which the pandemic has transformed financial advice.


Has the pandemic changed your or clients’ priorities?  

Priorities did shift, of course, with the pandemic. In the immediate term at Quilter we had to swiftly enable more guidelines and digital capability to ensure we were providing for clients. Harnessing the power of technology has always been a priority, but in the past few months we put even more energy behind it.

Our clients’ priorities remained broadly the same: they wanted to know if their financial plan was still on track and how the impact of the pandemic had affected it. Our research showed what they really wanted was just some form of contact with their advisers. The study found close to two-thirds (65.6 per cent) of those who spoke to their adviser during the pandemic have felt either very well prepared (29.6 per cent) or quite well prepared (36 per cent) financially. This drops to just 42 per cent for those that haven’t spoken to their adviser, with just 13 per cent saying they feel very well prepared.


What are you most proud of over the past year?

It is hard to discuss this year without thinking about Covid-19 and when we all first went into lockdown. I’m incredibly proud of how Quilter and all our advisers stepped up to ensure they were still delivering for clients during that challenging time. I’m particularly proud of providing advisers with access to our wellbeing programme and joining forces with Spill, specialists in workplace mental health support.


What has worked and what hasn’t in 2020?

This year has shown the whole sector how quickly we can adapt to change and the power technology can have. At Quilter our business consultancy team has provided vital insight on everything from how to structure a virtual meeting to how to frame investment performance to ensure our advisers deliver the best possible outcomes for their clients. We have found remote advice can work successfully, as 88 per cent of advisers in our national business would continue to provide some form of remote advice as we progressed out of lockdown.


What has been the hardest part of the shift to new ways of working?

Video technology has meant we are able to still have meetings and see people. However, it is nowhere near the same as a face-to-face meeting. One of the hardest parts for both colleagues and advisers is building and maintaining relationships through video alone.

Our team of behavioural economists have provided tips on how to adapt meetings to engender trust, which have proved incredibly useful. 


What have you done to improve service levels this year?

At the onset of lockdown Quilter quickly launched There For You, a hub of practical support and expertise for advisers. As part of this we took direct feedback from advisers about their needs and responded to requests for less paperwork and more online processes – for example, we now accept digital signatures across the Quilter companies.


Assuming changes to working practices have made you more efficient, what are you spending the extra time doing?

As advisers are spending less time travelling to and from client meetings they are finding they have some extra time. We are given them tools so they can offer better client experiences and we are finding many advisers are accessing these. We are also encouraging our advisers to spend more time engaging family members of clients and assisting them where possible.


What more can providers and platforms do to help advisers in the new era?

The onus is on the entire sector to look at ways we can streamline processes, reducing paperwork and complexity. However, we must do so while being conscious of our regulatory requirements.

In a similar vein we must ensure we are doing all we can to support vulnerable customers, particularly as we are likely to see an uptick in transient vulnerable customers. Transient vulnerable people are those who because of specific circumstances at a certain time may not be able to make a complex or unexpected decision – a population we are seeing more of in light of the pandemic and its impacts.


The cost of regulation is a growing concern for the industry. But what are the other big issues?

The perception of financial advice, who it is for and the benefits it provides is still not clearly understood by the vast majority of the UK population. As a sector we need to ensure we are doing all we can to work together to articulate the value of the advice and the power of good financial advice.


Which aspect of the advice industry do you think will change the most over the next five years?

The pandemic has shown us the power of digital and so there will likely be a renewed effort to invest in digital solutions as businesses deal with customers on a more remote basis. In turn, this will see more customers being dealt with as companies will have more time and ways of streamlining some of their processes.

In addition, we are seeing a growing demand for environmental, social and governance investing. Advisers will not only need to discuss with their clients if they are interested in ESG investing, they need to have a wider conversation on what that means for them. Then they need to factor in all the other things that might impact investment choices, such as risk appetite. This is complicated work but again, technology can assist, and we are likely to see more development in this space. 

Dan Jones is editor-in-chief of FTAdviser