Professional Paraplanner interviewed Jonny Stubbs, our head of Technical Support, about how he's running operations in the current crisis, how he's dealing with issues of isolation, motivation and morale and the potential effect of the current situation on businesses and the industry.
The purchase of 20 additional laptops and redistribution of smaller desktop machines from the office and use of a VPN as part of its secure connection to Intelliflo’s Intelligent Office (IO) back office system, FE Fundinfo and other cloud based software, meant LIFT-Financial was prepared for and quickly up and running as soon as the Government announced the lock down, Jonny Stubbs, head of Technical Support for the firm explains.
“Operationally, it has all gone quite smoothly. Our workflow is task based through IO and over 90% of our clients are signed up to the system’s PFP portal, through which we can securely send them messages and documents and they can view their investments. Along with greater flexibility from providers around things like electronic signature, it’s almost been ‘business as usual’.
“Three times a week a manager will go into the office to open the post, scan it and send it to the appropriate area and send out any post that is needed.”
“So overall, operationally the lock down has not caused too big a headache,” he says.
Jonny runs a team of nine paraplanners and six administrators, as well as having oversight of compliance.
“My role during the lock down is more about keeping my team productive and happy and doing that through virtual means. In this respect I’m lucky in that the team has a lot of experience and maturity and so is largely self-motivating, so they need less micro-managing. But what’s important is ensuring I keep in touch and I’m answering the questions they need answering so they can stay focussed and do their job. I’m as busy as I was but most of my work is now done over the phone.
“Our directors are also sending out a weekly update on a Monday, which keeps staff up-to-date and aware of what’s going on. That’s important.”
Managing and motivating the team
The paraplanning team will log on as normal in the morning and then at 9.30am will video chat using Microsoft Teams. “This can be 10 minutes or so and is as much about getting together as a group, having a chat, passing on news and seeing all our faces, as it is about work. During the day they will use it to chat or ask questions, much as they would across the office if they were there. And if anyone has a problem during the day, they will Teams video chat me or ring and we’ll sort it out.”
The admin team has a team leader, Rachel Watson, reporting to Jonny. “The nature of the role means that Admin needs more micro-managing and Rachel deals with the day-to-day side of things.”
Knowing the teams well helps with motivation, Jonny says. “You know people’s characters and those, for example, who are more social or less experienced in an area and so may need more contact during the day. It’s important I make regular contact with everyone and also that they feel able to call or message me to talk things through if they need to. Being able to do that through Teams, where we can see people’s faces and have a better interaction, has been a Godsend.”
Clients of LIFT-Financial have reacted well to the operational changes during the crisis, Jonny says. “To some extent it’s business as usual for them. Their point of contact is the adviser, who they can call direct. Any contact with the paraplanning team can be via email. Our marketing team has done a great job, from the start we’ve had official communications going out keeping clients informed of what we are doing and why.”
The position of the firm has also been helped by the fact that its remuneration is fee based rather than percentage of AUM. “So, in that respect, we weren’t afraid of the market falls, as it wasn’t cutting our revenue. It is going to be harder for firms who have an AUM-based business and I’ve already had paraplanner CVs cross my desk where they have been made redundant.”
Having a professional investor client base, including fund managers, what the firm has seen is an uptick in clients moving cash into investments, Jonny says. “Also, on the mortgage side of the business we have seen increased interest in protection. Other paraplanners I’ve been talking to have noticed something similar.”
Potential effect on the business and industry
Jonny believes the longer the crisis goes on, the more embedded certain changes will become in financial planning businesses and the industry.
“When I joined the firm, I introduced home working for the paraplanning team. There is a scepticism generally around home working, but I think the crisis will have proven quite firmly that it is viable for many businesses. The technology and systems are there so it’s not an operational issue. It’s about managing people, being able to trust people to do the job to the best of their ability.
“I think also there will be more common sense applied to how the industry operates. Things like electronic signatures, doing more through client portals and digital documents, prospectuses and reports, rather than sending out reams of paper. There are costs savings there as well as convenience for the client.”
But at the end of the day, there could be negatives as well, he concludes.
“No-one knows what is going to happen from here on in. The lock down is continuing and even when we come out of it, the world is going to look like a different place. There will be firms that are no longer there and people without jobs. I’ve said to my team, now is the time we need to be working harder than ever, because this is an unprecedented crisis and we don’t know what the future holds.”