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[The Wrap] Building a bigger moat around advice businesses

What will financial advice firms look like in the future? Philip Macalister offers some thoughts.

Sunday, September 12th 2021, 10:37AM 7 Comments

by Philip Macalister

There is no doubt that the future of the financial advice sector is going though signifiant changes, thanks largely to regulatory change. 

And there is little doubt many advisers are feeling angst about the future. Indeed since March when the Financial Services Legislation Amendment Act came into effect many advisers have hung up their shingle.

That's one of the things about advice, in the past barriers to entry were low to non-existent and pretty much anyone could hang up a shingle and call themselves a financial adviser. It is little wonder then that many described advice as a cottage industry.

But the future looks quite different. Indeed I would suggest that instead of a low barrier to entry it will become significantly higher and that the moat around advice businesses will increase in size. (The concept of a moat is that it surrounds and protects a business from competitors).

Consequently, those who can build a strong business in this new environment will have a more valuable business.

An emerging topic of discussion will be the question: how many clients can an adviser effectively service in the eyes of the regulator?

The regulator isn't in a habit of giving answers to these sorts of questions; rather it will give some guidance and see how the industry interprets it.

Added to the challenge facing advisers is that research shows many advisers are sitting on big client bases, but not doing a lot of servicing of these people.

Research from the FSC says 70.2% of advisers have more than 200 clients. Digging a bit deeper 21% of advisers say they have more than 1000 clients and 15.4% claim to have between 501 and 1,000 clients.

The research says 19% of advisers meet 80% of their clients annually. That's probably not high enough for the regulator.

In this new age of know-your-customer, conduct and so forth, such big, largely unserviced client bases will be frowned upon by the regulators.

The old model of buying books of business and collecting trail commission arguably does not have a future in the new world of advice.

Maybe this is where the digital advice model kicks in. To service large client bases then a digital solution may well be necessary.

But we don't really know what the regulator thinks of this - even though they were very keen on digital/robo advice.

Heathcote Investment Partners principal Clayton Coplestone says advisers are carrying significant amounts of risk in the new regulatory environment. "Each client carries the same amount of risk," he says.

Basically the greater the number of clients, the greater the risk.

It's clear the old models are unlikely to work in the future.

Tags: Clayton Copplestone FSC

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Comments from our readers

On 12 September 2021 at 7:45 pm Veteran Charles said:
To what extent does this apply to just
mortgage brokers? And in that context what constitutes a client in the ongoing sense? I would be interested in comments of those who are better thought-through with it than myself. Thank you in advance!
On 13 September 2021 at 7:23 am Pragmatic said:
I'm not convinced that the Regulator distinguishes between what level of relationship an adviser has with a client - irrespective of whether this is transitionary or fiduciary in nature.
This will no doubt be 'tested' when a consumer feels that their original expectations have not been met (usually occurring after something goes wrong), forcing the adviser to figure out how they're going to defend themselves.
Without wanting to sound patronizing, good notes and some form of documented ongoing contact should help with any defence.
On 13 September 2021 at 10:11 am Pragmatic said:
Ooops Freudian slip: Transactionary not Transitionary (although oddly both work)
On 13 September 2021 at 10:27 am Dirty Harry said:
If meeting 80% of our clients annually isn't enough then we're all stuffed.

Either that, or that assumption above is wrong.

The only Advisers who meet even that many that often, will be CFPs with fewer than 200 clients, all of which will be hand picked HNW families.

The rest of us can write, email and call them all day long asking nicely if they want to catch up. Most will still say no (for the next 2 or 3 years after the last interaction), especially if they got good and compliant and suitable advice, that they understood, the last time we met.
On 17 September 2021 at 5:29 am Tony Vidler said:
I would challenge the concept that a single adviser can not service a large book of business. In fact to me it is slightly concerning that the argument is even being mooted that an adviser can not service a large book of business.

The key word here is "service". Service is not the same as "provide financial advice", but the inherent assumption made in the arguments relating to book size/adviser is that every client even wants personalised financial advice every year.

The size of a book which can be managed by any firm depends entirely upon the service proposition offered to clients and agreed to by them - not what some outside party believes what the service level should consist of.

What the client wants, and whether the adviser delivers to their expectations is what matters here.

If an adviser is providing ongoing information and education in the form of financial literacy to their clients, together with a claims service or rate re-fix service as required by any client, together with an OFFER of a review (which will often be declined by close to 2/3 of any given client base in any given year), together with ongoing preferential access to advice then how can it be considered that the adviser is not "servicing the clients"?

All of these functions in the example above require time, money and effort on the part of the adviser, yet on a book of 700 clients for instance it may only result in 240 or so clients engaging in accessing that personalised advice in any given year. The balance are content with the service they are receiving and do not wish to engage in further advice during that year - as is their right.

Of those 240 who did require advice in the calendar year in this example, perhaps 50% of them would require what we might call comprehensive advice, with the other half requiring relatively simple or transactional advice relating to a single issue (e.g. what re-fix rate/term for a mortgage; adding a family member to a medical policy; topping up a Kiwisaver to get max tax credits).

I'd suggest that a single adviser working a book of clients like this - which is fairly typical in my experience - can easily and professionally SERVICE 700-900 clients per annum if they are running an efficient practice with good systems and support. And it should be remembered that providing all of that service comes at a fairly significant financial cost to the adviser.

The argument which suggests that all advisers should be physically meeting with all cleints every single year ignores entirely the wishes and expectations of the consumer here, and is therefore a nonsense.

It is an academic utopian view which ignores the wishes of the consumer who lives in the real world.
On 17 September 2021 at 9:09 am Adviser1 said:
Well said Tony
On 17 September 2021 at 10:07 am w k said:
tony, you see, that's the trouble. we have people who have academic qualifications but zilch field experience telling us how to do our job. to put it bluntly, pretty much like a farrier (thanks murray) telling a car mechanic how a car should be overhaul.
the authority seems to have trouble differentiating between giving an advice and after sales service. they forgot our clients are human beings, they all behave differently, different expectations, and different level of knowledge. hence, a size fits all rule won't work in practice.

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