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29.12.2020
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Learning and development delivers accelerated growth

First published by Financial Reporter

2020 will soon be over. For many that will be welcomed warmly; for others – and I suspect this is the case for many housing market stakeholders – there is likely to be a considered appraisal of the past 12 months which might come to the conclusion that we have dodged a bullet.

Go back to mid-March and April when the end of lockdown 1 was unknown, and I’m sure all of us would have taken the bounce back we have witnessed, particularly in the last six months.

Reflecting on the last 12 months is tricky given the extraordinary ups and downs, however if we are looking for adviser-focused highlights, in a year which has been incredibly challenging, then we can perhaps not just look at the resilient nature of our sector in dealing with everything that has been thrown at it, but also look at the positive response it elicited.

Many firms we work with recognised the market not just for what it was post-lockdown, but what they needed to do in order to capitalise on it and put themselves in a stronger position in order to pick up greater levels of business in the future. In that respect, we’ve had AR firms which have doubled in size during 2020 – again a remarkable achievement given the type of year it’s been.

And a considerable amount of this growth has been organic – firms bringing on board, and developing, additional mortgage advisers. Our sector has often struggled to do this consistently, particularly since the Credit Crunch decimated the number of active advisers, but that trend appears to have turned.

The challenge, for us as a network, and for the broker firms, is that the financial services world we operate in is much changed. And as firms continue their growth journey, they obviously need to create advisers who deliver quality results. How best to do that? How best to keep advisers on top of market changes and deliver in terms of commercial objectives? How to keep them active and interested and committed to the firm over a period of time? And of course, how best to meet the regulatory challenges which need to be adhered to, especially in terms of Continuous Professional Development (CPD), training and competence, etc?

Networks, put a significant amount of time, resource and investment into this, because the training and learning requirements increase each year, plus you have to consider them in light of large numbers of advisers now working remotely.

What seems clear is that firms must have a comprehensive plan in place which can take advisers from induction through to (what is hopefully) many years working for the business. The latest practices in Learning & Development, for example, require innovation in both training design and delivery – and that is likely to mean more investment in L&D, perhaps in both headcount and team upskilling.

For example, with new adviser inductions ourselves and other networks will still use traditional trainer-led courses, but they’ll be enhanced with pre-attendance briefing materials for context setting, and the priming of the adviser for content and approach. And the post-induction support will change, focusing on ‘learning in the flow of work’ rather than front-loading everything they need to know.

So, while CPD is a regulatory requirement, it should also be regarded as sound business practice. As the way you work evolves, staying up to date with technology, product and service offerings and expectations is crucial.

And it’s perhaps the technology element that firms need to embrace the most. The provision of online learning will continue to enable efficient completion and recording of CPD. We have a system called Stonebridge CAL which results from a six-figure investment in external resources and tech integration. Its aim is to give advisers everything they need to conduct their L&D online, making it easier and less time consuming to record and evidence their CPD.

Taking this online takes away another administrative burden for advisers, plus it means we can continue to expand the suite of training available and how it’s delivered. Good solutions will provide dynamic materials in various formats, be they handbooks, crib sheets or searchable content, all formatted to read on various devices or a desktop.

Firms should also be looking at areas which require greater levels of L&D. For example, one part of the advisory role which might sometimes be overlooked is sales. For some it might seem a dirty word, but in a sector like protection it needs advisers to be in ‘sales mode’ otherwise clients may not consider their protection needs. This takes nothing away from the primary objective of making sure the right consumer outcomes are delivered. Ask your advisers what they want to concentrate on or where they might feel they are lacking, and that will allow you to fill in the gaps.

2020 has required all of us to be nimble in adapting how we operate, and firms who want to grow organically need to consider not just how they attract new advisers, but how they can help them develop and ensure they fulfil both their regulatory and personal L&D needs. Having a structure and strategy is crucial but be ready to adapt this as the business, and importantly, the market evolves.

Rob Clifford is Chief Executive of Stonebridge

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