Adviser profile: Nicola Watts of Jane Smith Financial Planning

Jane Smith Financial Planning is a firm with a ‘family feel’. But it is no soft touch when it comes to business knowhow

Jane Smith Financial Planning director Nicola Watts has been hard-headed about the need to revitalise its approach, both towards clients and how it goes about its working practices. This includes a complete restructure of her staff.

Since New Model Adviser® last profiled the Buckinghamshire-based firm in 2011, change has been the name of the game. In 2016, with the help of Jon Pittham, managing director of marketing company ClientsFirst, the firm completely rebranded its logo, website and literature.

‘It was all starting to look very tired and dated, and didn’t fit with us anymore and what we represent,’ Watts says. ‘But we decided to keep the Jane Smith family feel and not change the name.’

After all, the business was founded by Watts’ mother, Jane Smith. Dropping the name would perhaps be a step too far in the name of marketing and search engine optimisation.

Jane Smith Financial Planning director Nicola Watts has been hard-headed about the need to revitalise its approach, both towards clients and how it goes about its working practices. This includes a complete restructure of her staff.

Since New Model Adviser® last profiled the Buckinghamshire-based firm in 2011, change has been the name of the game. In 2016, with the help of Jon Pittham, managing director of marketing company ClientsFirst, the firm completely rebranded its logo, website and literature.

‘It was all starting to look very tired and dated, and didn’t fit with us anymore and what we represent,’ Watts says. ‘But we decided to keep the Jane Smith family feel and not change the name.’

After all, the business was founded by Watts’ mother, Jane Smith. Dropping the name would perhaps be a step too far in the name of marketing and search engine optimisation.

Drastic overhaul

In 2016 the New Model Adviser® Top 100 firm also received chartered status. Job done? Not quite. The next challenge was to finish restructuring the team.

In fact, none of the team from the 2011 profile are still at the firm. ‘There were people that didn’t want to go on the journey with us,’ she says. ‘Now we’ve got a really solid team.’ The team are pictured above. 

Emma Krynauw, business manager, has been at the firm for six years. Clare Lehman is the technical specialist and paraplanner and, like Watts, a CF30. Amy Nechat deals with client services. ‘And of course there’s Poppy the dog who is head of security and biscuits,’ Watts adds. ‘She’s not qualified though.’

Staff have been developing their roles and taking on more defined responsibilities in the business. Watts is able to delegate more and focus on meeting clients as the sole adviser at the firm. For example, Krynauw oversees the business side of things: human resources, IT and finance.

Technical assistant Michael Bacon joined just under a year ago through an apprenticeship that will train him to Chartered Insurance Institute certificate of paraplanning (a level 4 qualification).

Much of the redefining of staff roles and their personal development has come as a result of the Standards International WOWW! by Design Development Programme, which the firm recently completed, earning it the BS 8577 certification.

‘We worked with [director] Michelle Hoskin going through marketing, platforms and IT; really all the elements of the business from start to finish,’ says Watts.

‘But the big thing that encouraged me to get going on the programme was the team structure. So we’ve done a lot in terms of clarifying who does what and who is responsible for what. We now have much more clearly defined job roles and responsibilities, and systems and processes to back all that up.’ 

 

Drastic overhaul (part two)

Hoskin says: ‘Nicola and the team at Jane Smith are a fantastic example of what a firm and a team can achieve when they put their minds to it. Through the process of working together we were able to set their sights on bigger things, redefine awesome and get moving.

‘I love the changes they have made and the potential they will continue to unlock as they move forward together.’

Now Watts is looking to hire another paraplanner and client services assistant. She has been using LinkedIn and online jobs boards to recruit, but has eschewed agencies recently. Even with jobs boards, Watts says there has been ‘mixed success’.

‘When we recruited Hannah [Love, technical assistant], who started in August, we had about 60 applicants,’ she says. ‘But it was a mixed bag. You could tell some people had just attached their CV to every job on the board.

‘We’ve learnt from that and have a more structured and stringent application process where you have to write a covering letter saying what your experience is and why you want a job with us. Hopefully that puts off a few time-wasters, but it’s still difficult finding people with the right skillset.’

New recruits will hopefully help Watts continue to work towards the work-life balance she was striving for eight years ago. ‘I now work four days a week and I try – well “try” is a rubbish word because it means you have no intention of doing it – to have school holidays off so I can spend more time with family,’ she says.

