"I believe firms are going to have to adapt and be increasingly flexible when it comes to how they interact with clients."
We spoke to Gary Jones, national recruitment manager at Stonebridge, about how the network is helping member firms grow their own staff base and why it is still vital that advisers make the most of every single opportunity with their clients.
FR: Recruiting during a lockdown might seem nigh on impossible, but Stonebridge has added to its adviser numbers in recent months. How have you achieved that?
It does seem somewhat counter-intuitive because of lockdown, however when it comes to recruiting into the network, we’ve actually seen more activity. People appear to have had more time to speak to us about their options, what we can offer as a network, and the benefits in joining Stonebridge. Perhaps because they’ve had time to really consider their options and been able to really analyse the options before making that decision to join us.
FR: When firms are either looking to move to AR status, or looking to change networks, what are their major considerations and how do you show that Stonebridge can meet their needs?
Each individual firm has its own important objectives but primarily there are certain common concerns around moving network, the logistics, what it means for their pipeline and income. A lot has been written about the difficulties some firms have had, particularly when it comes to moving between networks, so it is understandable that they want to firm up how this will all work in practice.
We offer a confidential approach to any new prospective ARs and try and keep the process as slick as possible. Most importantly we have a strong proposition, as we offer whole-of-market for mortgages, have no monthly adviser fees, there are no hidden costs with us, procuration fees are paid on exchange and we pride ourselves on being very open and transparent with our ARs.
FR: A significant number of new advisers appear to come from Stonebridge member firms growing their own staff base. How can you help these firms do this?
I think that’s a very valid question because our AR firms tend to be ambitious and can see the strong demand for advice, not just now but in the future. They want to ensure they have the right staffing levels to deal with that, but they also want to ensure they get the right people in the right positions.
As part of our recruitment process we therefore offer member firms significant help to expand and grow; we help them by looking at their needs for their business whether employed or self-employed and their location. Part of the recruitment team’s job is to find suitable candidates for these businesses - we don’t charge our ARs for that service, it’s all part of what we do. This has recently been a massive area for us in and out of lockdown and is often considered a real benefit for expansionist AR firms looking to thrive within our network.
FR: How have you worked through the Covid-19 lockdown personally, and what permanent changes do you see coming as a result of this for both you in recruitment but also for advisory firms in general?
For me it’s not been such a change compared to other parts of the business, as I worked from home anyway, so I’m already well adjusted to this. One major change for me – and many others of course - is that I’ve stopped going out to see people, but I have had to adapt and use Teams, Zoom or pick up the phone rather than travel.
People have been very understanding of the situation as they are genuinely concerned as to what is going on with Covid-19 and the threat it presents. All the people I’ve spoken to during lockdown, and beyond, have been very supportive of this new approach, so I have had no complaints.
Like many, I’ve probably found myself being more productive as I generally prefer to call people in a professional environment rather than on the move as there are no distractions or the potential to lose signal. So not being able to travel has made this process a little easier.
I genuinely believe in a post-Covid environment more business will be done this way. People will continue to use the internet and social platforms to work more efficiently and in a more cost-effective manner – as expenses are almost non-existent, however there will always be some who prefer to meet face-to-face.
I believe firms are going to have to adapt and be increasingly flexible when it comes to how they interact with clients. This period will have opened up communication methods for many and as a result it may mean that the firm’s footprint can be spread wider.
FR: What are the biggest challenges facing mortgage advisers right now?
Existing mortgage advisers with well-established client banks have been somewhat protected given that many clients will be coming up for remortgages and product transfers.
However, new brokers face the difficulty of generating enough business - due to the housing market being hampered as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown - and not getting as many new enquiries as a result. The good news is that demand is growing, and that the easing of the lockdown measures, are already starting to have a positive impact.
In that context, it is still vital that advisers make the most of every single opportunity with their clients. For instance, there will be no better time than now to discuss protection needs and any other related product needs they have.
This is where our bespoke, fit-for-purpose platform, Revolution, can help greatly in terms of directing firms to clients, helping them meet those needs, and marketing effectively.
FR: If you could see one headline about the mortgage market during the rest of the year, what would it be?
At the moment there are a number of pressing issues in the mortgage marketplace, and further Government support for the housing market would be absolutely ideal. However, for the immediate future and to help mortgage advisers and their clients, how about: ‘High LTV mortgage product numbers back to record levels’?