Luck, fate and the IFP: The story of Fortitude Financial Planning

23rd May 2018

Neil and Chris were recently interviewed by Natalie Holt for an article that has been published on the Nucleus website; here’s an excerpt:

“I don’t want to get too deep too early on here, but sometimes you find yourself wondering about the role luck and fate have to play in how life turns out.

I’m thinking this as Chris Bowmer and Neil Bailey tell me that before they came together to set up Fortitude Financial Planning, they worked across the road from each other, not knowing the other existed. They were both working as IFAs, separately searching for an as yet elusive role that was both personally fulfilling and that aligned with their values. As luck (or fate) would have it, it was to be another 11 years before they were brought together in the same office to build the business they were looking for all that time.

Chris and Neil came to work together, alongside fellow Fortitude director Mark White, via separate but similar career paths. Chris came to advice via a management trainee job at Leeds Permanent building society, which went on to become part of Halifax. He went on to join an estate agency firm doing mortgage advice.

He says: “I went from being a manager in a money business to being a client-facing adviser, in the days when you were a salesman not an adviser. That taught me a lot, mainly that I was quite good at it, which rankles a little now.” By the time the housing market recession hit in 1989/90, Chris had been promoted through the company to head up a team. “I had to make a large proportion of my team redundant. I decided I never wanted to do that again – that was the most horrible experience.”

Chris went on to work for Legal & General and then started as an IFA on 1 January 1994, the first day of commission disclosure. In 2002 after being made redundant from Mazars, he set up Fortitude with Mark and Paul Herbert, who later left the business.

Meanwhile Neil started his working life as a manager in Clarks, the shoe shop chain. He rose to become an area manager but resigned when he realised the disdain among the senior management for the people he had worked alongside. He ended up at Allied Dunbar via his mortgage broker, after hearing how he could earn significantly more in a financial services firm than staying in retail.

Neil’s experience with training and development led him down the assistant manager route. Neil says: “Because I was training others, I wanted to make sure I knew more than the people I was training. I started to do all the exams before you needed to, and found out a little bit more about independent financial advice.

The more Neil learned about being an IFA, the more the idea appealed.  He became an IFA in 1992.

Despite the shift, the emphasis on sales still dominated to the point where Neil considered giving up on advice altogether. But, in the first of many interventions in the Fortitude story by the Institute of Financial Planning, Neil attended an IFP meeting where Julie Lord was speaking. The message about financial planning resonated with him, leading to him set up The Sensible Financial Planning Company with his partner and now wife Helen.

Fortitude – the ethos and the personalities

Chris and Neil continued to plug away in their separate businesses for several years. They met through their local IFP branch, which Neil ran. A home move for Neil and Helen meant their home office was no longer tenable, and at the same time Chris was looking for someone to help with the rent for the office that was well located but bigger than they needed.

Luck and fate struck again, and The Sensible Financial Planning Company moved into the Fortitude offices in Towcester in Northamptonshire. It later became a Fortitude appointed representative, as Fortitude became more financial planning-minded and given Neil’s work for the IFP running fast-track courses and training Certified Financial Planners.

The stars aligned once more when Chris and Neil attended an IFP annual conference (there it is again) and heard a US speaker called Dan Moisand who espoused the virtues of what a professional planning practice could look like. That inspired the pair to merge their two businesses over a deliberate, considered six-month process. They formally merged on 1 September 2008 (one wonders if that point their luck had run out).

Chris says: “We were growing more and more similar in the years we were in the same office. We’d had conversations with various consultants to talk about how we did things, and the 2008 merger was all about putting it together and making sure everyone did the same thing. As luck would have it, we had a year when we didn’t have anything else to do!”

Neil says that in the run-up to the merger, there was a certain amount of “testing the strength of the relationship” between Chris, Mark and himself.

Almost ten years on, and that relationship is standing the test of time.

Chris says: “Going back to our original conversations, one of the things we wanted to do was create a financial planning-only business that wasn’t about product sales. The intellectual challenge was to create a scalable financial planning business.”

Neil chips in: “Ethical, profitable and scalable.’

Chris nods. “We haven’t yet evidenced the scalable bit. But we’re working on it.”

Neil picks up the story: “Our original mission was to deliver a financial planning service to clients who value knowing how to get to where they want to be, in an environment where clients, employees and owners can all achieve their lifestyle and financial goals.

“We’ve looked at that several times in the last 10 years and we’ve never changed it. It still makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.”

The other mantra Fortitude lives by is to help clients feel “comfortable, confident and in control”. As Chris puts it: “What other outcomes are there?””

Please contact us if you would like to find out how we can help you to achieve that outcome.