Andy Springford and Natalie Wright personify the high standards expected of young advisers at Mazars Financial Planning, as the future-facing firm looks to achieve revenue of £20 million by 2021.
Mazars Financial Planning’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of top financial planners has been pivotal to its rapid expansion. Its impressive crop of emerging talent is reflected in the fact four Mazars advisers made the cut for New Model Adviser®’s Top 35 Next Generation Advisers 2017: Natalie Wright, Andy Springford, Ross Lambert and Nicholas Nesbitt.
Here we feature chartered financial planner and senior manager Wright and director Springford. They fill us in on how Mazars has been pushing boundaries in financial planning since the firm last appeared as a pioneering cover star in 2006.
ANDY SPRINGFORD CV
- 2008–present Mazars Financial Planning, graduate to director
- Chartered Financial Planner
- Certified Financial Planner
- Chartered Wealth Manager
Over the past decade, Mazars has achieved a long list of accreditations and accolades. These include chartered and accredited status; New Model Adviser® 2017 award winner for Greater London and made the New Model Adviser® Top 100 list this year.
Springford is a product of the firm’s graduate scheme. ‘I joined it in 2008, did two years training and exams, then started learning the softer skills I needed to be a planner,’ he says. ‘For example, I learned how to approach a client, do a fact-find, and develop rapport.’
The firm quickly spotted his leadership potential and in 2013 – when London-based Springford was only 26 – Mazars asked him to head up its south-east region, which later grew west to include Poole and Bristol.
Springford is chartered and certified and has won a planner of the year award already for his technical skills. This year, he also became a director – an example of Mazars’ ‘high potential’ programme in action. Both Wright and Springford are on this informal scheme designed to support team members capable of rapid promotion.
NATALIE WRIGHT CV
- 2013–present Mazars Financial Planning, chartered financial planner and senior manager
- 2007–2013 Tilney Bestinvest, trainee adviser to financial planner
- 2005–2007 PJG Financial Services, paraplanner and support consultant
- 2001–2005 BBT Asset Management, administrator, sales support and paraplanner
- Diploma in Financial Planning
- Regulated Diploma in Financial Planning
- Chartered Financial Planner
- Fellow of the Personal Finance Society
The Wright stuff
Leeds-based Wright joined Mazars in 2013 after working for several other IFA firms. She says its formal training structure gave her a big boost.
Wright is chartered and a Personal Finance Society (PFS) fellow and a PFS Chartered Financial Planner of the Year finalist for 2016 and 2017. At the time of writing, she is waiting to hear if she has won this year’s award.
This recognises her contributions to the wider profession in raising professional standards and to ethics. For example, she offers pro bono employee surgeries for corporate clients.
Wright says: ‘These surgeries can work commercially [if they attract new clients]. But the aim is to improve the financial wellbeing of the whole workforce, especially, for example, those suffering debt or other financial difficulties.
‘There are lots of data now about how financial wellbeing affects productivity. One important source I use is [Ovation Finance managing director] Chris Budd’s book Financial Wellbeing and his podcasts.’
Wright also plans to do a master’s in financial planning and business management next year at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Having returned from maternity leave last year, Wright pens lively blogs on working mum-related issues for a local magazine. ‘This is a male-dominated profession,’ she says. ‘Mazars has always given me equal opportunities and could not have been more supportive. For example, I received my first promotion the week I went on maternity leave and another one soon after I came back. So I have been lucky but you shouldn’t have to be lucky; it should be a given.
‘In the wider profession, women still struggle to get the same opportunities. I experienced discrimination earlier in my career in terms of speed of progression compared with others. But it made me even more determined to work harder for myself. I wanted to find a positive rather than be downtrodden by it.’
Mazars has set an internal target for female representation at senior level.
Mazars’ initial fees are fixed or hourly from £100 to £300. These fees include implementation.
The ongoing fee is 1% or negotiable at higher levels. This covers as many financial planning and cashflow review meetings as clients need; the investment proposition; and seminars and other events.
Springford says: ‘We are not trying to be the cheapest. People often move to us because we can provide every service under one roof, including planner, investment manager, tax accountant, business accountant and corporate finance specialist.’
Mazars’ average funds per client was around £350,000 last year. However, this has now increased to around £500,000, making the average ongoing fee £5,000.
Mazars also sends new planners on a fee negotiation course. This recovers its costs many times over as it helps them articulate the value they add, which can often be daunting to new planners, says Springford.
Wright and Springford are also members of Mazars’ innovation group, which has been modernising the firm rapidly. Springford says: ‘We all have iPads to provide a more interactive planning experience. For example, people like to see the world map showing where they are invested on Seven Investment Management in our platform’s app. They also use our risk profiler Dynamic Planner to sign their profile onscreen.
‘We implemented Adobe e-signatures recently, which make things much more efficient, and touchscreen smart TVs in every room for cashflow modelling and Skype meetings,’ he says. ‘We are due to launch a client portal next year. Technology will increasingly help the visual side of planning.’
