Having spent two eventful days last week at a conference, I thought it was a good time to give an update and insight into the type of events we attend as a business to better shape our offering to clients. The Money Marketing Retirement summit is an annual event that is considered the flagship event in the pensions industry calendar. It brings together business leaders from some of the UK’s top advice firms to focus on key issues effecting the retirement market.
One of the main areas of advice we provide for our clients is helping them to effectively plan for an enjoyable retirement. One of the key differences to financial advice now compared to 10 years ago is the how people want to retire. It has changed from a single event to an ongoing and evolving process. Clients now have many options, such as working part time or a later life career change. We believe it is our responsibility to ensure our clients save efficiently for a retirement they have dreamed of. A common saying, I use with clients is ‘you only have one chance to retire’. There is no second retirement and we must work together to achieve the best results we can.
So, how does the two-day conference with other industry professionals help our clients to lead the life they want to live? I have produced this diary to give an insight into what takes place at these events:
A fascinating presentation from Graham Bentley (GBI2). Graham discussed the different investment strategies for clients in an environment complicated by political change. This of course turned out to be very relevant given the results of that night’s election. We discussed the best practices around managing volatility and risk, the different strategies on asset allocation, the impacts of cost and the different income strategies and the risks/benefits. This presentation was very helpful in benchmarking our current investment proposition and will help challenge and give considerations for us to discuss at our next investment Committee in July.
There was a panel discussion around the impact of the new Lifetime ISA, which is a new savings vehicle aimed at those under the age of 40. As a firm, we see this could be used as a tool for younger clients, however it is important to understand that there are complexities of this product. Furnley House is committed to ensuring we have a sustainable advice process and we believe that access to affordable advice for issues such as this is critical for the success of future generations. We are currently working on a new initiative to support younger clients with more straightforward planning decisions order to shape this offering we would love you to take time to answer this short survey.
Tony Wickenden of Technical Connections gave one of his fantastic whistle-stop tours of tax planning. Then, to finish the morning, I attended two breakout sessions. The first was with Royal London who took the opportunity to launch a whitepaper they created in partnership with Milliman to bring to life the financial and social challenges facing future generations. As a Mutual Provider, Royal London demonstrate a Furnley House core value – which is our commitment to client centricity. It is great to see a provider tackling important challenges facing future generations.
My next breakout session was an interesting debate around the future for technology in our sector and the future for so called Roboadvice. It is fair to say there was great deal of trepidation in the room about whether Roboadvice can genuinely take the place of face to face advice. Interestingly my own thoughts on this subject are, having seen the rise of “Roboadvice” in the US, providers of this technology appeared to hit a wall and are now offering their services through face to face advice firms. I feel that those industries that embrace technology can innovate and deliver efficiencies and ultimately better outcomes. Through our advice processes, Furnley House use a number of important pieces of software to help analyse data, produce reports, conduct research and complete necessary calculations. This technology has helped us to save time and therefore deliver cost savings to clients. I believe as part of our core value to continue to innovate we need to embrace technology to help us with our mission, to help more people to lead the life they want to live. I personally believe that we will see automated advice ultimately help us to tackle the problem of providing advice to younger and less affluent clients where the cost of our advice could otherwise be a barrier. In my opinion, this can only be a good thing if we are able to reach parts of the population currently missing out.
In the afternoon, we heard from Caroline Wayman of the Financial Ombudsman Service. The financial ombudsman is a service that clients are able to go to should they complain about a financial product or service and be unhappy with the response to their complaint. It was great to hear from Caroline that since pensions freedoms across our industry, there had been a low level of complaints relating to the new legislation. Caroline re-iterated the message from our regulator about simplifying our client correspondence in particular our suitability letter. As a firm, this is something we take great pride in, we recognise it is far from straightforward to translate complicated financial terminology into easy to understand documents. We continue to work on this and currently have a project in place attempting to simplify our suitability letters around Protection policies such as life assurance and critical illness assurance. In the last 18 months, we have worked through our letters around pensions, investments and mortgages and have had great feedback from our clients and advisers. As part of our commitment to put our clients at the centre of our advice process should you wish to participate in our feedback groups please email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org .
We then heard from a panel Including Malcolm Small (the chair of the Retirement Income Alliance) and Nigel Chambers Managing (Director of CTC and a trained actuary). The Panel debate was around the significant increase in the number of clients considering transferring benefits from old Defined Benefit or “final salary” pension schemes. As a firm, we have 3 suitably qualified specialists including myself. During this debate, we discussed best practice and the risks to clients. This is an area Furnley House is committed to offering advice. We believe when considering transfer of a final salary scheme, it is imperative to receive quality advice. It is for this reason that the Government enshrined in law the need for advice on defined benefit pensions valued greater than £30,000. It is an area though that requires continued innovation, we need to understand the evolution of client needs, the changes to pension rules together with new rules around treatment on death, dependants provision, investment risk etc. My takeaway from the session was as a firm we are already applying best practice discussed by the panel, however the discussions served as a reminder that every case we look at of this nature is complex and requires a delicate approach to ensure the best outcome for clients.
