A Scottish finance firm aims to woo the best talent in the country

Attracting and retaining talented staff leads to a bright future in financial planning, writes Rosemary Gallagher.
Sandy RobertsonSandy Robertson
Sandy Robertson

It is vital for organisations to attract and retain talented employees with appropriate experience, or with the ability and willingness to learn new skills in today’s competitive marketplace.

Effective training of people is also important if current and future skills gaps are to be filled to allow Scotland’s economy to grow in the years to come. From school leavers to graduates, to people returning to work after an absence, training has an integral role to play. And if firms look after their employees in terms of development, staff are more likely to stay for the long-term and productivity will increase.

Acumen Financial Planning, an independent accredited and chartered financial planning firm serving clients across the UK from its offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Elgin, has long-known the value of treating its employees well as a prerequisite to their realising their full potential.

Financial planning could be the stepping stones to a bright futureFinancial planning could be the stepping stones to a bright future
Financial planning could be the stepping stones to a bright future

‘If you want to attract the right people, the working environment is important’.

Along with training, Acumen places emphasis on such areas as flexible working and an attractive working environment.

As Sandy Robertson, managing director of Acumen, says: “It’s fundamental that if you want to attract the right people, the working environment is very important. It’s a win-win because, in our profession, both clients and staff appreciate a nice environment. So by investing you are helping to satisfy the needs of both groups.”

Acumen recently received the accolade of Accredited Firm of the Year from the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) for the second time, in recognition of the financial planning firm’s staff training and development.

The company was established in Aberdeen in 2002 by Robertson with a small team of seven employees and a handful of clients. Acumen now has 44 staff servicing more than 1,000 clients. It moved its Aberdeen office earlier this year to accommodate planned future growth of its team, and the firm has also secured space to expand its new Edinburgh office on Randolph Crescent in the Capital’s West End, which currently has six employees.

Acumen says that because financial planning is a relatively new profession in the UK, and largely off the radar as a career option for young people, it is committed as a firm to working with industry groups, such as CISI and the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), to promote the sector.

The approach seems to be working, with more than half of Acumen’s employees now aged under 35, a fact which the firm says helps to attract and retain a younger client base. The company has a number of entry points for new employees, including school leavers and graduates.

“There is no reason for a school leaver to be disadvantaged versus a graduate, in terms of career progression,” says Robertson. “It will take the school leaver a bit longer as they need to do more exams because they won’t have exemptions, but young men and women coming from school or university have the same opportunity to become planners – there is no bias.”

Despite being a relatively small firm compared to the large corporates, Robertson wants to offer his employees top-quality training, partly because of his own experience.

He explains: “Apart from this role at Acumen, I’ve only had two jobs. I worked for Clydesdale Bank and Shell, so I was always employed by larger employers where training and development is part of the rhythm.

“Coming from that background, I’ve been keen to continue that approach, even when our business was tiny.

“Fundamentally, that’s where we’re coming from – I’ve had the benefit of training myself and I want to see our people also get a similar benefit.”

In contrast to many other firms in the sector, Acumen says it has an intentionally high ratio of paraplanning support to planners. It also has its own administration function and a dedicated internal business support team –covering IT, HR, training, marketing and compliance – based in Aberdeen to support all its offices. And Acumen is also proud of its belief in gender equality, which it says is reflected in its approach to recruitment and training.

The firm’s offices have an open-plan design with planners and paraplanners working alongside each other to create a team environment, as well as a focus on training its team to the best of their capabilities.

Flexible working and support creates a harmonious work-life balance

To this end, Acumen offers the option of flexible working with its standard 35-hour week. To encourage this, all of the group’s offices close at 2pm on Fridays.

Indeed, some of the firm’s planners and paraplanners with young children do a three or four-day week, working around their parental requirements and childcare arrangements.

Robertson says: “We have appointed a recruitment and development manager to ensure we have a development plan and the right degree of encouragement for each employee.”

For Acumen, there are two parts to training its financial planners. First, they need to gain the professional qualifications the regulated profession requires. Second, they need to develop the good communication skills essential to the role of a trusted advisor building long-term client relationships.

“Clients appreciate this approach and the evidence is that we have a low turnover of clients and staff,” says Robertson. “A planner is a planner, irrespective of age, nationality or gender. It’s all about their experience, qualifications and behaviour.”

A major way in which Acumen says it differs as a financial planning firm is by rewarding staff on merit, rather than for reaching financial targets.

Robertson expands: “Our planners’ number-one priority is to serve our existing clients. Experience tells us that happy clients refer other clients to our firm, so unusually perhaps we have no sales targets, and never will.

“By dispensing with new business targets and associated bonuses we remove the possibility of a planner putting their interests ahead of our client’s interests.”

Looking ahead, Acumen’s recently appointed recruitment and development manager will work alongside the firm’s compliance manager to gain oversight of its technical training, qualifications and personnel management.

Robertson says: “We’re aiming to look at each employee through three lenses –

line manager, training manager and development manager. That process is under development and will be the way we do things by spring 2019.”

How a career in financial planning can lead to a flourishing career

Sandy Robertson on how a career as a financial planner can really pay off

Having worked in finance for many years, I believe it’s fair to say that for young, ambitious people weighing up their career options, many may be unaware of the opportunities in the profession of financial planning.

Financial services has been tainted in recent years with the fall-out of the banking crash, and wider economic crisis, which saw big banks fail and the general public lose faith in many large organisations.

Another consequence is that many may perceive a career in finance as being driven by targets, rather than a commitment to helping clients plan for a stable future for themselves and their families.

Our firm, Acumen Financial Planning, is one of the organisations in this profession working hard to change this perception and attract talented employees.

In contrast to some firms involved in financial planning, Acumen has always rewarded our planners on merit, not on reaching targets.

As a result, we’re not touched by some of the perceptions of wealth management, such as the need to bring in a certain amount of income for planners and their firms.

Acumen has never imposed sales targets, which leaves our planners free to focus on building long and trusting relationships with their clients, rather than putting themselves first.

As an accredited and chartered firm, we have a responsibility to our clients to provide an exemplary service provided by a highly qualified team who must have and maintain certain qualifications.

We provide our employees with the time and motivation to focus on training and development, with an excellent support structure in place.

Acumen recruits people of all ages and levels of experience, and by focussing on individual training and development, we are attempting to dispel the image of financial planning as an older, male profession.

Acumen’s approach is a win-win – by investing in attracting the right people to a good working environment we end up with happy employees and satisfied clients.

This has been recognised recently by Acumen being named Accredited Firm of the Year by CISI for the second time, in recognition of our impact on the financial planning profession, our processes and staff training and development.

We are encouraged by the changing face of the financial planning profession, the work it is doing to attract people of all ages, and its efforts to ensure it has the skills and people in place for a successful future and growing economy.

To find out more visit https://www.acumenfp.com/