In the first part of our series looking at some of the biggest advice firms in the UK, we look at Openwork and what it's like to be a member of the network. Read our interview with Openwork chief executive Mark Duckworth here, and see how Openwork's investment model works here.
The small financial planning firm runs its own graduate training scheme with a rustic office a far cry from the network’s City HQ.
What is it like to be an Openwork adviser? For the answer we caught up with Sonia Wheeler (pictured), managing director of Essential Wealth Management.
It is a sunny day when I meet Wheeler. The view out of the window at Openwork’s 13th floor offices in London’s Bishopsgate area capitalises on this.
Wheeler is an influential figure in Openwork. She co-founded Openwork’s Women in Business Forum, and she runs the London Peer Group for Openwork, formed of 20 like-minded business owners and advisers.
‘It’s about sharing ideas,’ she explained, noting how the group is formed of sole traders, large practices and all sorts of businesses in between. ‘We all meet and talk about what we’re doing, what’s working and what’s not working.’
Leaps and bounds
Wheeler has made great strides since joining Essential in 2006. Hired as part of former owner Helen Newport’s succession plan, Wheeler became managing director of the firm in 2012. She now splits her time between Essential’s more humble head office, a pair of converted farm buildings on the border of Berkshire and Hampshire, and the London headquarters.
Being an Openwork adviser, Wheeler delivers restricted investment advice. Essential offers its own investment proposition, formed of investments from providers selected by Morningstar (see previous page for more explanation) as well as Openwork’s segregated mandate proposition Omnis Investments. Nonetheless, Wheeler regards her firm as a financial planning business.
Openwork provides her firm with support for compliance, due-diligence, business development and recruitment.
As a result, Wheeler said she can run a relatively small firm of six staff and £60million under advice, while being able to call upon resources that might typically only be available to larger business.
‘If I was directly authorised, I would need to employ a compliance director. I would need an HR director as well,’ said Wheeler, ‘I would have to do all the research on the investment providers and all of the products that are available.’
Wheeler’s clients are typically high-net-worth individuals with between £500,000 and £1 million of investable assets, and net worth in excess of £3 million. This cohort has a large representation from senior executives, who are currently employed and planning the next steps towards retirement.
To help clients achieve their goals, Essential uses a four-stage planning process. This begins with understanding the client, and moves on to analysis, planning, advice and implementation. It then continues with regular reviews, which are usually annually or quarterly depending on the client’s needs.
‘It helps us deliver,’ explained Wheeler. ‘We can show clients how we work, and how it’s not going to be a quick process. We work as quickly as we can, but we’re very thorough.’
Career path progression
Wheeler is also helping to usher in the next generation of advisers through Essential’s own graduate schemes.
One of these is aimed at A-level graduates, while the other is aimed at university graduates. Three members of Essential’s team has come through these schemes.
They take people with limited prior work experience and helps them to qualify as paraplanners, and then as advisers, before driving towards chartered status. If someone takes the adviser route, it will typically be between five and seven years before they are advising full-time.
Are graduates of the scheme sticking around, given the job-hopping reputation of their millennial peer group? ‘No one’s ever going to stay with the same company forever,’ she acknowledged. But on the flip side, nobody has left in the past three years.
‘This profession is brilliant because you can never stop taking qualifications and learning new things,’ she said.
‘As long as people still feel challenged, are paid correctly, and have interaction with clients: if you can meet all of those needs, they are likely to stay on.’