Lifting the curse of the unhappy adviser

It seems reasonable to suppose our chances of finding happiness will increase if we work hard and earn well. I know this can’t be true, though, because I meet so many financial advisers who freely admit to being miserable.

Sure enough, these individuals have put in the hours. Sure enough, they live pretty comfortably. But they’re certainly not happy – far from it.

They’re overworked and hugely stressed. They believe they could be making even more money. They’ve discovered the dream of self-employment has turned into a nightmare of endless client reviews – usually to justify their service and the vexed notion of “ongoing advice”. Above all, they don’t enjoy what they do. They find the life of an IFA thoroughly dismal.

This reminds me of a remark made by one of the 20th century’s leading polymaths, Albert Schweitzer, when he was asked about the value of passion and purpose. “If you love what you are doing,” he said, “you will be successful.”

In other words, we’re wrong to think happiness is a corollary of success. More often than not, the reverse is true – which is to say success comes as a consequence of being happy.

So how might advisers achieve this fundamental goal? The question is especially pertinent today, with our industry characterised by multiple challenges and increasingly vulnerable to geo-economic and geopolitical uncertainty.

I believe the transformation involves three distinct phases. I refer to these as the Transition Zone, the Happy Zone and – because we shouldn’t forget there’s a life after financial advice – the Exit Zone. In turn, these stages can be further divided into six steps – what I call the 6S (Sixcessƒnotu) journey.

  • The Transition Zone is concerned with the structure and strategy of an adviser’s business. We shouldn’t make the mistake of confusing the two, as that would make for a particularly bad start. We should think of structure as the framework within which flexible strategies can be employed.

The principal objective at this formative stage is to develop an optimum business model. In tandem, it’s essential to begin with the end in mind and have a long-term plan.

This means assessing the respective pluses and minuses of directly regulated and registered individual status. It means choosing to be independent or restricted. It may also mean deciding between a multi-adviser approach or the lifestyle option.

  • The Happy Zone focuses on systems, services and support. With firm foundations in place, an adviser can set about utilising the right technology, helping clients to accumulate assets and putting in place support mechanisms that are conducive both to business growth and to what Consumer Duty rather glibly labels “good outcomes”.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect further on the idea of accumulating assets. Many advisers devote too much energy to considerations such as fund selection and performance, overlooking the fact that what the vast majority of clients desperately require is a solid grasp of the art of saving.

This links to one of my most fiercely held beliefs: everyone can benefit from financial advice. The adviser community routinely directs its attention to those who have already “made it”, yet the millions who haven’t are normally far more likely to need our expertise.

  • The Exit Zone is about succession. This is an issue to which many advisers devote almost no thought – an ironic state of affairs, given the vital part they play in steering others towards a pleasant retirement.

A succession strategy is central to the business model we use at Truly Independent. We aim to ensure a seamless transition for all stakeholders and to enable retired advisers to maintain their income level for a number of years.

Personally, I’m both alarmed and dismayed when I meet advisers who haven’t factored retirement into their thinking from day one. As I said earlier, it’s essential to begin with the end in mind.

I’m inevitably asked what my own ideal “happy adviser” is. I have a stock answer: directly authorised without the burden, independent without the research demands and supported without the costs.

In my opinion, happy advisers should be capable of offering an ambitious client service without abandoning tradition. They should recognise the enormous significance of building and demonstrating credibility. They should see the bigger picture and understand not just its constraints but its possibilities.

Happy advisers should also exhibit genuine commitment, because the fact is that success can’t be attained without serious effort. To quote Thomas Edison, the man who gave us the light bulb: “Opportunity is missed by most people, because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Maybe above all, happy advisers should embrace change. They should recognise that “the good old days” are a myth, that innovation is usually a blessing rather than a threat and that endless regulation could ultimately help them prosper instead of merely tying them in bureaucratic knots.

There’s a striking irony here, of course. Advisers are employed to make a positive difference to other people’s lives, but it turns out many of them struggle to make a positive difference to their own.

It really doesn’t have to be that way. Believe me when I say that advisers who genuinely enjoy what they do are capable of great things – both for themselves and, perhaps even more importantly, for the people who place their trust in them.

Andrew Goodwin is co-founder and CEO of Truly Independent and the author of ‘The Happy Financial Adviser’.

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