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Where financial advice is personal

In the first of a two-part Q&A series for IFA Magazine, Sue Whitbread talks to Mike Morrow of The Openwork Partnership, one of the UK’s largest financial services networks, talks about the growth of the business and how and why it’s positioned for future success

SW: Can you give us an overview of The Openwork Partnership – its core propositions and strengths?

MM: In simple terms, we are an Appointed Representative Network, which means we are the regulatory host and carry the authorisation with the FCA centrally. We create panels of products and propositions – whether that’s Protection, Mortgage, General Insurance or Wealth – that we will have conducted initial due diligence on and continue to monitor and govern. That’s all done so our partners and advisers can get on with what they do best, which is engaging and advising clients to ensure they have the best possible chance of achieving their goals in life.

The Openwork Partnership is one of the UK’s largest financial services networks with the group having over 4,300 financial advisers operating across the UK, within around 700 firms. That includes our IFA Network 2plan.

Omnis Investments, the investment arm of the group, offers a range of investment funds, managed by some of the best fund managers in the market, as well as a discretionary managed portfolio service.

In the mortgage sector, The Openwork Partnership operates a panel of over 50 lenders and is among the top three networks for almost all the major mortgage providers. Currently we have around a 5-6% share of the mortgage market so that scale helps us in terms of procurement power and influence with those providers.

As for our structure, The Openwork Group is majority[1]owned by the Openwork Partnership LLP with its employees and management holding a minority stake, which means that effectively we are owned by ourselves.

 SW: What sets The Openwork Partnership apart from other adviser networks?

MM: Our ownership structure is genuinely unique. We are a true Partnership, owned by the Partners and run very much with the best interests of them and their clients at its heart. Let me talk through some examples here to demonstrate how that impacts our business and its success.

When we do proposition development, where we’re thinking about what our clients and our advisers are going to need in the future, we meet quarterly with an adviser-led proposition council. We do this in the wealth market and have a similar structure in the mortgage and protection market too. It’s through this approach that I get to meet with our adviser firms directly, four times a year. They will influence our view about what they want, what they need, and what they think is coming. It’s a very fast feedback loop which is so engaging. Working with other stakeholders to create solutions really helps us to grow and develop.

The rebranding which we completed recently would be a good example of our unique ownership, because we did that from the ‘outside in’ – taking feedback from the marketplace. But then we did the ‘inside out’ bit, where we worked with our partners themselves and asked; what do you want the central branding to look like? What do you want that to stand for? What do you want it to be? We were delighted as we had over 170 partner firms working with us on that rebrand. Everything was done collaboratively with our partners.

We are also a genuinely hybrid network (Protection, Mortgage & Wealth). This diversified approach has really helped us to bring new talent into the profession with different entry points available – from protection-only sales in our Owl protection business, right through to mortgage specialisms and wealth management.

SW: You’ve mentioned the rebrand from Openwork to The Openwork Partnership which happened at the beginning of 2021. What drove that rebrand and what has been the reaction of the network to it?

MM: We’ve seen a very strong response to it. This rebrand has been a key element of our strategy, looking to build a platform for future growth and improve our market recognition and stature. As part of this strategic ambition, we want to be much clearer about what we stand for, what makes us unique and to ensure that we have a brand that we can all be proud of, to help unlock our potential. Previously we had been too reluctant to promote our brand. Since becoming a separate entity after being sold by Zurich, we had not capitalised on our scale and heritage. Following our independence in 2018, it was clear that partners wanted a strong brand presence, and this has now been done very successfully.

As we discussed earlier, the development of the new branding was a highly collaborative initiative which we worked on throughout 2020. It recognises our unique ownership structure and proves that we work together to provide better financial outcomes for our clients – hence the term Partnership within our new branding.

Our new brand identity reflects our confidence and stature as well as our more approachable, modern, and inclusive style. For us, the key brand messaging is that the business of advice is personal. I think that our new strapline ‘where financial advice is personal’ really encapsulates who we are. Again, this followed on from the insights coming from our key stakeholder research which emphasised how much we put the client at the heart of everything we do. It’s our business and it’s all about the people – so that makes it very personal to us.

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