St James's Place  

SJP focuses on academy talent as it looks to plug advice gap

SJP focuses on academy talent as it looks to plug advice gap
Andy Payne, head of academy at St James's Place

St James's Place plans to welcome more partners with no previous industry experience to its business over the next few years, with many to come from its academy, according to the firm's head of academy Andy Payne.

Instead, Payne expects to see a greater proportion of new entrants to SJP join through its SJP Academy.

In June, the academy, which provides training and support for those working and building a business in the financial advice industry, celebrated its 10 year anniversary having trained more than 1,000 advisers in that time with 844 still part of the SJP network today. 

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Payne pointed out that a goal of the academy is to help plug the advice gap, and that in the past few years advances in technology, partly accelerated by the pandemic, have enabled the academy to make its offering a lot more accessible. 

“When I joined, it was a much smaller development team, and also smaller geographically because we ran the academy through four locations. It was a national footprint, but people had to attend one of the four locations, whereas now it’s a locationless academy that doesn’t have that geographical constraint of boundary,” Payne said. 

Trainees still have the opportunity to gain face-to-face experience with their peers and the training team via the academy’s 22 locations.

“We’re a face-to-face business and our clients want and expect face-to-face financial advice,” Payne told FTAdviser. “We blend the delivery. There is an opportunity to work in peer groups, to work with existing partners and advisers and also to work with our training and learning development team. We don’t want to lose that.”


Over the 10 years the academy has been operating, its focus has shifted over time as the IFA sector has evolved.

Ovie Onomakpome, who was in the academy’s first intake back in 2012, pointed out that back then the academy was very focused on compliance and passing the exams and did not focus enough on the practical aspects of working as a financial adviser.

Onomakpome, who now runs an SJP partner practice, Lucerna Wealth, described the period after the academy as “really difficult and challenging”. 

“Theoretically we were great but being able to run and develop a business is so much more than just being able to get through the exams - it was a rude shock.” he said. 

While Onomakpome put some of the difficulty he had initially down to volatility in the sector at that time, he said the academy of today versus 10 years ago is like “night and day” with it now being more business orientated and providing greater support to students.

That has also been the experience of Natasha Percy-Baxter who graduated from the academy in September 2021 and set up her business, Percy-Baxter Wealth Management in November of that year. 

Having previously worked in the publishing industry, Percy-Baxter knew she was ready for a change of career and, after hearing about the SJP academy on a financial planning podcast, decided to explore it further, eventually enrolling.