Sue Whitbread talks to Dawn Walker-Bennett, Head of Business Development at AFH Wealth Management, about the growth in the business and how putting clients’ needs first has underpinned its success
IFAM: How would you describe your business and the services you deliver for clients? What are the principles which underpin the business and which shape those services? What’s your “why” if you like?
DWB: AFH Wealth Management is a financial-planning led wealth management business, offering holistic financial planning to retail and corporate clients.
Putting clients’ needs and their financial objectives first is at the heart of everything we do, using our growing scale and clout in the market to drive down costs and increase returns for our clients
We have grown a lot in the nearly 30 years we’ve been in business but we’ve kept our friendly, transparent culture, which is why advisers who join us, tend to stay
IFAM: Clearly AFH is a firm which isn’t afraid to do things differently. Can you highlight some examples of particular ways you have changed how you operate so as to benefit clients and also to build an increasingly effective business?
DWB: Yes, one good example is that we don’t rely on traditional platforms to invest our clients’ wealth. Traditional platforms can be expensive so, eight years ago we developed a direct route to market to deliver cost savings to our clients.
As our funds under management have increased, the platform charge for this proposition was reduced until last year, when we decided to absorb the platform cost entirely. We believe we are the first IFA in the country to offer this. We also offer a range of delegated authority funds, which are run by top fund managers but at a lower cost to clients than those managers’ ‘branded’ funds. I should add that the suitability of any offering is, of course, subject to a review of individual circumstances.
We are one of a very small number of IFAs who have discretionary permissions with the FCA, which means that over the years our clients have benefited from being supported by a large in-house team of research and investment specialists, offering in-house investment management and stockbroking services.
As well as giving our advisers access to this unique investment proposition, we’ve invested heavily in digital and information technology. This means our advisers and clients have access to their records at the click of a mouse. And with our in-house TV studio we can offer ‘explainer’ videos to support our advisers in demonstrating the AFH difference.
IFAM: How do you co-ordinate your strategic planning, ensuring you can innovate and continue to build best practice as the business is growing?
DWB: Our strategy is to continue to grow our business by recruitment of good quality financial advisers and by identifying like-minded businesses with which to join forces.
As well as recruiting experienced advisers, we’re also looking at developing new advisers. We have a graduate training scheme and recently launched our veteran career programme aimed at members – and former members – of the armed forces. This has been recognised by the Ministry of Defence and several forces organisations.
We’ve also recognised the need to attract the best technical skills as we grow, as well as nurturing home-grown talent through the AFH Academy. That’s why we’re opening more offices, in Birmingham, the West Country and the North East, to provide greater support for our advisers on the ground and to access a wider talent pool.
We’re appointing regional directors to strengthen the development of advisers across the UK, while our new project team is ensuring our rapid growth is fully integrated into the business.
IFAM: How important is having a team approach? Can you talk us through who does what in your team? How do you work together and maintain the enthusiasm and passion that is needed to thrive and drive business success?
DWB: The team approach is a key part of the AFH difference. Our technical, administration, compliance and investment teams work closely together to support our advisers, who can also draw on the expertise of our marketing, training, communication and project teams. By bringing together the expertise of focussed specialists, we can respond quickly to clients’ needs and developments in the market in a way that smaller businesses – where everyone has to spread their time across several areas – simply can’t match.
Across the UK we now have almost 900 people in AFH Group. But we’ve kept that ‘family’ feel that reflects our beginnings as a small business. We share in our successes, as do our clients, which is what makes AFH such a dynamic – and happy – place to work.
IFAM: What about professional development for team members? How do you invest in yourselves and continue developing your knowledge and skills around business practice as well as technical knowledge? Do you think that professional qualifications are important?
Across the UK we now have almost 900 people in AFH Group. But we’ve kept that ‘family ’ feel that reflects our beginnings as a small business
DWB: We assess the knowledge of our advisers and specialist support staff during recruitment, and they sit in-house exams annually to identify any gaps in knowledge. Every adviser has a personal training plan which is reviewed regularly. We encourage all our advisers to study for further professional qualifications and offer tuition support for our all staff.
We place great importance on professional qualifications – keeping up to date with technical knowledge is part of the job! In collaboration with our advice technicians, our development team provides technical training to keep knowledge bang up-to-date.
All teams are regularly updated on relevant changes in regulation and our services and the impact these will have on our clients.
All IFAs are required to complete 50 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) every year.
IFAM: When it comes to the investment strategy and portfolio management services you operate, what’s your approach? What processes do you use? Which software systems? Do you favour an active or passive approach?
DWB: At AFH we aim to focus on generating long-term returns for our clients. We don’t follow the latest fads and trends but instead we research, in depth, the fund managers who have shown they can navigate economic cycles and select investments which add risk-adjusted value over the longer term.
With an investment team of more than 60, we have the resources to make informed decisions at each level of the investment process, as well as the ability to effectively and speedily implement these decisions in client portfolios.
We believe in active management, in both asset allocation and security selection, but this is with a degree of passive exposure to make sure our clients get the best of both worlds.
IFAM: What is your vision for the future of the business and for the service you deliver to clients?
DWB: It’s our vision to continue to grow the business by attracting good quality financial advisers and their clients to join AFH and by acquiring firms that fit our business model. By growing the business and being more profitable, we will continue to develop our use of technology for our clients and introduce innovative ways that we can add value into our client proposition and reduce the cost of investing for our clients.
IFAM: What tips would you give to other adviser firms looking to grow their businesses?
- Be true to yourself. Be clear about what you want to achieve. Grow at the right pace, so you maintain your core values. Always keep in mind how growth might affect your client proposition.
- Look at your options. With growth comes more responsibilities. Do you really want the additional regulatory burden? Is there a risk you’ll end up as a part time adviser?
- Do your research. And take a look at the acquisition information on the AFH website. We could be your future!
About Dawn Walker-Bennett
Dawn has more than 20 years’ experience in financial services and is diploma-qualified through the Chartered Insurance Institute. She has previously worked for Old Mutual as a broker consultant and on the intermediary sales team at Gerrard Stockbrokers. As head of business development at AFH, Dawn is responsible for maintaining the high standard of recruits for both employed and self-employed independent financial advisers, and to support them as they are welcomed into the business. She also manages new business development through professional third-party connections. In her spare time Dawn enjoys socialising with friends and family. Her interests include cooking and running in 10k races.
For more information about AFH Wealth Management visit www.afhwm.co.uk/joinus