"We successfully anticipated the need for wider geographic reach and more online interaction – even if the exact circumstances caught everyone by surprise!"
We spoke to Karen Barrett, CEO of Unbiased, about the current challenges facing advisers and what tips she would give to an advice firm looking to grow in 2021.
FR: What changes have you seen in the advice sector over recent years?
In many ways I’ve had a front-row seat for the biggest transformation the advice industry has ever seen. Pension freedom was obviously a milestone – the moment financial advice went mainstream, if you like – but even that was just one step in a much bigger journey, which is the steadily increasing public demand for advice on big financial decisions. And the industry has responded well – the levels of professionalism in the sector are now higher than ever, and advisers are finding new ways to reach clients who are used to seeking solutions online and getting quick results.
FR: And what do you think have been the main impacts of Covid on the market?
Clearly advisers have had to adjust very quickly to delivering services remotely. The lockdowns have also exposed the deeper issue of the market being so fragmented, which makes it hard for individual brands to gain visibility on a large scale. Meanwhile the effects of Covid on the economy, including financial markets, interest rates and the housing market, mean that people need the reassurance of advice more than ever. This actually represents a real opportunity for those advisers who are in a position to take it.
FR: What particular challenges do advisers face right now?
Besides the obvious practicalities of working remotely, advisers need to maintain strong communication channels with both new customers and existing ones. They also face the issue that with people no longer commuting into the large towns, they will be looking for advisers in a far greater variety of locations around the country. Advisers must therefore be able to reach out across a wider geographic area, so as to benefit from this shift in behaviour instead of missing out.
FR: How is Unbiased helping to meet these challenges?
Covid has speeded up existing trends towards smarter ways of working, trends which fortunately we have long anticipated and indeed helped to drive. Advisers on our platform can find new clients anywhere in the country, no matter where they themselves are based, and manage the whole customer relationship from a single dashboard – if necessary without ever meeting face to face. They can also find and convert new clients at any time of day or night, through our automatic matching service. Most importantly, we’re enabling our advisers to meet their customers’ demand for a more flexible, responsive service – whether the country is in or out of lockdown. Our research has found that advisers currently spend only an average two days per week actually advising, with admin taking up a full day, and marketing and conversion being also time consuming. Our end-to-end pipeline management solution is designed to help advisers reclaim more time for advising.
FR: How do you see the advice market evolving in the future?
I see it as one of duties to our subscribers to stay at least a step ahead of the curve here. We successfully anticipated the need for wider geographic reach and more online interaction – even if the exact circumstances caught everyone by surprise! Looking ahead, we expect that advisers will begin to handle greater numbers of customers, at various wealth levels, as more agile working methods allow for economies of scale. Remote advice will become more common, even when the world returns to normal. Meanwhile customers grow savvier and more discerning, so the competition to attract and retain them will hot up. Our goal is to help advisers adapt to this faster-moving world and turn it into faster growth for their business.
FR: What tips would you give to an advice firm looking to grow in 2021?
My top tip would be always to play to your strengths. If you have a specialism, someone out there needs it. Think of ways you can differentiate your offering, or if there’s a particular advice area or type of clients at which you excel. The internet has given consumers unprecedented choice, so make sure you stand out in the crowd. Secondly, when onboarding potential clients, remember that their initial enquiry may be just the opening chapter. Take the time to get to know them, and for them to know and trust you, to set the tone for what will hopefully be a lasting and profitable relationship for you both. Finally, explore the ways in which technology can bring you and your ideal clients together.