Liz Field, CEO of the Personal Investment Management & Financial Advice Association (PIMFA), on staying safe, managing mental health, and her advice for the younger generation
by Bethan Rees
Understanding a person's behaviour and motivation is crucial to business, says Liz Field, PIMFA CEO. She describes herself as a 'people person', a quality that she believes can help facilitate effective employee leadership, client service and business growth.
Her viewpoint here is influenced somewhat by her two degrees: one in psychology from the Open University (1998) and a master's degree in occupational psychology (2004) from Birkbeck. The latter, she says, helped her in several of her roles to date (see boxout). "The degree focused on people in the workplace. The tools that we need in business to attract, retain, motivate, engage, manage and incentivise people to be their best, I think, stem from a psychological basis. It has helped me in leading teams and businesses in what is fundamentally a people sector," she explains. "The more we understand about people, employees and clients, the better able we are to meet their needs."
"Being a CEO is like being a conductor of an orchestra … By remaining calm, listening to other people and collaborating, you can create a harmonious team"
Liz entered the financial services sector in 1989 as chief executive of the Insurance Industry Training Council, having spent the previous seven years building up her professional skills portfolio in various departments at Kent County Council. She has gained extensive experience since then (see boxout), but her traineeship at the Council, where she learnt to negotiate with unions as part of her day-to-day role, has stood her in good stead throughout her career. "Being a CEO is like being a conductor of an orchestra," she says. "By remaining calm, listening to other people and collaborating, you can create a harmonious team."
Leading through the merger
In 2014, Liz stepped into the role of chief executive of the Wealth Management Association (WMA), attracted by "the challenges of the sector and equally the challenges of the organisation," she says.
Liz Field’s CV
2017: CEO, Personal Investment Management & Financial Advice Association
2014: CEO, Wealth Management Association
2009: CEO, Financial & Legal Skills Partnership
2005: Founder and CEO, Liz Field Consulting
2002: Head of organisation development, Gerrard Asset Management
2000: CEO, Financial Services National Training Organisation
1997: CEO, Banks and Building Societies National Training Organisation
1989: CEO, Insurance Industry Training Council
1982: Management Trainee, Kent County Council
The Association of Professional Financial Advisers (APFA) and the WMA officially merged in June 2017 to form PIMFA. Speaking on the merger, Liz says that "lobbying for a sector is better if you have unified voices rather than disparate ones, and the bigger the voice the better". She explains that the WMA had determined that it needed to expand its reach, reflecting on the business models of its members, which had predominantly adopted financial advice and planning as part of their investment/wealth management propositions. "Our first port of call was to look for collaboration with bodies that had experience in that area, which we found in APFA," she explains.
Liz, who led two mergers and was also involved in a third prior to her role at the WMA, admits that mergers "are never easy", but her experience with them has helped her learn lessons for the future. "What was reassuring about this merger was that the members on both sides felt passionate about their trade body. What was challenging about that position was getting consensus from both about the way forward, which took more time than might ordinarily have been the case," she says.
Future planning in light of Covid-19
Covid-19 has brought several financial issues to the fore, including savings. "The crisis has brought into stark relief the fact that more than 11.5 million people in the UK have savings of £100 or less," says Liz. "We do not have a culture of savings and investments in this country, which I am hoping there is a collective effort – through the sector and the UK government – to address. The widely recommended amount of individual savings is three times your monthly salary. That is hard to achieve, but our sector has a vital role to play in helping individuals to plan for life events. We may not have thought we needed to plan for a pandemic, but it is crystallising thinking."
PIMFA describes itself as the trade association for firms that provide investment management and financial advice to help individuals and families plan for their financial life journeys. Individuals have been reaching for their pension pots or turning to their savings to alleviate short-term financial pressures brought on by the Covid-19 crisis. A May 2020 survey of 2,000 adults in the UK by pensions provider Aegon reveals that 12% of over-55s who hadn't accessed their pension pre-Covid-19 have since taken out money from it, with a further 8% considering doing so.
"The widely recommended amount of individual savings is three times your monthly salary"
"For PIMFA, the concern around any increase in the over-55s accessing their pension savings early is that they may be doing so because they have been encouraged to as a result of a scam," Liz says. This is one of the reasons why amid the pandemic, PIMFA launched the Scam Safe campaign to help prevent consumers from falling for financial scams, with useful resources on a microsite to help people protect themselves. Liz says there is specific concern among those approaching retirement. She says that these people "might fear their dream of a comfortable life in old age has slipped through their fingers" leading them to act impulsively or without taking proper advice.
Practical Covid-19 issues
With the majority of employees in the investment management and financial advice sectors working from home as a result of Covid-19, many practical adjustments have been needed. Liz says they adapted quickly, but of course, there were some practical teething issues for some organisations. She refers to reports that laptops were in short supply early on, concerns about the process of re-routing and recording necessary calls, and the inability to acquire 'wet signatures'.