Setting targets

The final change at Jane Smith has been to ‘up our game in terms of clients we look after and more technical issues we’re dealing with’, Watts says. The firm is targeting younger clients than its current client bank of 60 and 70-year-olds. That means going after people in their 50s. These are typically married couples, with ‘strong family values’ and around £500,000-£600,000 to invest.

A target of taking on just six new clients a year keeps income growth steady. Watts explains the slight dip in income between 2017 and 2018 as when the firm bought its building, ‘which may have taken attention away from doing business a little bit’, Watts says (see box, right).

Business changes in 2016 meant profits per client rose in 2017, but since then have remained proportional to the number of new clients each year. ‘We could be more profitable because I could work more and we could look after more clients,’ says Watts. ‘But that’s not what it’s about. We’re profitable, we’re running well, there’s cash in the bank and it keeps me and my little family going. And I can work when I want.’

 

Setting targets (part two)

New clients come either from referrals from existing clients or on the internet. ‘It’s interesting because, although around 20% of enquiries are referrals and 80% online, around 80% of the former become clients and about 20% the latter,’ Watts says.

‘I don’t know what our clients are saying but it’s working. We’ve got a lot of clients who are friends with each other.’

Client friendships help keep that family feel at Jane Smith. The bond is also strengthened by days out organised by the firm.

‘We don’t want to seem flash because our clients are not the type who would appreciate us spending their fees on that,’ says Watts. ‘But we’ve done brewery and gin distillery tours, a boat trip down the river and Proms in the Park.’

One trip that stands out was to an auction house, where clients and staff received a tour and talk, and then got to value the ‘antiques’ and ‘junk’ at the venue. ‘That was brilliant fun,’ Watts says.

The fee bit...

‘Over the past seven or eight years we’ve gone from charging on a percentage basis to fixed fees,’ Watts says. The only thing left to switch to fixed fees is the ongoing charge, currently 0.85%, but she says this is currently under review.

‘We do the same amount of [ongoing] work when markets are good as when markets are bad,’ she says. ‘But if there’s a 10% drop in the markets our fees go down, so there’s an element of protecting the business [by charging a fixed amount].

‘But there’s also an element of removing our connection to the performance of the investments so clients can see the value in financial planning. Also if we’re doing the same amount of [ongoing] work they should pay the same service [even if they have different amounts of assets under advice].’

An initial fixed fee for creating a financial plan is between £5,000 and £10,000 depending on complexity.

These fees might seem high, but Watts says: ‘The start is where most of the work goes in, and that’s how I explain it to clients.It’s an investment in making sure we have the right structure and strategy in place for the next 10 years, making sure things don’t have to be undone later down the line.

‘Our plans are very detailed. People may say that sounds a lot for a financial plan but it’s a massive task and the time spent on that models everything going forward.’ Watts says a lot of work has gone into making sure the financial planning process is easy for clients to understand and engage with.

The implementation fee again depends on complexity. ‘A simple ISA might be £400 but a defined benefit transfer would be more like £3,000,’ Watts says.

She says all clients receive the same level of service. However, this could be about to change. After hearing guidance from regulatory consultant Rory Percival, who in this magazine recently urged advisers to consider greater segmentation and even subsegmentation of their client base, Watts has been looking at grouping clients by their needs.

‘We have been doing our research and due diligence into which platforms could facilitate sorting by needs rather than assets,’ she says. ‘So for example a group where within that some take income, some don’t, then drawdown clients who would have a different set of needs from the first set.’

The investment bit...

When Watts’ mother, Jane Smith, was at the helm, she was ‘very much a fund picker’, Watts says, ‘but I can’t be doing with that’. The financial crisis was, however, a wake-up call. It prompted the firm to rethink whether it had the resources to be choosing funds and building portfolios itself. So it started using multi-managers.

Watts says this has evolved to using discretionary fund managers. Today the firm outsources around 95% of assets under advice.

These include to Brewin Dolphin, Brooks Macdonald, Cazenove, Investec, Smith & Williamson and Quilter. But a favourite is PortfolioMetrix.

‘We’ve been using [PortfolioMetrix] for three or four years,’ says Watts. ‘Its technology is brilliant and the risk profile is so client-friendly.

‘It is open and transparent with information so we can take it and apply it to anything else if we want to.’

Watts says the extensive range of portfolios means there is no danger of shoehorning clients into investments. ‘It does ethical, active, passive and income growth, for example. Something that suits most of our clients, although obviously not all.’

The Twittersphere...

You can find Jane tweeting online from the handle @IFAinOlney. Here are choice highlights from her feed:

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