Smarter Business – Joel Adams, Lift-Financial

Joel Adams, Lift-FinancialJoel Adams sees the corporate pension not as an end in itself but as the beginning of a conversation with pretty much anyone in the workforce that could lead to an advice relationship. John Greenwood hears how

For Lift-Financial joint founder and chief executive Joel Adams the workplace is the perfect hunting ground for new private clients. The firm, born out of an MBO from Chartwell in 2007, now has more than 50 staff, many of whom are engaged in delivering advice and services to the members of the corporate pension schemes the firm oversees.

And while the private client focus will always be on the top earners, employees of all types are becoming personal clients of the firm.

“The workplace is a fantastic way to build up your private client bank,” says Adams. “We have found it is far easier to get one client who employs 100 people who could all become private clients than go and target 100 potential private clients directly.

“Coming in through the workplace also gives the employee a sense that we have the tacit endorsement of the employer. It suggests they have done some due diligence in selecting us. Many employees in City firms understand more about financial services than a lot of financial advisers, so you have to demonstrate the highest professional standards. Being a chartered firm with chartered advisers has proved invaluable for us.”

Adams says that while in recent years the pension scheme has been the lead conversation, many HR professionals are sick of hearing about auto-enrolment. “Nowadays we are not leading on pensions but on financial education. Saying that, the biggest draw recently has been seminars around the annual tapering allowance.” The model of workplace presentations on relevant topics is proving an effective way to drive private client take-up. “Out of 60 people who have registered for our latest annual tapering allowance session, 33 have requested a one-to-one conversation as well,” says Adams.

Once inside the premises, it is not just the ultra high earners in an organisation that Lift-Financial is targeting. “We have sessions for younger members of staff where we look at repaying student debt and saving for a house. Whether the conversation is about mort-gages or pensions, we create the opportunities through financial education sessions.”

The firm can also claim to be targeting the emerging globally mobile professional, having both the UK’s only mandarin-speaking and Russian-speaking chartered financial planners.

Adams believes his advice business will have to adapt to remain relevant as dynamics such as smarter technology, digital and robo-advice and the potential for advice-lite from the Financial Advice Market Review all play out. “The FAMR is looking at simplified advice and we think it has a place,” he says. “It is a market we are very interested in. We could use this to scale up our operations to see more people

But Adams also wants to use technology to get closer to clients receiving full advice. The firm has invested in a bespoke system through Intelliflo, going live in January, which will use technology to do just that. It includes a personal financial portal for the client that will give them a single view of all their assets and will link to their bank accounts as well as the firm’s back office.

“If the time comes when the world is dominated by robo-advisers, we will be so close to our clients that they will not want to move,” says Adams. “The new system means we will be able to operate more efficiently and more cheaply. It will mean we will have a full transaction history and we will be able to give time and money-weighted returns. At the moment we cannot give a clear picture of the overall return we have given the client, but in future we will be able to demonstrate the value we have delivered.”

Adams thinks the regulator could one day dismantle adviser charging, a move he would support. “We believe one day all firms should have to operate in a way that is fully aligned with the client. Adviser charging requires the adviser to sell something to get paid, even if not buying something is the best thing to do. Having to make a product sale means you can’t be 100 per cent independent.”