Robert Bell entered financial planning because his own family struggled to know what to do with their finances. Hampered by too many options and too little time, this dilemma attracted his interest. Since then, he’s been helping his family, and others, more than he ever thought possible.
Having spent four years as one of our paraplanners, Robert is now a fully-fledged Chartered Financial Planner.
We caught up with Robert to find out more about his journey so far, what he has learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and his advice to anyone who wants to become a financial planner.
Tell us more about your role and what you do?
Over the last few years, I’ve moved from a paraplanning role into becoming a full-time financial planner.
On a day-to-day basis, I look after existing clients and meet new clients. In each case, my job is to get to grips with exactly what they are looking to achieve and then build a plan to make sure we can get them there. And, more importantly, reassure and advise them of what they have to do to get themselves there.
What are your specialities?
I enjoy complicated cases, particularly working with clients with complex positions.
A lot of it comes down to tax – looking at tax planning and pension planning. I also do a lot with the investment sides for the tax aspects.
I help high earners offset gains and take advantage of the position they’re in for long-term benefits. My technical understanding offers a step beyond what traditional tax planning may offer.
I have a degree in chemistry, which explains why the science of financial planning is the aspect that I find most enjoyable.
What is the most valuable piece of financial advice anyone ever gave you?
The thing everyone is told is that you should accrue as much money as possible, but is having loads of money going to lead to happiness
What’s more important is to make sure that you have enough so you can afford what you want to do in life. This is often too easily forgotten.
What is your favourite part of your role?
Coming up with solutions.
I love meeting a client and hearing about their problems. My brain immediately starts digging into it and asking, right, what can we do to fix that? I enjoy problem-solving.
With financial planning, there are so many moving parts. On the surface, it’s quite easy but when you do a deep dive to make sure everything is right for a client, the trick is to find the particular blend that’s going to work best for them.
First Wealth is a B Corp and a very innovative, multi-award-winning company. What does the future hold?
Given its size, First Wealth is punching above its weight. The detailed knowledge and experience that the founders have means they can put that into solutions that will help people.
As a firm, one of the things we’re very aware of is the advice gap. People can’t necessarily afford to access advice. And this is what First Wealth is trying to address with various initiatives.
With education (through Let’s Talk About Money) and the way that we’re onboarding and providing joined-up advice through that platform, we’re working towards making financial advice achievable for everyone.
Because there’s so much experience within First Wealth, we don’t just accept what’s easy. When there’s a problem, we try to find a solution that really works, rather than one that just plugs the hole for a period of time.
When I joined First Wealth, the tagline was: Everyone deserves a financial plan. While it’s not necessarily achievable at the moment, that is the ultimate goal.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a financial planner?
Financial planning is about relationships with your clients and understanding what they want. And your responsibility is to have a bag of tools to help them achieve their goals.
Exams are important, but they’re not the key to being a successful financial planner. Focus on gaining experience and getting to grips with what you do for a client, and how small nuances can require a totally different approach to really help your client.
The exams are a great introduction, but there is so much more to financial planning. Work to gain experience. Getting involved with cases and seeing how that helps clients is fundamental to being a good financial planner.
Ask questions, offer suggestions, and absorb as much information as you can.
And I think that is achieved by joining a company that actually does that. If you join some of the bigger institutions, you’ll often find that they’re very transactional, and can be quite one-dimensional.
Going to a smaller company, where you’ll get hands-on experience with different types of advice and different types of advisers, is going to put you in a strong position. This will help you develop as a financial planner as you’ll learn from what you’re doing.
What did the pandemic teach you about financial planning?
That money is such an emotional subject. I think people confuse the need to have money with what they want to achieve.
The pandemic highlighted how people from all backgrounds struggle to talk about money and this means stress and anxiety build. Eventually, this can cause knee-jerk reactions or panic, which can undo years and years of great behaviour and can have a huge long-term impact.
Having a financial plan in place means clients can revisit it and it gives them, and us, something to work towards. We know what we’re doing on a yearly basis or monthly basis, and the client also knows what they’re working towards. So, their plan gives them clarity.
I think it also taught us that financial planning can be done from anywhere. You don’t need to meet people face-to-face to do a great job.
That said, it is nice to have a catch-up over coffee.
What do you think the future of financial planning looks like?
What First Wealth is looking to do with the phrase “everyone deserves a financial plan” is fitting.
You’ve got this issue where if you don’t have enough money, it isn’t currently economical for advisers to work with people. But a joined-up approach, supported by technology and an experienced financial planning team, can offer advice to people and take away some of the difficulty.
This kind of approach can open doors and educate more people, no matter how much money they have.
I think wealth management is going to become less of a thing, and financial planning and financial coaching are going to become more important to what our profession does for people.
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