Fortitude Financial Planning

Financial Planning

South Northamptonshire Business of the Year Award

At Fortitude we like to measure our own success by the experiences of our clients, and their own success in achieving what they want from life. On the one hand, it means we’re doing our job to the very best of our abilities, but on the other hand, a stream of happy clients means word gets around, which helps to make sure we’re known for what we do.

But we won’t pretend we don’t like being recognised with an award here and there, especially when it’s something that reflects our own qualities and commitment to our clients, but also our love for the local area that we’re a part of. This month, we were delighted to win the ‘South Northamptonshire Business of the Year Award’ at the SME Northamptonshire Business Awards 2019. Here’s how it came about and how the night unfolded.

 

The SME Northamptonshire Business Awards

The awards are aimed squarely at small and medium enterprises ­– businesses with up to 250 employees. They’re about raising the profile of “industrious, hardworking and enterprising SMEs” working across the county of Northamptonshire. They’re awarded in 22 categories and they culminate in a prestigious black tie ‘Grand Celebration’, which this year took place at the Derngate Theatre on 26 September, hosted by sports journalist Rachel Downey.

Whether we win or not, we’re very keen to support initiatives in our area so we sent along a contingent from Fortitude. Representing our whole business in a small party isn’t easy, but we settled on Financial Planner Sam Colby Butcher and Paraplanner Niamh Philp, along with Belinda Stock and Liz Reed, both from client support. Not that we doubted ourselves but sitting right at the back of 30 tables didn’t seem conducive to winning an award. Still, we’re very keen to celebrate local success and so we simply settled down to enjoy the evening.

You can’t predict the markets

That’s something we often tell you, but it turns out you can’t predict awards or their correlation to seating patterns either. The seating arrangement, as it turned out, was a red herring, because we were delighted to be called up as winners of the South Northamptonshire Business Of The Year Award, a new category sponsored by South Northamptonshire Council.

According to the official description, it recognises businesses that “demonstrate innovation and creativity, fostering a healthy workplace culture”. It’s also important that the successful business is active in the community and plays a role in enhancing the local area and local economy, showing a “passion for South Northamptonshire and its development as the perfect place to work, live, visit and invest.”

What it means for Fortitude

Those are all qualities we recognise, but the parts that really stand out to us are “a dedication to developing staff and enhancing skills” and “forward-thinking approaches to staff wellbeing and development.”

Those two sentences pretty much sum up what lies at the heart of our ethos at Fortitude. While some businesses might stick with the tried and tested “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, we’ve always been more inclined towards “let’s improve it anyway”. Continuous improvement is hugely important to us, but it’s something we apply to every aspect of the business, to the skills of every colleague, in everything we do, every day. It’s a holistic approach to improvement that Japan calls ‘Kaizen’. We think it’s essential to stay at the cutting edge of what we do, so our clients are assured of always getting the very best.

On receiving the award we also got to hear the feedback as to why we were selected. There were nods to our excellent application of all the entry criteria, but again, there was one point that resonated in particular – the recognition of our ethics. Along with continuous improvement, ethics are paramount for us. We’re transparent, honest and trustworthy, because without absolute clarity on those qualities we can’t get to know you, and if we can’t do that, we can’t help you to achieve your goals.

This one’s for the fans

When we watch music and film awards on TV it’s almost inevitable that a film, TV or music star will humbly announce “this one’s for all of you at home”. It never quite rings true, but the difference in our profession is that we can actually back that claim up.

Of course, winning the award is a great feeling – we love being part of a wonderfully supportive community, supporting local businesses and it’s just nice to be recognised. But being recognised means we’re doing what we do well, and the things we do as a business are done for our clients. It’s our purpose to help people to make the very best use of their wealth to reach the goals they’ve set for themselves. That means always looking for ways to further improve our service, new ways to upskill our colleagues and new ways to make sure our offering is the very best it can be.