Two years ago, the firm hired Vodafone to review its overall efficiency. ‘From that, we adopted "agile working" in the London office [the Richard Rogers-designed Tower Bridge House] and refurbished it so that no one has a desk. Everyone hot desks,’ says Springford.
‘We also now focus on outputs rather than inputs. So remote and flexible working are fine providing you get the job done. We will roll that out to [our offices] in the rest of the UK. Agile working also helps improve work-life balance and job satisfaction.’
In-house model portfolios, with ethical option, caters for varied client needs
Mazars Financial Planning runs in-house model portfolios: five growth and one income, plus ethical versions of each. It also makes portfolios bespoke at clients’ discretion, based on tax considerations or asset class preferences. It also uses external discretionary fund managers for clients with other specific needs.
Mazars uses Dynamic Planner to set risk profiles, which helps guide asset allocations. It selects funds on criteria such as performance, charges, strength of management team and manager tenure.
Mazars’ Balanced portfolio outperformed the Investment Association Mixed Investment 40%-85% Shares sector over the past three calendar years, with lower volatility (see chart below).
Funds that have contributed to that performance include the Somerset Emerging Market Dividend Growth fund, the Marlborough Special Situations fund and the Barings European fund.
Springford says the team also stuck with the Jupiter European fund despite underperformance in late 2016 due to stock selection, but the fund rebounded this year.
Mazars Financial Planning has grown funds under advice, largely organically, from £220 million in 2013 to £734 million this year; and revenue from £3.8 million to £7.6 million.
Two years ago, it received discretionary investment permissions. Springford says this helped scale the business significantly, as it freed up many hours previously spent chasing permissions for investment changes.
‘We see substantial benefits from going discretionary: in efficiency, client satisfaction, and fewer errors,’ he says. ‘Everyone can focus on their jobs and finding new business.’
However, the biggest change in the past few years has been dramatically increasing its graduate intake and accelerating career progression. ‘I was one of two new graduates in 2008,’ says Springford. ‘Since then the scheme has evolved. In the past two years, we took on 17.
‘Back then graduates started in local offices,’ he says. ‘Now they start in a single office, so they can interact and share ideas. Soft skills also play a bigger part now. For example, from year one, graduates do case studies and role plays on how to approach different types of client.
‘As future leaders, they must meet high standards in all these areas, not just exams. It is a tough process and not everyone makes it. The graduate scheme means we can control the quality coming through the system. Hiring externally is always a risk.’
However, this does not stop the firm hiring externally when they find the right candidates, such as Wright; and recently recruited partner and former New Model Adviser® cover star Sarah Lord, previously partner at Killik & Co.
Mazars also runs internships and undergraduate placements to boost experience. This is all part of a wider culture in the Mazars Group, which has seen its average staff age fall to 28 – younger than at Google.
Last year, Mazars Financial Planning introduced a revenue target of £20 million by 2021. Wright says this is not an ambitious target. The firm has acquisition plans and it will continue to take nine people a year onto its graduate scheme. ‘The scheme will include paraplanners and an investment team placement,’ she adds.
Finding their voice
Advisers in the wider profession often complain about the lack of a talent in the pipeline but Wright says this is changing. She says the profession has reached a tipping point with regards to next generation planners.
‘Financial services is becoming the career of choice with graduates and there is a growing interest in financial planning as a profession,’ she says.
‘Huge numbers of younger planners are coming through. The next generation has a voice now. For example, Xentum director Adam Carolan, co-founder of the NextGen Planners community, is on the PFS practitioner panel. I’m in that community. We all share ideas and best practice, as we know raising standards will lead to better consumer outcomes.’
Wright says the recent PFS Festival of Financial Planning ‘felt like a turning point in the profession, focusing on our strengths in planning, not investment, for example, and becoming much better at demonstrating the value of planning’.
Springford agrees, adding: ‘Our focus on qualifications and standards has made financial planning respected among other professionals. We also see that in the Mazars Group. We’re excited the profession is getting younger, more skilled, better-recognised and clients are understanding the value of planning. This has not always been the case, even in my short career.’
Wright adds: ‘Age shouldn’t be an issue [in advising older clients]. If you’re 30, you may well have nine years of experience, and technically be at a high level already. Andy had been managing a region for four years by that age. There is so much support in this firm; it allows us to progress more quickly than others might.
‘Only one client has ever said they didn’t want me to be their adviser because I was too young,’ says Springford. ‘It makes it even more challenging and rewarding when people say: "I’ve got grandkids the same age as you," but they still join as a client at the end of the meeting. We know we can convince people that we add value.’
FIVE TOP TIPS
- Have a clear vision communicated throughout the firm, and show how each individual can contribute to it.
- Technology will be the biggest disruption in our profession but change equals opportunity: evolve and embrace it.
- Invest in the next generation. They will form part of your succession plan and lead the financial profession of the future.
- Reward, challenge and empower your employees. But hold accountable those that consistently underperform.
- Remind yourself and your employees continually why you do what you do. This will encourage greater engagement from your team and clients.