Over the past six years, we have transformed our business from a typical insurance broking business to that of a financial planning practice. I started in the industry 15 years ago when I joined Southern Life in a true insurance sales capacity. After one year and qualifying with my then FILPA (today a CFP), I started broking. Wanting to grow the business, I merged with Barclay Hoar’s business in 2000 to form Chartered Wealth Solutions (Pty) Ltd.
Barclay and I felt quite threatened by the pending FAIS Act in 2002 and decided that the time was right to start making changes that were in line with the changing environment. At this stage, we had six staff, including ourselves, of which two were employed to handle our medical aid and retirement fund consulting business. We employed a receptionist, our director of first impressions, and really started to focus on the client experience. We decided no longer to meet clients outside the office and instead asked them to come and see us.
We had a short-term insurance business which we decided that we could no longer run as we were feeling the need to specialise. We therefore employed a specialist person to run this business and sold 50% of the shares to him. In 2004, we stopped marketing all investment products through life assurers owing to the unfavourable commission structures. We shifted our focus to the unit trust market and aligned ourselves with acsis, a financial planning company that offers a very thorough financial planning process. This alleviated the need for us to discuss asset allocation and choose fund managers on behalf of clients. By the end of 2004, we had employed an office manager to handle the day-to-day running of the business, freeing up time for us to see clients.
Part of our enhancement to the client experience was improving our meeting facilities and kitting out a boardroom with a projector, elegant furniture and a computer. We also put a lot of effort into our financial plan, which was our product. We had leather files and high quality dividers made and concentrated on perfecting our financial plan template to the point where we employed a professor specialising in simple language to reduce the technical matter to language that the man-on-the-street could understand.
In 2005, we employed a risk specialist – this was the last time we marketed any form of life assurance and decided really to focus on the retirement market. We also moved our employee benefit business into a separate entity and were very fortunate to find two top calibre people to come in and run the business. We reduced our shareholding in the business to accommodate our new partners. We employed a para planner to assist us in client meetings and in putting financial plans together. It took us a while to realise that our current staff in the business were not the right fit and managed to replace them with higher calibre individuals who had more of a team focused approach.
We started a client appreciation programme whereby we started acknowledging clients’ birthdays by sending out gifts. We did the same at Christmas and also invited clients to golf events and a number of shows. We had a great response as this was something that very few clients had experienced from previous relationships.
We were then in our third year of running a fee-based business and the annuity income was starting to snowball, giving us the opportunity to continue expanding the business. In 2007, we employed a book keeper to manage the day-to-day finances of the business, which freed us up to spend more time on our client relationships. We also employed a practice manager, who has a BA (Hons) degree with a PDM, a CFP and advanced CFP – a great calibre of person to run the overall business. Our practice manager is in charge of all the staff, compliance, contracts and relationships with our providers, and also handles client advice queries as she is qualified to give advice. We added to our staff when we employed a client relations manager, whose job description is literally to communicate with clients as often as possible. I find it amazing to sit in my office and listen to someone phoning clients just to chat. She is also in charge of newsletters, our client database and all client reporting. I entered the Financial Planner of the Year Competition in 2007, in which I was a finalist. This really confirmed to us that we were on the right track.
In 2008, we moved from our 230m2 old house to an 800m2 office in Illovo. At first, we found we had far more space than we needed. However, in no time at all we managed to fill the space by buying two other planning practices: Headline Financial Services and Lionel Karp and Associates. We had made sure that our office was very client focused and, not only central and easy to find, but also on the ground floor with accessible parking. We have five meeting rooms which alleviated the need to juggle our meetings. We employed associate financial planners, one of the best moves we could have made, as this once again freed us up from managing the client relationship and gave us more time to focus on the financial planning.
Currently we employ 29 financial planning staff, 11 of whom are CFPs. Our employee benefits business employs 12 staff and our short term business 18 staff. We have expanded significantly by specialising and focusing on our core competencies.
Today, Chartered Wealth is a specialist retirement planning business and we have lately taken the business back to basics. We recently spent some time in the US speaking to some of the top financial life planners, and have moved the focus of the business from that of managing clients’ money to merging our clients’ money with the lives. I was very proud to be awarded the FPI/ Personal Finance Financial Planner of the Year Award in 2008. Chartered Wealth was also a finalist in the Celestis Financial Planning Practice of the Year Competition in 2008. We are very excited about our business and the opportunities that lie ahead, even if the goal posts continually move as the industry changes over time.