For us, an award means a nice night out and a pat on the back, but for our existing clients and for those thinking of getting in touch, it’s a reminder that every day of every year, we’re working hard to stay in front.

Richard achieves top global financial planning standard

Whenever we work with a professional, whatever they’re doing, we assume they have the qualifications to do it. But we don’t often consider what those qualifications entail – the hard work involved and what it means to achieve an industry standard. It has profound implications for the professional’s own future and for the people whose lives they go on to be a part of.

Our own Richard Peters was recently awarded Certified Financial PlannerTM status, by the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI). He’d be the last person to draw attention to his own achievement, but continuous improvement – what the Japanese call ‘Kaizen’ – is a foundation of Fortitude. So in the time-honoured tradition of celebrating our colleagues’ achievements, whether they like it or not, here’s what that means for Richard and his clients.

What’s Certified Financial PlannerTM status?

It’s an advanced global financial qualification designed to test a candidate’s professional knowledge and, crucially, their ability to apply it. The first part of the process is designed to assess core knowledge within financial planning products and financial planning skills required to complete a financial plan. But it also means a two-and-a-half-hour exam and at least 180 hours of studying.

The second part involves a case study – a hypothetical client profile that the candidate must understand down to the last detail. Richard needed to understand the client’s objectives and build their financial plan to help them achieve their goals.

It took three years to accomplish, including the rigorous marking process using the Financial Planning Standards Board’s assessment criteria. Like studying for a PhD, the submission goes back and forth with feedback, while the candidate keeps raising their game until the examiners are ready to sign off.

It sounds like hard work

It is, but financial planning, if you’re serious about it, is much more than a profession. We’re dealing with people’s lives and goals and we’re bound up with their achievements. In a previous role Richard found himself on the sharp end of a business model designed to sell products – it made him uncomfortable, unfulfilled and keen to achieve more.

He wanted to carve out a role that was about adding value rather than chasing money. That’s how he learned the difference between lifestyle financial planning and traditional financial advice, and it’s when he discovered Fortitude (and the fact that we wholeheartedly share his values). We expect dedication and hard work from everyone at Fortitude, but we know there’s always the opportunity to improve – and that applies to everyone in the organisation.

What it all means

There are fewer than 1,000 Certified Financial Planner professionals in the country and Richard is one of them. It brings lots of benefits, not least the relief that it’s done. It’s been a long, sometimes hard road, but it means he’s at the highest level of financial planning and that his clients have complete peace of mind that he’s knowledgeable, dependable and completely professional.

But there’s another lesson – one of the things Richard takes away from the experience is the value of mentorship. He reflects that he was fortunate to have a really good mentor who was there to point out dangers and steer him in the right direction. But they also gave credit where it was due, celebrated progress and reminded him of his own dedication and determination. What his mentor did was help him to keep going when the struggle was hardest.

That’s what we’re here to do for our clients. Yes, we’ll tell you when we think you’re off course, we wouldn’t be professionals if we didn’t. But we’re also here to impart knowledge and celebrate your achievements with you. Equally, we learn from you, we take pride in what we do well, but we’re always ready to understand what we could do better – Kaizen runs both ways.

And that lesson about not giving up – it’s just as relevant to your future. It’s not always easy to stick to the plan, even if you know it’s been carefully mapped out by professionals. We’ll help you to do that too.

What comes next?

In his three years with us, Richard has passed five exams, but he’s not stopping there. His next project is to achieve Chartered Status – a similarly select qualification, with an equally prestigious pedigree. He’s already started and aims to achieve it by the end of 2021.

It’s not all about work though, by way of celebration Richard and his family are currently enjoying a welcome trip to the US, starting in Seattle before taking the children to Disneyland, followed by travelling along the Californian coast to San Diego and finishing up in Hollywood with a trip to Universal Studios.

It’s another long, arduous road that he’ll somehow have to find a way to persevere with.

