...a beacon, 40 ZettaBytes, digital democracy, IKEA bias, the lowest risk of failure, an empathy map, 186,000 Certified Financial Planners, the IPSOS Mori Voracity index, vulnerable people, 4/8760ths of your time, the Sistine Chapel, Starbucks, the Cantril ladder, DWYSYWD, and people killed by avalanches?
If you were at the CISI Annual Conference earlier this week you will immediately know the answer, because these were all topics that were mentioned during a fascinating two days of presentations and professional stimulation.
The Conference brings together top financial planners from the UK and around the world, with visitors from Australia and the USA among other nations. The CISI, or Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment to give it its full title, is the professional body that administers the Certified Financial Planner designation, held by 186,000 individuals worldwide and recognised as the global benchmark for the financial planning profession.
Over two jam-packed days a range of speakers discussed the latest thinking in the financial world, and challenged us with new ideas and concepts as well as reminding us of old and established principles that have stood the test of time. Here's a summary of each speaker's discussions:
Martin Ruskin, Chairman of the Institute's Financial Planning Forum Committee, spoke of the common desire of the financial planning 'tribe' to do a great job for clients and to be a beacon for the value of the work that they do. He reminded us that if a burning coal falls outside of the fire it soon grows dim, and the conference was an opportunity to get back in the fire amongst like-minded colleagues and rekindle the passion. It was a great predictor of what was to come over the next two days.
Jamie Susskind delved into the impact of technological change and how it will increasingly affect our lives. He told us that by 2020 there will be 40 ZettaBytes of data stored in computers around the globe. I looked it up later and found that a zettabyte describes 10 to the power of 21, which is an extremely large number! Astoundingly, Jamie told us that every two hours we create more data than had been recorded in all of human history up to 2003.
Jamie took us on a tour around some of the developments in technology, and the social and political changes that could ensue. An example is the democratic process, whereby we all have the power to cast our votes immediately and often using the phones in our pockets. This gives rise to all sorts of issues that will require a philosophical debate and new societal rules of engagement. The future won't just be faster and more efficient, it is likely to be radically different in many ways that we are only just beginning to understand.
Stuart Podmore from Schroders talked about behavioural biases in financial decision-making, and the need to understand the part that emotions play in the way people handle money. He mentioned a number of specific behaviours, including the IKEA bias - if you build it yourself, you are more disposed towards it. That explains why people become very attached to their self-created investment portfolios, even though there may be much more sturdy alternatives available elsewhere.
Sapna Shapero and Anja Turvey
Our very own Sapna and Anja from Chesterton House ran an interesting session about coping with change, describing the progress of our own business through a period of rapid growth, how we responded to it and how we maintained our high levels of customer satisfaction. They explained the importance of processes and described some of the tools we use to create them.
Sapna mentioned that customers of financial services businesses tend not to shop around, and commonly choose their suppliers based on recommendation. However, surveys have shown that only 50% of customers were highly satisfied after one year's experience in dealing with a financial institution, whereas our own client satisfaction surveys have continued to garner extremely high ratings even after many years working with clients. Their talk showed how we've achieved this.
Amyr Rocha-Lima, a practising financial planner, talked about retirement probabilities. He explained the history of retirement planning, from the post WW2 era when investors bought bonds which came with a coupon attached that they could take to the bank and encash, to the high inflation of the 1970s and the rise of equity investing in the 1980s and beyond, to today's modern portfolio structures where returns are generated as a mix of dividend income and capital gains.
This reliance on the capital portion of retirement portfolios has meant the introduction of safety mechanisms by portfolio managers, and Amyr demonstrated how choosing a plan with the lowest risk of failure may be less satisfactory than choosing a strategy that, at face value, may appear more risky but where those risks are in themselves of lower magnitude, leading to less need to make significant adjustments over time and therefore ultimately a higher likelihood of success.
