We talk to some of the winners to find out what it means to them as individuals and to their businesses to be victorious – plus discover some of the secrets behind their success.

Anthony Villis – Managing Director, First Wealth

‘If at first you don’t succeed…’ is a well-worn mantra which has certainly paid off for First Wealth, our 2021 firm of the year.

Established 12 years ago, the firm quickly achieved Corporate Chartered status and set a long-term goal of being crowned Financial Planning Firm of the Year. Having made the shortlist on three previous occasions, 2021 proved to be 4th time lucky!

So what changed? ‘Over the course of the pandemic, we stepped back and examined our business culture. We ensured we look after the team in terms of flexible working and supporting their wellbeing etc. What we do behind the scenes can have a significant impact on the experience our clients receive and how they view us,’ explains Anthony Villis, MD.

‘We harnessed this by proactively asking clients to leave positive reviews for the business on Google,’ says Anthony. ‘This helped us to social proof what we do and attract new clients.’

First Wealth also put innovation at the heart of its entry, namely by;

• evidencing how it is using technology to onboard clients
• the role of digital advice in strengthening relationships with clients
• creating a financial education programme called Let’s Talk About Money on Instagram, demonstrating the positive impact good financial decisions can have.

First Wealth has also become a certified B Corp. ‘This allows us to elevate ourselves beyond what’s expected on a day-to-day basis. It’s about being sympathetic to the environment we all live and work in. We also see it as striving to make a positive change in how the financial advice profession is perceived,’ says Anthony.

Carla Brown FPFS – Oakmere Wealth Management

‘People buy people, not products’ is a phrase which our 2021/22 Financial Planner of the Year Carla Brown swears by.

‘We can easily offer solutions to clients, but it may not be the best solution unless we dig deeper and use our soft skills to really understand the client’s goals,’ says Carla.

Carla believes those softer skills really helped her stand out as an individual in her application and firmly believes you build client trust by having honest conversations with them.

Like First Wealth (Financial Planning Firm of the Year 2021/22) this was the fourth time Carla had entered the awards. ‘I was blown away to reach the final stage and be short-listed. It is such an honour to be identified as the best individual from across a profession of 7000 financial planners,’ reflects Carla.

While technical knowledge provides the building blocks, it’s how to expand on this that sets you apart, believes Carla.

‘I’ve spent a lot of time on a personal development journey over the past 18 months. I’ve developed my coaching skills, mentored three less experienced advisers and been an Education Champion for the PFS. It’s about giving back – I want to help other people enjoy life.’

‘I became a financial planner 25 years ago. I became a mum 18 years ago. Ten years ago, I set up Oakmere Wealth Management and as we look towards its birthday next month, this really is the icing on the cake for what I set out to do,’ concludes Carla.

Nathan Jones APFS, Chartered Financial Planner – Blue Wealth

Our paraplanner of the year doesn’t normally enter awards.

‘But I did in 2020 and got short-listed. That gave me a real buzz and I was determined to test myself against my peers again,’ says Nathan Jones.

‘I’m absolutely delighted to triumph. It validates the quality of the work I produce. The case study contained some tricky questions and required meticulous attention to detail and research,’ explains Nathan.

‘In my initial entry I made sure to evidence client-specific help which I’d provided. Using real life examples brings my entry to life.’

‘In one poignant example, I referred to a client who had sadly been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Some research revealed that while his life cover had expired, the provider could re-instate the plan, without additional underwriting and backdate premiums by two months. As a result, his widow received in excess of £500k,’ says Nathan.

Victory feeds into both Nathan and Blue Wealth’s future plans too: ‘I’ve already updated my Twitter profile and added the winners’ graphics to my email signature. The firm has engaged a marketing specialist to help us grow and this will feed into future campaigns to converse with existing and new clients.’

Nick Grogan FPFS, Chartered Financial Planner – PWS Financial Consulting

Investment Advice Specialist of the Year Nick Grogan is clear about the benefits of winning:

‘Being able to describe myself as an award-winning financial planner! But it really comes into its own when shared with our clients, who can see they are receiving top level advice.’

As for what makes for a winning entry, Nick says: ‘I’ve always tried to cover things from every angle. With the case study, I explored every option. Have an open mind and as far as possible have some justification for what you are evidencing.’

Looking ahead, Nick believes the award is ‘an added level of legitimacy. It’s a differentiator. I will be using it in as many client conversations as possible.’

Michael Colyer FPFS – Colyer Associates

Being awarded Retirement and Later Life Advice Specialist of the Year is ‘a validation of technical excellence and recognition from my professional body that what I am doing results in great client outcomes’ believes Michael Colyer.

The case study is an important part of any successful entry and Michael felt that evidencing a holistic approach to client needs definitely paid off.

‘Winning an award like this can open so many doors,’ explains Michael: ‘I’m looking for the right way to talk about my success on LinkedIn and to further engage with fellow professionals. I am also thinking about how I can pass on my enthusiasm for retirement and later life planning to my advisers since this will be an exceptionally important part of the firm’s service proposal to clients who are increasingly living longer.’

Michael also pays tribute to the wider support he receives from being part of the St. James’s Place Partnership: ‘SJP is very supportive, I’ve been practising for 15 years after a career change, and it’s been a journey of self and professional development with the help of a brilliant organisation behind me.’

Sometimes it’s important to think about the softer things too. Michael’s Newfoundland puppy, Henry, who is already the size of a small bear, made a guest appearance in his acceptance speech in order to bring some variety to the virtual event. He is currently training to volunteer as a Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog and as well as greeting clients to the office will soon be bringing comfort and companionship to vulnerable people in the community.

Rousseau Khan CertPFS, Cert CII(MP) – PLZ Finance & Mortgage Management Company

‘I feel like I’m walking on the moon; that I’m ten feet tall! I feel completely overwhelmed at such prestigious accolade!’

Rousseau Khan is clearly delighted to be crowned Mortgage & Protection Advice Specialist – and triumphing for the second consecutive year makes it even more impressive.

‘I’m overwhelmed at receiving back-to-back awards. This is the single biggest accolade I could imagine receiving from the leading professional body,’ says Rousseau.

Preparation lies at the heart of his success. ‘Just as you should take time to prepare for a client meeting, I looked at the entry questions and really researched my answers. I was also striving to ensure they were as original as possible and relevant, precise to the tasks set,’ explains Rousseau.

Being a good communicator is also key, as you will be dealing with people from all walks of life and who have vastly different incomes. ‘I’ve dealt with builders to brain surgeons. I remain focuses on being accessible and treating every individual as equals.’

Rousseau hopes the benefits of back-to-back wins will be long-lasting: ‘I’m creating a new website for my business and showcasing the award on the site helps demonstrate my credibility and credentials.’

‘The physical trophy demonstrates I’m a winner – it lets people know what I have achieved, not just my experience and qualifications but a formidable trophy, when I first meet new clients.’

Finally, he has no plans to dwell on his success: ‘I’m determined to win it for a third year running – it’s the ultimate accolade for me.’

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