We meet some of the winners of the Personal Finance Awards 2018 and see what made them stand out to the judges
Newton Aycliffe based Eldon Financial Planning won “Chartered Financial Planning Firm of the Year 2018/19 – the second time the firm has won the coveted award.
Director Gemma Siddle was also celebrating, having reached the final three in the individual UK Chartered Financial Planner of the Year category for a second year in a row.
Eldon was founded in 2002, by three like-minded financial planning experts determined to re-think the traditional model by providing an ongoing, holistic, financial planning service. The directors went on to gain the highest available CII qualifications and embedded a culture of ‘treating customers fairly’ long before it
Ms Siddle is a ‘Chartered Champion’ and an active member of the national Financial Planning Panel and gets involved with local community and charity initiatives as well as promoting the profession to young people through training and work experience.
She has helped to shape the CPD for the membership body of the PFS, while the firm is active in “Discover Fortunes” and “Inspiring the Future”, using the Chartered banner.
Ms Siddle said “Eldon has seen many changes since winning this prestigious award in 2011; a founder retiring, development of our service proposition, management moving to the next generation, and doubling the size of our team with each member being developed along an agreed pathway.”
She stressed, however, that the firm didn’t enter to attract new clients. “We entered to receive the independent ‘x-ray’ of our business and to learn how we may be able to enhance our firm going forward,”
“Entering awards takes a lot of time, thought and introspection for any business and it is a very useful process for any team to go through. Particularly for us, having won the award in 2011 and seen many changes to the business since then.”
New joiners, whether paraplanners or advisers, all work towards Chartered status and as an incentive, Ms Siddle said “We increase salary for ‘points’ gained with significant uplifts at Diploma and Chartered levels. Our bonus arrangement is entirely focused
“We discuss development of all potential new staff at the interview stage whether or not this is for an advisory or trainee advisory role. Continual development in all areas is a core value of ours and we look to hire those that genuinely have this value instilled in themselves.
“We agree a study path for all new team members and we write a pathway to Chartered that is realistic and achievable to ensure it meets their goals for life and work. We pay for the qualification and give paid exam leave, as well as having an open-plan workplace that encourages learning.
“As well as this structured support, we have a policy where anyone can book office time with those more qualified to help with their study and/or talk through topics they want to learn more about.”
For financial planning firm Mazars there was double the celebration as two of their staff collected awards – Natalie Wright as Chartered Financial Planner of the Year and Jade Mountford as Paraplanner of the Year.
Ms Wright was celebrating winning the award after twice being a finalist. However, she explains “When I first entered the awards and met the eventual winner, I realised I was not ready to be the winner.
“In the two years since then, I have worked hard to develop myself and to feel confident I could match the calibre of previous winners.
“It has taken two years, but the journey has been worth it,” she added.
Ms Wright was actually away on holiday at the time of the final stage and instead had to undergo the rigorous final interview via Skpe.
“I was very worried that I would be unable to portray the passion that I have for raising standards to ensure better consumer outcomes,” she admitted.
However, that passion clearly shone through, despite the slightly unorthodox process.
“It is about commitment,” Ms Wright believes, “and also about bringing on the next generation.”
Within Mazars, she said, there is a belief that all staff should be working to drive the business forward and to, ultimately, leave it in a better position.
The firm has a large intake of between 10 and 12 each September and then operates a “buddy” system to encourage their development.
Ms Wright said this system works very well – she has had an assistant planner working alongside her for the past two years, for example and that assistant has now fully qualified and will be ready to launch off as a fully qualified planner later this year, at which point Ms Wright will receive a new assistant to mentor.
“I am really ambitious for the profession but also about getting more women into the workplace. I am a working mother and love how the flexibility of financial planning allows me to be a mother but also to develop my career just as fully as my male colleagues.
“I think we should be spreading that message more widely and I am hoping I will be able to use winning this PFS award to do just that.”
Mentoring is also a key part of Jade Mountford’s life.
And it has not stopped simply because she changed jobs. As she explains, she actually spends more time mentoring colleagues from her previous firm in an informal capacity.
Ms Mountford has a degree in financial planning and has always been passionate about the profession. “From the start I have been involved with meetings and creating reports and I love it.”
From gaining her degree, Ms Mountford has moved quickly through the financial planning qualifications becoming Chartered and more recently a Fellow.
“I know my degree helped me enormously,” she said, “It gave me a head start because I understood the financial planning terminology from the start. It is a sector with plenty of acronyms and those can be a bit daunting when you start out, but my degree got me past all of that very quickly.”
Her ambitions for qualifications have not ended. “I am not ready to stop learning just yet,” she said. “I am considering doing a Masters at Manchester Metropolitan University and/or possibly a STEP qualification.”
Completing exams is not enough, however, she stressed unless it is backed up by a passion for driving professional standards in the workplace. “I am passionate about helping people when they join the profession to get further in their careers.”
Ms Mountford enjoys the challenge that being a paraplanner brings. “I am able to work on quite complex cases – it is very satisfying to find the right solutions for our clients and to know that you are making a real difference to their lives.”
She also hopes that, by winning the award, she can show others that it is really worth entering.
“I know people in our firm are thinking about entering in future years,” she says. “I had thought that because Ms Wright had entered, I could not win because two people from the same firm were unlikely to be given awards but we proved my fears wrong.
“It is fantastic that we both won, because it is such an endorsement of our passion for delivering better outcomes to our customers.”