My business: Giving clients lifelong security

Sandy Robertson CFPTM Chartered FCSI, managing director of Acumen Financial Planning, talks about the value of keeping focused on a client’s destination while also allowing flexibility along the way

Sandy Robertson CFPTM Chartered FCSI
Sandy, managing director of Acumen Financial Planning, has worked in banking, accounting and financial services for 40 years.

In 1995, he was the first person in Scotland to become a Fellow of the Institute of Financial Planning (IFP), now part of the CISI. Sandy is a member of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland, a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and a Chartered Fellow of the CISI.

He is trained in collaborative practice in accordance with the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and helps develop standards on the financial matters involved in divorce and separation.

Acumen Financial Planning was formed in 2002 and has grown from a small team to an established firm, with some of the highest qualified planners in Scotland. Acumen Financial Planning is both accredited and chartered, and has offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Elgin and Peterhead, with 35 staff currently serving 1,750 clients across the UK.
01224 392 350

Acumen Financial Planning won this year’s Accredited Financial Planning FirmTM of the Year Award. Why did you decide to enter?

We believe this is one of the most prestigious accolades for financial planning firms and it is something we have always aspired to. Having been highly commended the previous year, there was no question about entering again. We are very pleased and proud to have won this year.

When did you become an accredited firm? What has happened since?

We  became accredited shortly after the IFP began accrediting firms in 2011. It was a culmination of events really. We had been approached by several firms to join forces with them and we had been thinking about whether we wanted to join, sell or continue alone. We decided that Acumen was not for sale and so we decided to future-proof the business by making sure we had  the right people, processes and systems in place to be in as strong a position as we possibly could be to ensure excellent client service.

What has accredited firm status brought to your firm and why should others seek to become accredited firms?

It has added credibility for four groups: existing and prospective clients and existing and prospective members of our team. We feel that, as a result of being accredited, we are getting stronger candidates coming forward when we advertise through print or social media, looking to strengthen our team.

What other accolades and awards has the firm picked up in recent times?

In the past we have won the New Model Adviser Scottish Planning Firm of the Year Award, and been highly commended in the Professional Adviser awards. We have also been category winners of the Money Management Financial Planner of the Year awards, but have only really focused on applying for awards on a regular basis in recent years, now we have the resources to put our name forward. We believe it is not only a mark of distinction to our clients but a great compliment to our talented and hard-working team.

What sort of business is Acumen  Financial Planning and what services does it offer? What’s your USP?

We are financial planners first and foremost. To us, financial planning is getting every one of our clients through life via a series of mini projects, each one going from A to B with complete financial security. At every step, we give an honest opinion on what needs to be done to get them safely to their destination, helping clients achieve their full financial promise. We offer a comprehensive range of investment, pension and financial modelling services to support and complement our core financial planning offering.

How did you get into financial planning?

When I was in my early 20s I worked in the investment department of a bank. I enjoyed it and it sparked a career-long interest in finances, the stock market and  people.  I  became  an accountant and ran my own practice. We would regularly see visiting independent financial advice firms who wanted to give advice to our clients, but we weren’t particularly keen to let this happen and wanted to find a way to give that kind of advice in-house. Coincidentally, I attended an Association of Certified Accountants event and one of the speakers was David Norton, one of the early IFP members, past president, a chartered accountant himself and a leading financial planner.

I was truly fortunate to have met him, and subsequently attended the IFP’s next conference in Oxford, where I met some  of  the  other  leading  lights,  like Ian Shipway CFPTM Chartered FCSI, Robert Lockie CFPTM Chartered FCSI, Paul Etheridge CFPTM Chartered FCSI and Julie Lord CFPTM Chartered FCSI. I learnt so much from these engaging professionals who gave generously of their time. I challenged myself to become one of them and design a business around the core concept of financial planning. I was inspired to sit the IFP’s fellowship examination (prior to the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER designation being available). In 1996, shortly after gaining IFP fellowship, I led the Scottish team in the then Team Challenge and we won that year’s competition. That was such a fantastic and enlightening experience that I enjoyed immensely, working  with  three  fellow  professionals, all from Edinburgh, none of whom I had met before.

What’s  the  best  thing  about being at a financial planning firm?

Having control over the future orientation of the business. We guide clients by presenting them with options to achieve their financial goals. We are Scottish Collaborative Law trained and this means we are trained to avoid clients having fixed positions in life. So we uncover options and explore solutions but we build in the ability to pause at any given point, and review the options. One of the most rewarding parts of doing this for clients is the genuine gratitude and appreciation we receive from them for doing this. We apply financial planning principles to our own business to ensure  its success and ultimate succession to others in years to come.

Name one new thing you like at the CISI

The IntegrityMatters test. I think it is a good thing to have to sit and is a mark of a true professional demonstrating they are doing the right thing. The code puts  clients  first. Regularly as  planners we can feel conflicted in situations at work and I think this helps give us tools to manage that.

You were involved in Financial Planning Week 2016. What did you think of it and what sorts of things did you do?

In addition to the national press and support of the initiative, we promoted our free surgeries through the local press and flyer distribution to potential new clients to help them understand what financial planning is. We love to support this initiative; financial planning is what we do and we want to play our part in helping members of the public understand the potential benefits to them. At a client event we promoted Financial Planning Week to some of our existing clients, as they have been, and continue to be, our biggest source of referrals.

What does a typical day look like? As part of our long-term vision for Acumen Financial Planning, I will be heading up the business support unit within the firm. This deals with everything that is not related directly to client work. To that end I am transitioning my clients over to my colleagues. This is a two-year process and so I have a mix of year one meetings where I am running the meetings with the designated planner, and some year two meetings where the designated planner runs the meetings and I sit in. My clients are being moved to five of our younger planners – all of the highest quality.

What are your key tips for other planners?

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously! Clients need to be relaxed. If they are relaxed they will engage in the financial planning process.
  2. Donate the meeting to the client. Have an agenda and structure but let the clients do the talking.
  3. People buy people. Be authentic, be natural, and allow your sense of fun and humour to come through.

This article was originally published in the January 2017 print edition of The Review. The print edition is available to all members who opt in to receive it, except student members. All eligible members who would like to receive future editions in the post should log in to MyCISI, click on My Account/Communications and set their preference to 'Yes'.
Published: 23 Jan 2017
  • Financial Planning
  • Accredited Financial Planning Firm of the Year 2016
  • Financial Planning Conference 2016
  • Financial Planning Gala Awards 2016

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