Liz Booth speaks to winners of this year’s PFS Personal Finance Awards
The winners of this year’s PFS Personal Finance Awards all agree that showing dedication to their own knowledge, skills and professional qualifications while investing in the talent of the teams around them helps them to be the best at what they do.
Chartered Financial Firm of the Year, The Private Office, believes that continuously developing the talent across its organisation is key and that planning for the future of the business means it can deliver for its clients now.
CEO Stuart Phillips feels that the firm as a whole was in a good place to win the award. “We are Chartered, we are independent, we are whole of market and we also invest heavily in our team,” he said.
As evidence of that internal investment, he said the firm has no less than 28 members of staff who are “homegrown talent”, having been through the firm’s academy. “We have an average age of 34 across the business. It is very much about growing the business from within rather than by acquisition,” he said.
The firm also places a huge emphasis developing its business and attracts some 900 to 1,000 leads a month. “That is really a symbol of having an amazing group of talented people who always want to really develop for their clients.
“Part of that is about being Chartered,” he says, but it is also about having interesting work coming into the business. “We know we have a young team and that is quite unusual, but that gives us longevity for the business,” adds Phillips.
It is a challenging time for many people across the economy, agrees Phillips, and he says that supporting clients during the cost-of-living crisis is where advisers can show their value.
As well as face-to-face advice, The Private Office also offers automated advice via a platform. “We know some people can access investments without advice, so this platform gives them the opportunity to do that. It also helps those who cannot necessarily afford advice.
“All of this gives us the space to spend more time with our clients. It also allows us to offer competitive solutions and solves the problem of: how do you offer advice to those who are not the richest in our society?”
Phillips continues: “If you think about our 1,000 leads, only about 10% will actually become clients. But we don’t want to let those other 900 go without a warm fuzzy feeling about financial advice and this is a way of providing that.”
All of that, he says, builds into the reasons why The Private Office won the award this year. He also believes that it was very much a team effort, which he was merely the head of. “[Entering the awards] was a stringent process that surprised me in terms of its depth, particularly when it came to the third and final stage, the interview. I had not expected it to be quite so in-depth and that has made me value the award even more.”
He believes that the best advice he can give any other entrants is to plan ahead and be prepared to have their technical expertise challenged.
Enjoy the process
Marlena Eltringham, a paraplanner at BRI Wealth Management, was the winner of this year’s Paraplanner of the Year award and says that qualifications have always been hugely important to her development in the profession.
Eltringham arrived from Poland as a young student in 2006, speaking English as a second language and she soon moved into financial advice, joining BRI Wealth Management 10 years ago.
Continuing her studies, Eltringham spent five to six years completing her professional exams, taking 17 in total.
Her advice to other would-be award winners is to keep studying and enjoy the process. “My bosses are very proud of me for this win. It has helped raise the profile of the company and for me personally
“Nobody from the firm had entered any awards until this year but we have also been named as Advising Firm of the Year by Professional Adviser, so we are proud of both achievements.”
Passion wins through
That is a view shared by Hazel Bowen, this year’s Chartered Financial Planner of the Year and director and Chartered financial planner at Coutts. Thinking back to entering the awards in previous years, she recalls that she has learnt a lot from the process.
“On my first go, I entered because someone suggested that I should.
And that was my mistake – I should have done it for me rather than for someone else.”
The next two times, she was committed to the process and was delighted to get further into the competition. After taking a break, she entered again this year and was totally surprised to win through.
“I realised I had a one-in-three chance of winning but didn’t really believe it was going to happen until my name was called out,” she says.
“I really thought I had messed up the interview. When I get excited, I talk too fast and felt afterwards that I would not win as a result.
“But I think in the end it was my passion for the subject that actually helped me to win through. I think the judges could see that I really love what I do and want to do better for my clients whenever possible.”
That passion extends well beyond the day job. Bowen volunteers to help those who cannot afford financial advice and she also mentors young people to show them that a career in financial advice is possible.
“I am just an ordinary person from an ordinary family. I would have never thought that I could do this job. Others can do it too – we just all need to have the confidence to take the leap.”
Too often, she says, women suffer imposter syndrome and don’t believe they are good enough, but she feels the award is evidence that people can do what they want to do. “There has been an expectation that young men will progress and young women will go into administration. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Liz Booth is contributing editor of PFP