These are complex areas for retirees to understand, and Amyr advocated the use of 'standard operating procedures' describing what actions are appropriate in different market scenarios so that investors can understand the nature of adjustments that will be made in future. This was a thought-provoking talk from a competent practitioner.
Laura Janes is a marketer, and her session describe some of the principles of marketing and the foundations that firms need to put in place to be able to deliver a consistent message. She suggested using an empathy map, describing what people think, feel, see, hear, say and do when they use your services. Putting yourself genuinely in the client's shoes can reveal huge insights about the perception of your service, and help you to continue to improve it.
Rebecca Aston is Head of Professional Standards at CISI, and her session entitled, "What would you do?" was concerned with professional ethics and behaviour. Rebecca referred to the IPSOS Mori Voracity index, a survey that has been running since 1983 asking consumers how much they trust different professions. Top of the list in 2018 were nurses, who have the trust of 96% of the public. At the bottom of the list were advertising executives, trusted by only 16% of people.
Interestingly, judges are trusted to tell the truth by only 83% of the population, whilst bankers (the closest classification to financial advisers) are trusted by 41%. This is disappointing, although Rebecca did mention that bankers have shown the greatest increase in trust over recent years, admittedly from a very low base following the 2008 banking crisis.
Clearly it is incumbent on all professions to increase their professionalism and ensure that they behave in ways which justify their clients trust. She talked about how trust arises, and the importance of knowledge, skills and behaviour in this equation. She went on to pose some case studies, some based on actual complaints and disciplinary matters raised with the CISI, and these generated much thought and discussion from the audience with some interesting points raised. This type of discussion can only be helpful in assisting all levels of staff within businesses to have a greater appreciation of some of the ethical dilemmas that can arise, and how to deal with them.
Rebecca's presentation brought the first day's proceedings to a close, before everyone went off to get changed in readiness for the Gala Dinner held in the evening. I put on my posh frock (I hope it didn't clash with my dickie bow) before enjoying an excellent lunch provided by the Hilton Metropole hotel. This was followed by awards presentations to the Financial Planner of the Year, Paraplanner of the Year, Accredited Financial Planning Firm of the year and various other accolades. Congratulations to all the worthy winners.
Prof. Deen Sanders
The next day started with a presentation by Prof. Deen Sanders, an Australian who has been heavily involved in regulation within that country. Deen took us through the changes in Australian regulation and the thought processes of the authorities in creating their rules and templates. After a thorough analysis of the Australian system, he went on to remind delegates of the central role that they play in their client's lives, and the exceptional duty of care that rests on financial planners when dealing with their clients. He reminded us that the financial adviser is often the only person to see the truth in client relationships, and is privy to information that, most likely, no one else in the client's life has access.
Martin Lines spoke about working with vulnerable clients. This is a real area of focus for the Financial Conduct Authority at present, and Martin referred to the various discussion papers and documents that the regulator has published to help advisers understand the issues involved. When we think about vulnerable people, we imagine, perhaps, elderly people, dementia sufferers or those with learning difficulties, but Martin went on to explain that consideration of vulnerable clients should be in a much wider context. Examples include people who have suffered illness, depression or bereavement, or who are going through significant change in their lives, all of which can lead people into states of mind that mean that they are not fully receptive to the complex messages that financial services often involves.
Advisers should recognise that vulnerability can arise with all people at any time, and be able to recognise the various categories of vulnerability in order to tailor their explanations and communications appropriately, and in a way that the customer can understand and therefore be able to make good decisions.
I was delighted to have been invited to speak at this year's Conference on the subject of 'How to Find Out What's Really Important to Your Clients'. I told an allegorical tale based around the problems of trying to make sense of the multiplicity of information that is available to consumers, in the context of seeking to get fitter. My message was that the help of a skilled practitioner and guide is invaluable in this process, and along the way I incorporated the Values-Based conversations that we have with our clients when we begin to work with them. My talk seemed to be well-received, and I enjoyed delivering it despite a restless night thinking about what I was going to say!