Take five steps with us

We know that financial planning can seem daunting and we often see people putting it off for that reason. In the end, we’re talking about major life decisions, so in a sense, it should seem daunting.

But like anything else, the way to move forward is to break it down to key steps and get each of those right. It’s not about predicting the rest of your life. You can’t and you shouldn’t try. What you can do instead is plan intelligently. To do that, you just need to get five steps right and you don’t need to do it alone.

First, we understand…

None of this works unless you know who you really are, what really matters and what you want to achieve. We need to understand this too, so that’s where we start. It’s not just about goals and dreams, it’s about worries and concerns too. We need to work together to get a complete grasp of your situation.

Next, we prioritise…

When we know what you’re looking to achieve, we’ll start to get it into an order that makes sense. Some things you can do now, others you can start laying the groundwork for with a view to getting them done in the long term. Together we’ll work out how to deploy your resources to where they’ll do the most good.

Then we plan…

Once we know what we’re working with and where you want to go, it’s time to start planning for real. We’ll build you a Lifetime Cashflow Model that shows the money you can expect to see coming in and out over your lifetime. We’ll also look openly and honestly at how you really feel about risk and we’ll put together the right financial and investment strategy for you.

We take action…

Once your plan is in place, it’s our job to help you carry it out. We’re the professionals and it’s for us to set the strategy we’ve built together in motion, but we’re also here to make sure you stick to the plan in future. It’s not always easy, but consistency, patience and calm really do pay off over the years.

…and we follow it up

To go back to our healthy eating analogy, it’s not always easy. Financial planning takes discipline. But it doesn’t have to be boring – what you’ll have is a structured, ambitious, but achievable plan to take you from the life you have now, to the life you really want. We’ll regularly check in to make sure it’s still right for you and that you’re sticking to it. That way however your circumstances may change and whatever the future brings, your plan is always focussed on your goals.

Getting started

We’ll leave you with a handy illustration of some key things to think about.

Getting yourself straight on these key ideas is the best way to begin your intelligent financial planning.

Your next step is to contact us to see how we can turn these ideas into a financial plan for life. We’d love to chat through your goals and see how we could help you to reach them.

Thinking long-term

Financial planning isn’t a one-time exercise any more than a big workout gets you fit, or one salad sorts out your waistline. It’s something that stays with you through life. It takes discipline to stick to your plan, but good financial planners are by your side whenever you need them. Over the years our lives change and so do our finances.

We use the ‘bucket analogy’ to illustrate how the same life can look quite different over the years.

First, we throw all your assets into the bucket – bank accounts, savings accounts, investments. Then we look at the things that empty the bucket, money for food, mortgages or rent. Money flows back in through salaries, dividends, inheritance and later, pension income, and so it continues. It’s always the same bucket, but over the years the level changes and what it’s filled with changes too. We need to find a balanced approach that supports your lifestyle both now, and in the future, allowing you to live the life you enjoy.

Smart financial planning

One of the most important things we do as your financial planners is help you to see the big picture, but we’re also here to make sure you’re looking at the right picture to begin with. Something we see quite often is clients who focus completely on making money.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with aiming to make as much as possible – to live the life you want, plan the future you deserve and give future generations the best start in life, more money is a good thing.

But ‘more’ isn’t really a goal in itself. Smart financial planning focuses on the end as much as the means and it’s important to really understand how much money you’ll need and when, to do the things you dream of doing.

That’s what we mean when we talk about ‘life-focused’ or ‘lifestyle’ financial planning.

Proper financial planning uses this sort of context – it’s not numbers on a sheet of paper, it’s a plan for your future. We get to know you and we learn all about the things you want to achieve then we build your plan around what really matters to you. There are some key questions we’ll ask –

What do you really want to do? When do you want to do it? How much will it cost? Can you afford it now? And if not, when?

