In this popular monthly feature, Sue Whitbread talks to Adam Carolan about his passion for financial planning and how he is supporting the development of the profession through NextGen Planners, an organisation aimed at building and supporting the next generation of financial planners.
What was it that inspired you to follow a career in financial planning?
From the age of 16, I had always been interested in the idea of money. My father gave me some money to invest into shares back in 1999 and the first thing I did was pick stocks from the Daily Mail. I spent hours researching stocks and to cut a long story short I picked a few dogs but some that benefitted from the dotcom boom and we were lucky enough to sell those before the bust came. We ended up with a profit, but it was a useful early lesson in money and finance. That things go down as well as up!
From there, I went to university and studied finance. The natural career progression for my course was investment banking. In all honesty, I wasn’t cut out for the environment in London doing this so I moved back home, where I got a job at Aegon in a Sales Support role. This gave me my first experience with IFAs and financial advisers. I soon jumped over the fence to find two good firms that supported bringing on younger trainees. From there I followed the natural career progression from trainee to paraplanner into finally becoming a financial planner.
How did all that lead you to want to set up NextGen planners? What was the idea behind it all? Can you talk us through what the organisation is about –your “why” if you like. Also, can you share with us your longer term aims for the group too?
My career was pretty linear to be honest, but there was one moment that really shook my belief in financial advice. Around 4 years ago we found out when we looked through the paperwork, that my late father’s estate (he passed when he was 53) was missing a considerable amount of money.
Looking through the details, we saw that there were numerous points of financial advice which eventually amounted to a loss of nearly £200,000. We are still in battles today with various ombudsmen and well-known pension companies. In all honesty, this nearly made me quit financial advice as a career. My overriding belief is that in the past, a large chunk of advisers had looked at people’s money as a sale rather than their livelihoods. This still angers me today when I see it happen.
So, rather than quitting, I told myself that for the rest of my career, I would try to improve the profession bit by bit and lead with actions rather than words. I have been pretty disappointed in the state that I have found financial advice and planning today. Along with Rohan Sivajoti, my NextGen co-founder, our “why” is that we want to leave the profession in a better state than we found it. Our vision is that our peers are extremely professional, well-learned and great financial planners.
So how do you go about doing all of this? What actually happens? How do people get involved?
At first, we just set up roundtables, hosted podcasts (with relevant experts in their different fields all relevant to the needs of planners and paraplanners). We also setup a Facebook Group for like-minded people to discuss ideas and best practice. It was all a bit of a hobby borne out of frustration to be honest, as there wasn’t much support for the next generation of professionals coming through.
Earlier this year, we saw real demand emerging so we decided to launch some areas where we saw there was a clear need for. Firstly, we introduced a foundation training programme for aspiring or younger planners. I am pleased to say that we have had over 90 people enrolled in the first half of this year, in an initiative partnering with PFS board member Adam Owen, who is someone we have admired for some time.
We also set up a membership for under £10pm (basically to cover the cost of the website) and we host webinars, virtual and physical roundtables and share content and discounts. All our content at NextGen is built specifically for preparing your business for the next 10-15 years.
Finally we are delighted to say that in November we will be welcoming around 150 next generation planners to our first conference in Manchester. We have a really interesting line-up and agenda which includes the likes of Rory Percival, Mark Polson and Jason Butler – all of whom have made fantastic contributions to the development of our profession and have plenty of experience and ideas to share.
How many people are involved with NextGen now? It must take up a lot of your time?
We have numerous people helping us as they believe in supporting the development of the next generation of financial planners. To be honest, the whole business is built on efficiency and technology which is what financial planners should be thinking about. We purposefully made it a commercial enterprise so that we could control the message at all times rather than being dictated to. As we see it, when you make profit and have the right beliefs, that is when the fun really starts to happen.
What has NextGen got planned for this year?
Aside from our conference, we are still trying to decide! We have had numerous parties contact us to see if they can help and maybe get involved but we are being quite selective in who we work with. For us, it is about our community, making them feel welcome and giving them help to build their careers. I feel that our sector has completely glossed over the needs of future generations. We thought that now is the time to force the issues with the huge shortage of talent coming into the profession of financial planning. This needs to change. We didn’t think our organisation would have grown this quickly already, although as a fairly new company, a year is a long time and anything could happen,
With NextGen planners having just completed its first year of life, what have been the biggest successes to date?
That rather depends on what success measures you use. Success for me would be a new planner having developed the skills to be able to offer clients a great service or top-end financial planning. I don’t get to see that really, but that is why we set up NextGen. I want to be able to say that I am a financial planner with confidence in a few years, knowing that my fellow NextGen Planners are doing their bit with clients every day and taking our job seriously as we effectively handle people’s livelihoods.
I regularly get feedback from fellow NextGen members but when we start to get noticed by the public as a new generation of financial planners, that is when I will think it has been a success.
What are the main challenges you face – and how are you working to overcome them?
With any new initiative, you get the critics. In fact, from what I have seen, financial advice has suffered from infighting and negativity for years. Our challenge is to ignore the noise and have confidence and belief in our work. We need to communicate well as a community and all support each other.
I don’t look at other planners as competition. I have many good friends who are also financial planners and I would refer the right client to them in a heartbeat. To me, that is what professionalism is all about.
Are there specific criteria for people to meet if they wish to get involved with NextGen? Are there age limitations or any relating to job roles for example?
No, this has been a misconception really. We are looking for those individuals who are willing to learn every day to be a better planner. We don’t want those who think they know all the answers because we can’t help them. If you have the mindset that you are going to be in the sector for many years to come and you understand that the challenges we will face will be very different to those over the past 10-15 years, then NextGen is for you.
How important is the use of social media for the growth and development of NextGen? Can you share how you use social media to gain support, interest and get the word out there? What works best for you?
I met Rohan, my fellow co-founder of NextGen, on Twitter talking about a band we both like, so you can’t underestimate the power of communications on social media. We also got out there, spoke to planners, asked for feedback and produced a podcast with valuable insight from experts. NextGen is primarily focused on helping financial planners be better at what they do and without that audience of keen people willing to engage and learn, we don’t exist. Facebook and Twitter have been great tools for us, but the help we have had from supporters and members has been the real momentum for NextGen.
What about outside of work and professional commitments – what do you enjoy doing?
I am a pretty simple person and spend nearly all my time with my family and friends. You can usually find me on a Sunday morning racing down a slide with my two year old daughter.
About Adam Carolan
Adam is a Director and Chartered Financial Planner at Xentum in Cheshire. As a day job, he carries out financial planning with successful and emerging talent in the business world, often in the digital and creative sectors. He also co-founded NextGen Planners early in 2016, as a way to promote professionalism and talent within the financial planning profession.
Follow Adam and NextGen Planners on Twitter
or visit www.nextgenplanners.co.uk