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On the road with… Lesley Sharkey, Business Development Director at Stonebridge Group

First published by Financial Reporter 

What areas do you cover?

It’s quite a broad remit but my main focus is as part of the Stonebridge recruitment team, working with both AR and DA firms who might be looking for a mortgage/protection network home – which we offer through Stonebridge Group – or access to technology and protection panels, which we provide with our Stonebridge Genus proposition.

For instance, we’ve just recently been at the FSE London show where we met a broad set of brokers. Many were RIs of an existing advisory firm but looking to go out on their own and seeking a quality network partner in order to help them through that process, provide opportunities, maintain their compliance, develop their marketing strategies, reach new and existing clients, etc.

I’m also speaking to all types of advisory firms about our Revolution software, which is owned by the Group and, in our opinion, is the best proprietary end-to-end mortgage and protection software in the market. It’s used by our AR firms and we also license it out to DA members, simply because it can enhance all areas of a firm’s business activity from lead generation and sales progression through to business processing customer retention.

What are the major concerns you’re hearing from advisers?

I think one of the major ones is the compliance burden that all firms are under and, let’s be honest, this is unlikely to get any less as regulation evolves.

One common misconception is that once a firm goes DA, there’s no way they’re ever contemplating moving back to a network offering. But I’m constantly talking to a growing number of DA firms – perhaps of a certain size (1-5 sellers) – who find the compliance completely onerous and is taking up a considerable amount of the working week, meaning they can’t see clients or write business.

They might have a compliance ‘bundle’ off the shelf from a third-party service provider but the responsibility lies fully with them, and with SMCR coming up soon and all other compliance requirements, we’re hearing increasingly from firms who want a network that can manage that burden for them. In fact, they tend to pay a lot of money for their existing compliance service as a DA and not get a lot back – it’s perhaps no wonder that they might feel more comfortable and looked after being in a network like Stonebridge.

What tends to be the appeal of Stonebridge to certain firms?

Revolution is clearly a big part of what we can offer, as is the compliance hand-holding that we carry out, but we tend to hear from member firms that they like the fact we are focused on three core areas – mortgages, protection and GI.

A large number of networks seem to get distracted by their involvement in wealth management, and there’s a feeling from mortgage/protection firms that they can be the ‘poor relations’ in such propositions. All the resource and development can seem like it’s going down the wealth channel and that concerns them.

With us, they know full well where our priorities lie and what we’re able to offer them in terms of lender/provider access, and we’re not putting any eggs in the wealth basket.

How do you pass the time on the road – books, podcasts, audiobooks?

If I’m driving, I like to listen to the radio between calls, a bit of Pop Master on Radio 2, plus there’s nothing wrong with an 80’s sing-along.

What’s one thing you wish all brokers knew?

This is a tricky one, because I tend to think brokers actually know this, they just sometimes don’t tend to act on it. I wish they always saw the value in protection and GI because, while clearly securing mortgage business is a major part of any adviser’s work, there are so many opportunities within the protection and GI space that could actually be more lucrative and ensure better use of their time.

For example, if you’re able to get your protection penetration rates up then there’s clearly going to be strong recurring income to secure and ultimately, you may not need to ‘chase’ the mortgage business as much as you do. Similarly, for GI, there might be lower commission upfront when you’re writing this business but the commission you can earn year-on-year, and the income that comes through to you month-on-month from being successful in this area, can be significant.

Advisers tend to think that all clients are heading off to the comparison sites for their GI, for example, but 80% of policies renew so why wouldn’t you be covering this off and ensuring you get the client the cover they need and helping you grow the underlying income in your business.

A quick email on Monday or a phone call in the afternoons – how can brokers contact you?

Anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Either myself or one of the recruitment team will either be available or get back to you as soon as humanly possible. These are big decisions for firm owners and individual advisers who might want to go it alone but want to know what support is available to them; so it’s important we contact people right away to talk them through their options with Stonebridge.

And lastly – what’s your favourite place to stop for a coffee when you’re between meetings?

I’m actually a tea drinker so most places can provide a decent cuppa; I try to avoid fast food though as it’s not good for concentration or the waistline!

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