David Swanwick pointed out that, if a financial planner meets with their client twice a year for two hours at a time, based on 8,760 hours in a year this represents only 0.0004556 of a person's time each year. It's therefore vital to be able to communicate effectively within that small window of time.
David went on to demonstrate how using images and sketches can simplify complex ideas. For example, the world-renowned paintings inside the Sistine Chapel are not only fabulous works of art, but also the inspiration for literally hundreds of individual stories and ideas that make up the content on display, and with no written words whatsoever to help the narrative. He gave some examples of simple drawings that tell the story of investment risk choices and alternatives, and the consequences of each.
I strongly believe that the hallmark of a professional is the ability to turn complex ideas into simple concepts, and David's talk resonated with me as a great way to do this.
Brian Portnoy talked about money, happiness and the future of wealth management, a subject on which he has written a fascinating book entitled the Geometry of Wealth. He talked about the evolution of financial planning, from being primarily about investing in brokerage, to the adoption of planning using cash flow and modelling techniques, to the area of helping people with complex decisions and family arrangements, combined with the development of the client experience as a business objective. He mentioned Starbucks, whose research and development team has a clear aim of placing Starbucks as the third place to sit for their customers, after home and work. It isn't just about the coffee, it's about the environment in which you drink it and your desire to return to it.
Brian asked whether money buys happiness, and in providing the answer he drew a distinction between people who are rich - associated with accumulating more money, and based around a number; and those who are wealthy - based around a state of mind, and what he termed 'funded contentment'. It's perfectly possible to be wealthy without being rich, and Brian went on to explore this idea in depth based on academic research into human happiness and how it arises. He referred to the Cantril ladder, a simple tool to measure how people feel right now, and the relationship between your current feeling of happiness and events going on elsewhere in your life. There is a lot of evidence to show that sharing with others is important in improving life quality, and giving - whether in the form of your time or charitable donations - is significant in improving well-being.
Brian's talk helped to shine an academic spotlight onto an area that experienced planners will already have come to understand, and I found it an extremely useful talk with some very helpful ideas about helping people to achieve greater wealth as well as - or instead of - riches.
Philip Hesketh reminded us that we all want to be loved; we all want to feel important; and we all want to belong. These characteristics drive all relationships, and in a very humorous and witty manner Philip gave us many ideas about how to motivate and inspire our clients and ourselves towards better business relationships. His central message was that you should DWYSYWD - Do What You Said You Would Do. Don't under promise and over deliver, just deliver! Amen to that.
Simon Culhane, Chief Executive of the CISI, summarised the two days of the Conference and reminded us of the crucial role of the CISI in delivering professional financial planning services and its intentions to lead the way in this field, before handing over to the last speaker of the day.
Henry Schniewind is an American who lives in Val D'Isere, France, a centre for skiing and winter sports. Having lost friends and colleagues in avalanches on the ski slopes, Henry has devoted a lifetime to studying avalanches and how to predict their likelihood. There are some simple factors which, when recognised, serve to highlight when ski slopes are more likely to generate avalanches and many of these factors are well-known amongst experts. The problem is that the experts often ignore them, partly due to overfamiliarity and sometimes through overconfidence, whilst the novice is not aware of the signs and wouldn't know what to look for. In response to this problem Henry developed a simple series of checks, listed on a scorecard, that could be used by anyone to remind themselves of what to look for when venturing onto the slopes.
The methodology Henry used has been adopted in many other areas, particularly in medicine where surgical procedures can go wrong for similar reasons. These translatable ideas can be adopted by anyone dealing with risk of any nature, and it was clear that there were obvious benefits in identifying financial risk, where a simple checklist would enable people to avoid the potential problems that can sometimes arise in the world of money. Henry's closing statement was "Safety is Freedom", which seemed a great way to end the Conference.
All in all, this was a thought-provoking and idea packed two days which was well worth taking time out to attend. Thanks are due to all the speakers for the efforts that they put into making this a stimulating and worthwhile event, and I hope that my brief summary has given you food for thought too.
Certified Financial Planner