Alan Boswell Financial Planners, in Norwich, has become one of the largest regional financial advisers in the UK. It is a subsidiary wholly owned by Alan Boswell Group, which comprises general insurance and financial services.
The financial planning arm of the business was created as a result of the purchase of law firm Eversheds’ financial services division in 2001. Managing director John Whitehead (pictured) was head of this division at the time.
‘When we merged with Alan Boswell’s existing business, it was probably stronger on the corporate side,’ he says. ‘That was what was nice about the marriage of the two.’
There has also been a lot of change in the business since it began. The firm has increased staff numbers from 14 to more than 40, and assets under advice has grown from £100 million to around £580 million.
The firm has also been undergoing a long exercise in segmenting its client base. It now has three distinct service propositions: wealth, advisory and transactional.
The firm has been hugely active in auto-enrolment. It has enrolled 450 schemes since 2001, ranging from schemes of 3,000 employees to one-man bands. And from a wealth management perspective, the firm has also introduced quite a clear investment strategy for clients, which is a multi-asset, multi-manager concept, using external funds.
Whitehead prides himself on having a forward-thinking approach to running a financial planning firm. The firm has welcomed and adopted technology into many facets of the business and is keen to continue this trend.
Although keeping on top of technology has proved a continual challenge, the firm is currently weighing up its options for creating an online client portal.
Alan Boswell Financial Planners went paperless around 15 years ago and believes in driving technology to help existing clients. ‘The clear thing that clients do not value is paperwork,’ Whitehead says. ‘What they do value is the advice process, the face-to-face time and advice from their advisers.’
He says technology has recently cut client paperwork and freed up advisers to spend time with clients.
‘You have to focus on your clients; you have to be highly in tune with what they want and I think we are heavily service driven,’ says Whitehead. ‘That differentiates us. We keep very close to our clients.’ The firm also has a big team of support staff for each adviser to help streamline this strategy.
The most important lesson Whitehead has learnt is ‘never take anything for granted’. Having worked through three major financial crashes, he stresses that ‘in a world of constant change, you cannot become complacent and think that you’ve cracked it’.
The key takeaway is there is much fluidity in financial services and Alan Boswell Financial Planners wants to stay relevant and evolve with the needs of the profession.
What advice would Whitehead offer firms looking to reach new heights? Disciplined and simplified processes must be implemented, and firms must invest in good systems and controls.
If guidelines are unclear or disorganised, that often leads to firefighting. ‘Once you have good culture within the firm and are as streamlined as you can be, you can scale the business,’ he says.
The time for Christmas carols might be over but the Alan Boswell team are still hoping for harmony. ‘We’ve kept quite strong disciplines in how we deliver our service and that means we all are singing from the same hymn sheet.’