There are few advocates for change in the financial planning profession who are as passionate and articulate as Tina Weeks. Tina is an unashamed advocate for what’s called financial life planning, and the founder of Serenity Financial Planning. Based in London, Serenity aims to deliver financial life planning to as many people as possible in the UK.
In this interview, Tina talks about her professional journey, serenity philosophy and values, and her thoughts on where the profession is heading.
RP: For some years now, Tina, you’ve been a leading advocate for financial life planning. How did that all start?
TW: I remember it very clearly. I met George Kinder at an IFP event in February 2009. I was struggling at the time trying to change my mortgage business into a financial planning business. When I heard him talking about life planning I knew straightaway that it was the route I wanted to take. I call it my lightbulb moment! From there I took all the Kinder courses back to back and set about making life planning a key part of our financial planning proposition.
For something that is patently such a good idea, financial life planning has come in for a surprising amount of criticism — even, in fact especially, from within the profession. Why do think that is?
I think it’s because people don’t really understand what it is. When I explain that it is just additional skills that we use to really understand our clients and help us build stronger client relationships and more meaningful financial plans, they get it.
Tell me about Serenity and its methodology, and how you differ from other advice businesses.
We believe that it’s all about the client relationship, so we ensure that the client relationship is the core foundation of our offering. Our methodology involves building a highly inspirational financial life plan using life planning, financial planning and coaching skills. We then implement any recommendations and then keep clients on track by offering ongoing support. We charge clients based on the relationship and the value we can bring rather than how much money they have.
What sort of response do you have from prospects who perhaps go to you looking for an investment solution and end up having a different sort of conversation altogether?
I’ve had different reactions. Some just assume that the way we work is the way that all financial planners work and are happy to go with it. This tends to apply to those who haven’t gone to see anyone before. Clients who come to us from other advisers are often surprised, but once we explain that we can’t see how we can advise them on their money when we don’t understand them and what is important to them, they get it. I’ve had a couple of people who wanted someone to only manage their money and I explained that we are not the right firm for them.
What has been refreshing and exciting is that recently clients have contacted us specifically looking for financial coaching. This is new — very new. I always thought that despite everything we said and did our clients would come to us with specific product requirements and we would then “convert” them into financial life planning clients. It now feels that, very slowly, clients are understanding more about what is available and are actively searching for firms that can provide more, particularly around coaching and support.
For you, then, how important is the on-going coaching aspect of financial planning?
It’s one of the most important aspects of the work we do. We all know that a financial plan becomes out of date pretty soon after it is done. We know that clients need us to keep them accountable, to provide trusted advice and a relationship they can rely on. I love working with clients over the long term and take huge personal fulfilment from seeing clients live their financial life plans.
We also know that people’s relationship with money is one of the key drivers in not just how they see their money and how they make financial decisions but also how they make decisions on their life generally. Having a better relationship with money gives clients a greater sense of health and wellbeing, and the ongoing coaching helps clients deal with issues as they come up in their lives.
Serenity also has an evidence-based investment philosophy. How responsive do you find people are, generally, to the evidence-based approach?
Deciding to take the evidence-based route with respect to our investment philosophy was one of our best decisions. Our clients are very happy to invest in this way because they can see how much conviction and belief we have in this approach. The evidence is so compelling that it is so hard to argue against it. Our tricky times have been trying to explain to a client who has come to us with an active portfolio that over the short term has done better than our comparable evidence-based portfolio. We have found having conviction is not enough. You need to be able to articulate why you believe what you believe and be able to back it up.
Presumably, because you’re not spending time checking on fund performance and constantly looking for potential outperformers, that allows you to give more attention to building your business?
Yes, it has allowed us to take the business forward, focusing on the parts that we can control and add value to. They include the client relationship, building financial life plans that we see coming to fruition over the long term, helping clients live better lives without worrying about money, and so on.
Where do you see the financial advice profession heading?
I have no doubt that the commoditisation of financial products, investments, insurance etcetera. will mean that the only thing some clients will come to us for is what they can’t get online or through direct offerings. That is the relationship!
Now, I am not saying that all clients will want to do this but more and more will, and as a profession we need to have client propositions that can bear and actually benefit from these inevitable changes.
If Vanguard introduces a low-cost financial advice service in the UK, similar to its offering in the US, would you see that as a threat to firms like your own?
No, I do not think it is a threat. What I am hoping it will do is address the desperate issue of the masses that can’t afford to pay for face-to-face advice. As a company, we will ensure that we are able to work in conjunction with these new offerings.
Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to a new financial planning business with bold ambitions for growth?
Be clear on what you stand for and what you believe in and then shout about it.
Look around at other firms that are doing it the way you want to do it and follow them.
Bring the right people into your business.
Oh sugar — that was three things!
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