During the afternoon, there was a couple of presentations on possible investment options for us to consider for some clients in retirement. Given the pension freedoms we now have, we are seeing an increasing number of clients opt to utilise Flexible Access Drawdown, which had led to an increase in the need for investment funds that produce income. This area of our market continues to see innovation and over the two-day seminar, I saw three interesting examples of different investment approaches being constructed to produce income. The consensus from both days is there is no “silver bullet” to the challenge of generating income. As a firm, it is vital for us to understand our client’s objectives, attitude to risk and capacity for loss and then identify the most appropriate method for income withdrawal combined with an appropriate investment proposition.
Outside of the formal sessions on Day One, there was plenty of time to network with other business leaders. It is always useful to understand different challenges and best practices. I particularly enjoyed dinner where I sat with Mark Polson from The Lang Cat and Helen Lupton of True Bearing where we discussed the challenges and opportunities around growing businesses.
Sleep was limited as the election took a surprising twist, a Hung Parliament was the topic of conversation for everyone. As a firm, we had already prepared to send a blog article out first thing in the morning but given the events of the night before an early morning discussion with the office was needed. It was agreed that in addition to the blog we would send a communication to clients explaining the events and what it meant.
There was an opportunity in the morning to sit with a small group of advisers and Natalie (the Editor at Money Marketing) to discuss the impact of the election. Firstly, we were hopeful that an effective government could be formed – meaning not having to return to the polling stations for a 3rd major vote in 12 months. Given the massive legislation change we have seen in our industry over the last few years this wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing. The other agreed consensus was the likelihood of a “softer Brexit.” If we focus purely from a business perspective, this also may not be such a bad thing. One of the conclusions of the outcome of the vote was a clear return back towards a two-party parliament system. My own personal view is that this could still be a good thing. Irrespective of anyone’s personal political persuasion, making sure the government of the day is challenged by a credible opposition is important in a democratic system to ensure any decisions, changes, or new legislation is challenged appropriately.
We also saw a panel debate on the consideration of guarantees in retirement. Since pension freedoms there has been a big reduction in the use of annuities – and it is important to understand the circumstances where a guaranteed income is vital and understand the advantages a more flexible approach can offer alongside the risks. Furnley House monitor the different guaranteed options available in the market place, however these options can be very complex and have high levels of charges. Sometimes these charges are not the most transparent. I firmly believe product providers have to work harder in this space as our clients need to be able to understand different products. There is no question that most clients need some form of guaranteed income to plan around. For some clients, this could be their state pension, others have other pensions in place such as final salary pensions. We have seen pension freedoms introduced at a time when there has been good growth in a number of asset classes. Our responsibility as an advice firm is to ensure our clients retirement plans are sustainable and as such we must continue to ask providers to create new products that offer clients options of guarantees in a more straightforward format. Most providers, however, have been subject to the same ever changing legislative landscape and are used to dealing with regulatory changes. If the outcome of a minority government is less regulatory change, maybe this will provide an opportunity for providers to be more innovative in the options available to our clients.
The afternoon of Day Two saw some interesting sessions including a discussion about how advisers can help the next generation to fund their retirement. A number of points raised linked in with the work Furnley House is doing to tackle this problem such as using technology to reach younger clients, recruiting and training the next generation advisers who may be more approachable and shaping our service proposition and options to cater for different needs. It was reassuring to see there is some real consensus within our industry that we have a responsibility to do something about this.
The highlight of Day Two was a presentation by a panel that are currently on the steering group for the Government’s pension dashboard. I would recommend anyone to have a look at the short video on this webpage. This really was an insight into how technology can be used to give better outcomes. The project is designed to allow people to be more informed about their retirement plans. It will also give financial advisers quicker and easier access to the details of our client’s provisions. This will reduce the cost of our service, in reducing the time we must spend as a business obtaining and gathering data about clients existing provisions. Again, there seems to be a joined-up approach between a number of providers to deliver this project and create better outcomes for clients. That is refreshing to see and a positive sign of what can be achieved by utilising technology to reach new clients in need of advice.
The Retirement Summit was certainly worthwhile and offered insights into what others in the industry are doing. Furnley House are dedicated to delivering sustainable client centric advice and events like these help us as a business compare ourselves against others in the industry. It is fascinating to see how the new technology which is being developed really fits with our culture of innovation and commitment to developing sustainable advice.