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In last month’s IFA Magazine we brought you the first instalment of our two-part series of articles in which Sue Whitbread talks to Mike Morrow of The Openwork Partnership. The Openwork Partnership is one of the UK’s largest financial services networks and here in part two, the conversation turns to how the Partnership has managed to thrive during the Covid pandemic, how it supports partner firms on the ground and what it’s doing to help close the advice gap.

SW: What are the advantages and benefits to partner firms of being part of the openwork partnership?

MM: There are many advantages for our partner firms. Firstly, you’re working with a group of like-minded people as advisers are surrounded by peers. We have peer groups of Openwork Partnership firms up and down the country which are operated locally by the firms themselves. This means that not only do they get together to share best practice, talk about IT and other practice processes whilst networking amongst themselves, but we can go and talk to these groups easily too. There’s a good commercial tension there and it’s a really healthy environment for growth and development.

The Covid pandemic has seen so many changes to working practice across the advice profession. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and that’s certainly been proven true. It’s been intriguing and interesting for me to watch how the profession has reacted. When we consider how use of technology has changed, it shows that practitioners are amongst the most resilient of people and they can adapt quickly. Even as we see opening up of our economy, nobody seems to want to give up these new digital opportunities which we are now enjoying. Many advisers are seeing this as their opportunity to go national and can do business with clients based anywhere in the country. That’s great to see.

The Covid pandemic and lockdown have probably been one of the greatest tests of the value of being in a Partnership. I’d ask advisers whether they faced it alone as an independent business or did they get to share the burden with like-minded people, facing into the same challenges? We turned up the communication massively in all areas, what are the providers doing, how are they dealing with the need for signatures, original documentation etc. On matters around the bigger picture, we could support firms on rules coming out of the various government bodies and delegated assemblies on office working/home visits etc. too.

We also waived our fees at one point in 2021, rather than just deferring, while we were all assessing the impact on revenue & cashflow for advice businesses. Our unique ownership model enabled that.

SW: How has the business fared during the global pandemic? What have been the challenges? Have there been any benefits?

MM: The business has hardly missed a beat. Obviously the mortgage market roared ahead with the additional support of the government around stamp duty, but we have seen no fall off in demand even since that deadline passed. There is still a very healthy pipeline of house sales & new mortgage business working through the system. It could slow later in 2021 but it’s not evident yet, we’re still seeing more demand than supply.

Protection sales haven’t quite kept up with that mortgage market momentum. However, that is typical of what happens when mortgage advice is under demand pressure, we just have to make sure that the follow up happens and loans are adequately protected.

On the wealth side, markets have been positive and investor confidence has tracked that closely. We all have a cautious eye on inflation and government policy just to make sure we are positioned correctly.

The biggest positive that I am seeing (if you can find positive outcomes among all that human tragedy) is the massive leap forward in willingness to use technology proactively by advisers and their clients. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that the advice profession has not always been at the vanguard of early adoption of technology but ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and I am seeing lots of evidence of new found ‘evangelism’ for technology emerging & sustaining!

Some of the exciting new Fintech solutions emerging in recent years that really democratise and consolidate client data just fill me with optimism for how financial advice could become more efficient in the future. Early reactions were often that these were a threat to advice, but the more balanced opinion now amongst advisers and the Fintechs themselves are that they work best when they are part of a hybrid solution. In my opinion, some of the more interesting examples here have been:

  • Origo valuation engine – plugging into services like MoneyInfo & Dynamic Planner
  • Mortgage Brain – going beyond the current services to enable meaningful lender integrations
  • And robo advice– the likes of Tiller and Nucuro showing that rather than trying to go D2C which requires enormous brand presence, they could instead partner with advice brands to find a more efficient way to onboard new, younger clients who want a mainly digital journey initially, but are open to accessing complex advice later when relevant

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