Grosvenor Consultancy IFA Alice Douglass on the highs and lows of networking as a financial adviser
Traffic wardens, tax inspectors, estate agents and journalists – all people doing jobs that the general public love to hate. But what is it about being a financial adviser that provokes such strong negative reactions from some people too?
Grosvenor Consultancy IFA Alice Douglass believes the profession’s image problem is partly a result of misconceptions and partly due to legacy issues.
She has good reason to wonder why some people seem unable to find a kind word to say about advisers; introducing herself at a networking event provoked the sort of response reserved for MPs amid the Brexit chaos.
“Someone booed at me when I said I was a financial adviser. I probably should have asked why at the time but I was surprised,” she says. “I’m not sure if people think, as financial advisers, we only want to make money for ourselves, but that shouldn’t be anywhere near the driving force. I would never say that I’m a salesperson because it’s not about products; it’s more about working with me.”
Contemplating whether the pre-RDR stereotype of advisers as pushy product salespeople still persists and is to blame, Douglass says: “I don’t know if it’s to do with a transactional view, that it’s sales or if it’s more about the negative things in the media.” She points out that a lot of the negativity in the press is around pensions and wonders if people associate that with financial advisers, concluding that they are the bad guys.
“Do people even understand what a financial adviser does? They don’t understand independence; they think it means you work on your own,” she says.
As a self-employed adviser at the Grosvenor Consultancy, Douglass is far from alone. She describes it as having the best of both worlds.
“I have the benefit of the support structure with the flexibility to do what I want to do,” she notes.
In 2016, Douglass founded her own local networking group, the Highworth Business Breakfast Group. “I found I was out networking in Swindon, Cirencester and the next village along from where I live in Highworth, but I didn’t know many local businesses. I set up the group so we could meet each other and help each other.”
2015-present: IFA, Grosvenor Consultancy
2011-2015: Platform adoption consultant then e-business analyst, Zurich
2010-2011: Implementation manager, Standard Life
2005-2010: Trainee consultant/paraplanner, Tenon Financial Management (formerly Professional Assurance Services)
Unlike some networking groups, there are no restrictions on business categories. “There is another financial adviser who comes along, as I don’t see other advisers as competition. Some clients will want him and some will want me,” says Douglass.
She adds that for similar reasons, she edits the business section of a local magazine. As well as meeting people and giving something back to the community, she says it has helped to raise her profile.
Growing up as the daughter of an IFA who was managing director of the family business, you would expect Douglass to have had more of an idea about the profession than most. However, she says she still did not know much about it, despite working at her father’s firm in the summer holidays.
After doing a masters in international fashion retailing, it seemed that her career was taking a very different path.
However, she soon realised that marketing and merchandise were not for her and returned to her father’s firm, Professional Assurance Services.
“I’d always had it in the back of my mind that I would take over the family business,” she says.
“The people there were like family rather than colleagues. The other director, Jonathan, encouraged me and was keen to highlight that it is a good profession for women to get into, as it’s flexible if you need to go part-time in the future. I was there six months before I realised I wanted to stay.”
Douglass was “heartbroken” when Professional Assurance Services was sold to a large national firm in 2007, knowing her dream of taking the reins at some point was over.
By 2010 she had realised she had different values to the new business, so moved to Standard Life as implementation manager of its wrap platform.
A similar role followed at Zurich 18 months later before Douglass became an e-business analyst at the firm.
She notes: “I hadn’t turned my back on being an adviser. At the time, I got experience and grew up and matured as a person.”
Having met her husband and feeling as if it was now or never, Douglass returned to financial advice with the Grosvenor Consultancy in 2015 – a firm she likens to the old family business: “It has a family feel, similar to dad’s business. The managing director is supportive, I have nice colleagues – it’s almost like going back to Professional Assurance Services.”
In the future, Douglass would like to get more involved in the area of pensions in divorce.
“In a divorce, it’s important to look at the pension, not only for women as men can also feel quite vulnerable. I think I am good at empathising,” she says.
“My clients mainly come to see me with a box of pensions. They tend to be people in their 40s and 50s who don’t know what they’ve got and where it’s invested. They don’t understand what their statements mean and if they have enough for retirement.”
Given her experience working in platforms, has this been an advantage to her as an adviser?
“Definitely – I know a lot of the details about platform development and that has helped me understand which platforms can help me and help my clients,” she says. “I look at the flexibility some platforms have; cost isn’t necessarily the main driver, you’ve got to look at the benefits as well.”
Douglass says that having been on the other side of the fence, she can empathise with the problems platform providers face when replatforming: “I know what a nightmare changing technology can be. There are always hiccups with technology when it doesn’t do what you want it to do or expect it to do.”
She believes platform providers need feedback from advisers and also to find out what clients want: “Platforms need to be client-centric. The client needs to be able to navigate it easily and it needs to look nice.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Short-term loss but long-term gain, in the context of getting your head down and studying.
What keeps you awake at night?
My dog trying to take up all of the room in the bed.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Mifid II and defined benefit pension transfers.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Introduce a policy whereby everyone works for a financial advice firm for a week.
Any advice for new advisers?
Get out there and network.