You’ll notice that money only comes in halfway through those questions – that’s because we focus on your aspirations, future lifestyle goals and career wishes before we even start thinking about money. Only when all this information is on the table do we start thinking about the right approach for the life you’re describing.

Tea, tees and teamwork

Our client support professional, Davina Bowmer, volunteers once a month at the dementia cafe in Greens Norton, run by the Northamptonshire Carers Association. In June we sponsored their second annual Golf Day. It’s another way to support the excellent and much needed work of this charity and in the spirit of continuous improvement it’s a really good opportunity to practice our collective swing.

The competition is held over an 18-hole course at Collingtree Park Golf Club using the Stableford scoring system.  Unlike traditional scoring methods, where the object is to have the lowest score, here the aim is to build the highest points tally. The competition saw teams of four trying to score as many points as possible, so naturally we got involved.  Director Mark White teamed up with Sam and two keen golfing clients to make up the four ball and finished a respectable third, only two points behind the winners. Sam won the ‘Nearest the pin’ competition too – there was no sign of Richard until later in the evening, just in time for dinner and the prize giving.

Here we see Sam winning the ‘nearest the pin’ competition at the golf day.

That’s what we like to hear

We’d like to share a piece of feedback we recently had from a client. We’re always grateful to hear your thoughts on how we’re doing, what we do well and where we could improve things further, but this particular comment really gave us a good feeling.

One of our clients recently shared with financial planner Richard Peters how coming to see us has never really felt like visiting a financial institution because she’s never felt nervous, apprehensive or uncomfortable at our offices. That’s good, because we don’t want clients to feel any of those things.  We want them to feel relaxed – in coming to see us, in expressing their ambitions and concerns, and in everyday life, knowing their money and their goals are well looked after.

Getting the grades

We recently shared that evolution and expansion had been the themes of 2019 so far. They continue to dominate, both for the company and for the individual talent we have on board.

We’re delighted to announce some excellent professional exam results within the organisation, starting with Sam Colby Butcher who’s working towards becoming a Chartered Financial Planner and has now bagged his AF4 Investment Planning qualification from The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII). It’s one of several advanced diploma level examinations needed to achieve Chartered status. Paul Roberts has also been hard at work gaining his (J05) Pension income options qualification.

This kind of continuous improvement is really, really important. You’ll no doubt have heard about the recent controversies surrounding the suspension of the Woodford Equity Income Fund. Sadly, it’s not the first time the industry has seen this kind of shock and it won’t be the last. What matters is making sure that as your financial planners, your guides in this industry, we continually work to keep our finger on the pulse. Just so you know, Woodford has never featured in our strategy and in 17 years of operation so far, we’ve never had a cause for concern. It’s our goal to make sure you meet yours and to do that, we’ll always go the extra mile – in due diligence, in research and in our application of the highest standards.

A year of change and development

As we head into the new financial year, it’s an exciting time at Fortitude. Evolution and expansion are the themes, so we’d like to take a moment to tell you about what it all means for us and for you, and what to expect in future.

It’s been a busy year in which we’ve welcomed Niamh and Sam on board, won the 2019 Citywire New Model Adviser of the Year Award – Midlands Region, (making it four out of six years) and we donned our Lycra to cycle and raise money for the Cynthia Spencer Hospice.

It’s a time of development – we’re building something really special at Fortitude, both as a place to work and as a place to discuss and explore your financial ambitions.

Building on solid foundations

As we grow and develop, we want to assure you that anything we build sits on the firm foundations of the business that you know and work with. Fortitude is built on long-term partnerships and shared journeys and the professional, personal service you’re used to will continue. We’re committed to helping you find the right route to achieving your goals, and helping you to reach your destination with clarity and confidence.

New faces

What you may start to notice as we build on our already award-winning team, is some new faces. You may find that when you come to visit, or when we speak over the phone, you’ll be meeting some of our new colleagues. We’re growing the team and taking on the best people to look after you and your finances – the more experience and ability we bring under our roof, the greater the resources we have to help you to make smart decisions about your money.