Liz says that productivity levels in the sector while working from home during Covid-19 have "risen exponentially" as everyone is getting more work done, but compliance can be an issue. "With some bank branches closed altogether and other branches having reduced their opening hours, it is at times difficult for some firms to fulfil their obligations under the CASS rules and get their cheques banked within one business day," she explains, because "cheques sent to an unattended office will not be processed in the usual manner". Firms are trying to take "such mitigatory steps as are possible in the circumstances" as required by the regulator, but this is a challenge at times.
Mitigatory steps for processing transactions by post, for example, include firms ensuring a relevant staff member is made responsible, and if they need to be physically present in the office then the firm must make suitable arrangements adhering to relevant health and safety requirements, which will vary from firm to firm.
"We are not aware of instances where, for example, a client has posted a cheque and it has been sitting in the post room for weeks with nobody knowing what to do with it, or of placements not being made as requested and meeting regulatory standards," says Liz.
"We are not aware of instances where, for example, a client has posted a cheque and it has been sitting in the post room for weeks"
Another issue highlighted by member firms is the payment of non-GBP dividends. "Where dividends paid in sterling are mostly mandated to the firm's or client's bank account and paid electronically, some foreign currency dividends are being paid by cheque through the post. We've had reports that some platforms have refused to take cheques and getting transfers is proving challenging in some quarters," she says.
However, she says, "Things have settled down and firms have successfully implemented operational resilience planning and taken steps to change normal business practices to reflect the new reality and delegate roles, or to ask clients to change how they make payments either electronically or directly into the client bank account held by the firm. Electronic activity that previously took place in the office is now taking place from home locations through firm servers with the required level of data protection."
For any investors trying to navigate through the pandemic, Liz has some advice. "Remember why you started. Investment should be goals-based, rather than performance-based. There has been an obvious downturn in the market and it's likely that this will persist for some time. However, we are also moving into a prolonged period of low interest rates (lower than the previous prolonged period of low interest rates), and while there is clearly volatility in the market at present, the significant shocks of early March have somewhat subsided."
Money and mental health
In November 2019, PIMFA launched its Financial Journeys Campaign initiative, which aims to raise financial and mental wellbeing awareness by fighting the stigma around mental health issues and people's reluctance to discuss money.
"Research has proven that poor financial wellbeing can make mental health problems worse, which can in turn contribute to a worsening financial situation. We believe it's vital to bring this important conversation to the fore, remove the stigma and provide as much information and support for people as possible," Liz explains. Even before Covid-19, the Close Brothers' Financial wellbeing index 2019 reveals 94% of UK employees suffering from money worries and 59% ranking money as their biggest cause of stress and anxiety.
Speaking about money can be a first step to helping address the issue. "There are a myriad of reasons why people don't discuss money, but they are all largely rooted in the same issue: money is personal, so people's view of it can be emotional rather than rational," Liz says. "Broadly speaking, individual reasons for not speaking about money include shame, embarrassment, pride or inertia."
"Broadly speaking, individual reasons for not speaking about money include shame, embarrassment, pride or inertia"
There is no hard and fast solution to this, but there are some general principles that could help an individual begin to view their finances in a different way, and talk about them. Liz advises that people:
- Take personal responsibility. There are life prompts that encourage people to engage with their finances and seek out support, such as marriage, moving home, divorce, death and children leaving home. The challenge is to channel those prompts into good consumer behaviour, be it seeking out guidance from the Money and Pensions Service, or taking advice from a qualified adviser.
- Understand that variety is natural, but everyone has challenges. For the vast majority of people, their immediate social circle acts as a form of checks and balances on their decision-making. Without talking directly about money, people are enormously influenced with regards to decisions they make about money because they think that people in similar positions to them have done the same thing. However, individuals do need to understand that everyone has different challenges and some decisions, which could be life-changing (for example a retirement decision), may not be the right one for them.
- Speak privately. The main barrier to people speaking about money is emotional. Seeking out a professional to discuss individual cases goes some way towards stripping away that barrier.
In terms of a career highlight there are many things Liz could list, including her various CEO roles or starting her own company, but instead she says: "One that stands out is that one of my daughters used me as a role model for a junior school project on leadership. She’d looked at our website, researched news cuttings about what my job involved and read articles, and presented her findings to her class. That brought a bit of a lump to my throat as I simply try and be the best I can. She had observed and appreciated all the hard work and effort I have given to my career, despite me not always being around," she says.
Her advice to young professionals trying to get ahead is to take every opportunity possible to learn. "Be curious and ask questions. Learning is not just in books, it's also in talking to people and learning from their experiences to help you build up a picture. Also careers, in my experience, are not linear, even more so now. A sideways move might be necessary to add to your experience before moving up."