Chatting to Alan this morning, he decided that he wanted to talk to me about how he likes to work. It’s a good set up! I think you’ll enjoy hearing about it, especially if you’re new to Interface Financial Planning – or even if you’re a long-standing client.
Alan told me that when he started working back in the 1990’s (who remembers those days?), he had “physical” staff who came into the office every day. Working from home was just not the “done” thing. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who worked from home. In those days, everyone went to the office or their place of work. So Alan did that too. For over 20 years, and then in 2011, he took the plunge and went down the outsourcing route. This route was starting to take shape, especially with more and more women returning to work after maternity and more and more people suddenly looking at part-time options or greater flexibility. Fast forward to today and it’s now, suddenly the norm. I suppose that Alan was a working from home pioneer!
It’s So Flexible
Alan’s passionate about outsourcing because the advantages are huge and the benefits to his business, his staff and his clients far outweigh having an office and a regular 9 to 5pm routine. I get it, I work from home. I’ve been doing so since the birth of my daughter back in 2009 when I decided I didn’t want to go back to an office-based job; I needed something that worked around the family.
So, benefit number one is definitely the flexibility. Take Jo, Alan’s Administrative Genius Extraordinaire. Jo lives in Malvern. It’s quite a way from Alan. She likes to work early in the day (like me actually!). She takes her dogs out for a walk first thing and is at her desk at 6.30am. Jo’s normally completed a ton of work by 9.00am, firing off emails and messages from 7.00am and mid-morning, Jo goes off to do something else (not work-related), and returns to her desk whenever she wants.
Jo’s role is mainly back office stuff and making sure Alan’s business runs smoothly. She’s just recently reviewed all of his business documentation so they’re compliant and up to date. With an amazing set of organisational skills, she started off in finance all those years ago as a YTS trainee (bonus points for anyone who knows what that means). Sorry, I’ve moved off the point, which is it makes no difference to Alan what time she works, as long as the work gets done, that’s flexibility.
Sarah is another of Alan’s Administrative Geniuses but her work day is different to Jo’s. She takes her son Alfie to school so her hours are 9.30am to 2.00pm which suits her. As an example, Sarah was on the phone to a prospective new client at 10.00am this morning, he gave her instruction and Alan had signed off the deal, all before 11.30am! It works well for all involved. While Sarah’s worked for Alan for a long while, he’s never actually physically met her but she’s worked in financial services since she left school (she’s in her 40’s now) and in his words, he couldn’t do without her. She knows her financial stuff back to front.
As for Alan’s data, that’s looked after by Sarah Challenor, his Head Data Geek (!) who he’s known for 15 years. While she doesn’t have contact with clients, Alan relies on her to sort out all the plan valuations, the income reconciliation and she quite literally (as he said to me) runs rings around him. Alan engaged Sarah five years ago and it works brilliantly.
Remote Working Opens Up Huge Talent Pools
The other benefit to working remotely is that Alan isn’t restricted by who he employs. By that, Alan means having an office can restrict your talent pool. Normally, people don’t want to travel more than a 10 mile radius and they only work 9 to 5pm. So, during that time of day, if the work isn’t there you end up doling out tasks that perhaps those people aren’t naturally good at. It can actually be wasteful. Plus you can miss out on talent that’s 50 miles down the road or even 10,000 miles away. This is a good introduction to Alan’s Social Media Manager, called Lark and she lives thousands of miles away in the good old US of A…she works closely with Orry, Alan’s Sound Engineer and Podcast Manager. Without Alan even thinking about it or chasing it, Orry’s chatting away to Lark and the next thing that happens is Alan’s latest podcast is suddenly live!
Then there’s Tom, Alan’s son. He’s only 8 miles away but he works from home. He’s a trainee Financial Planner. Alan’s also got Mel, the company’s Compliance Officer and she lives in Colchester but as a good example of how well the set-up works, Tom was chatting to Mel this morning, dealing with something important. By 10.00am, the whole team was copied in and everyone reading off the same page quite literally. Alan likes working like that because while he takes full responsibility for everything, the team all communicate and copy him in. The team is a real team holding remote team meetings every week and they all get on so well, which is fascinating too as so many of them haven’t actually met face to face! Meetings are scheduled to ensure everyone sees each other; Alan’s having a meeting at 4.30pm in a few weeks so that Lark in the USA can join in. It works so well.
There are Always New Ideas
The other superb value of outsourcing is that most of Alan’s staff work for other companies too. So he finds that sometimes, some of the work has been covered off already making it easy to implement, plus his outsourced staff always bring new ideas to the table because of that cross-over with other businesses.
It’s So Human-Focussed
I completely understand why Alan’s business is a happy one and successful. It’s also efficient – he enjoys having real expertise and the ability to be so flexible means he always delivers great customer experience. One of the aspects of remote working that people often complain about is the lack of human contact but let me tell you, Alan’s business is brimming with human contact! I can assure you, Alan’s effervescent personality really shines through with every call I have with him (and I haven’t met him face to face either). Outsourcing means that he can have calls any time of day, even on a Saturday if that’s more convenient and that’s much more human than a business meeting suited and booted at 10.00am after travelling 2 hours (with a two hour journey home too).
So while most people are only embracing remote working now, Alan’s been doing it for years! The pandemic hasn’t affected the way he works at all; it’s just rammed home how well it can work. Sadly, the FCA have been busy sending out compulsory questionnaires to all IFA firms that they have to complete because the FCA is concerned that IFA firms are no longer solvent due to COVID-19. 5% of IFA firms say they have serious liquidity problems and a huge number have seen income drop but actually, Alan’s has gone up. Why is this? Clients don’t want to travel on public transport or be in busy city centres or indeed go to an office and IFA firms that weren’t set up properly to work remotely have suffered. On the contrary, where Alan’s business is concerned, conventional meetings no longer apply. His set-up means clients can have several meetings of 15 minutes each if that’s what’s required and he won’t rush them off the phone (he loves a chat!).
Another benefit worth a mention is that Alan loves seeing his older clients online! He has an 81 year old man on Zoom who doesn’t want to risk exposure to COVID-19 and he just loves technology. Remote working keeps people connected – that’s vital in today’s pandemic and it is human, it’s friendlier than ever.
I asked Alan if there were any disadvantages. He said to me “The only disadvantage is that I have to make my own tea!” At that point, I told him Starbucks now deliver. So, I guess there are no disadvantages to working remotely at all now!