Everyone we hire at Fortitude is carefully selected, not just for their qualifications, but for their vision, their motivation and their dedication to our core values. These are Fortitude (of course) and Fairness, as well as being Trustworthy, Caring and demonstrating Kaizen.

Kai…what?

Kaizen – it’s a Japanese word that’s best understood as ‘continuous improvement’. Our profession doesn’t stand still and giving you the best possible service now and in future means always developing and staying in touch with the latest thinking.

All our values are really important – they’re the guiding lights of the service we provide, the foundation of our faith in each other and the basis of our ability to work as a team. That’s what we look for in the colleagues we bring on board – the same commitment to the values we’ve always held dear.

We’re just as selective about the clients we take on, because the right fit is important. We’ll only ever work with clients where we can add genuine value. If you think someone you know would benefit from clarity and peace of mind about their financial future, let us know.

We’d love to hear from you

It’s a bright and exciting future and we’re looking forward to reinforcing the skills and experience we have on hand to help you get where you’re going. If there’s anything you’d like to ask us, tell us what we’re doing well or could do better, or you’d like to put a friend in touch, just let us know.

In the meantime, we look forward to helping you with the opportunities, challenges and rewards of 2019/20 and beyond.

Over 2 years on but the message is unchanged

Along with the rest of the country we are waiting with bated breath for clarity on what Brexit will mean for us and our clients!  And, like many others, we are dismayed by the divisions within our country and somewhat fearful as we see the lack of progress towards a constructive agreement.  However we remind ourselves that, over the years, there have been many events that have resulted in similar feelings of uncertainty and fear.  During such times we manage our fear and avoid making costly “knee-jerk reaction” investment decisions by going back to, and continuing to behave in accordance with, our core beliefs and principles.

Immediately after 2016’s referendum result we published a Blog which continues to resonate today, so we thought we would republish it:

“Keep calm and stick to your Plan

24th June 2016

A few days ago Neil was asked, by Nucleus, to comment on how we had prepared for a possible Brexit.  Now that the result has been confirmed we thought we should share the gist of his response to the question.

“We have not done anything to our clients’ portfolios because we can’t predict the future and therefore why would we make changes to portfolios that we have already designed the best we can to cope with movements with markets?

The portfolios are long-term investments and over that investment journey there will be things that happen.  Some of those things will be pre-warned like Brexit. Some of the things will be completely unexpected;   the markets will either go up or down but nobody knows in advance what impact those changes will have. So we think it is a waste of energy to attempt to predict or react to short-term market “events”.

The important thing is to have a plan, and have a set of beliefs that drive your investment policy. If you have a plan and a properly constructed investment policy any changes you make will be to do with long-term changes not short-term blips.

I don’t expect that all advisers will share the Fortitude approach.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the passage of time may prove others were right and we were wrong. But I want to stress, we have an investment philosophy that we share with our clients. If the clients didn’t agree with this, why would they invest with us?  Our clients have been getting a consistent message from us, we don’t chop and change for the latest fad, and presumably clients are happy with the results they’ve seen so far and are reassured with our approach.

If the UK does vote to leave the EU, the UK equity market could (if you believe in the doomsayers) collapse quite rapidly.  If we were to react to that it would be like us shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

We will continue to review and rebalance portfolios in accordance with our investment philosophy and in the context of our clients’ Financial Plans.”

This morning the votes were counted and the results announced.  The “Brexit” campaigners have persuaded the majority of voters with their argument and the Prime Minister has announced that he will resign to make room for a new leader to negotiate the terms by which the UK will leave the EU.

It is impossible to say with any certainty what the long-term implications will be.  In the short-term markets will, no doubt, continue to react as they always do – by going up or down.

It is at times like these that we all need to demonstrate Fortitude and stick to the plan that we have developed.”