Kevin Forbes is a founding partner of Strategic Solutions Chartered Financial Planners, a multi-award-winning firm of independent financial advisers. More than just a businessman, Kevin is passionate about encouraging young people into financial services. We spoke to Kevin to find out more about what he is doing to challenge perceptions of the financial services industry.
Did you always know you wanted to work in financial advisory?
Not at all - I'm still not sure what job I will do when I grow up. I don't think anyone wakes up and wants to be a financial adviser. Like many of my peers, I fell into this role. I lost interest in education doing my A Levels and my school lost interest in me as soon as it became clear I had no university ambitions. I joined a bank as it was an easy choice for me, but I got bored quickly not knowing the 'why' of what I was doing, so I moved on from that into financial advice.
My parents always encouraged me to do what I thought was best. I was also lucky to meet my fantastic wife when we were 17 and she has always been supportive of my decisions.
What made you strike out on your own and set up Strategic Solutions?
Our main motivations were a desire for more freedom and to improve the service we were delivering. I felt constrained by the institution I was working within and felt I could offer the best advice for my clients if I were to become independent.
I have always worked hard for my clients, doing the best for them at all times and being ethical at every point. Being independent gave me the freedom to do this. We had no outrageous ambitions at the outset, we just wanted to be better. Since then, we have grown organically and won lots of awards, always challenging our own status quo to improve.
Have you faced any challenges during your career?
When I first started out, I was young and my age presented a challenge because back then it was a more cut-throat sales-driven environment. Fortunately, I had two or three very good mentors along the way that taught me a lot and believed in me. Mentoring is key and can be a springboard for you to develop as an individual.
A key challenge I'm seeing at the moment is that the route to become a financial advisor requires an individual to be "sponsored" by a company, and many businesses are unwilling to take the risk of sponsoring someone. It is a big commitment, and investment of time and money to bring people in, so a lot of firms need convincing it is worth the effort. This is what we are trying to address with the Future of Advice initiative.
What is the Future of Advice initiative?
The Future of Advice initiative is a combined effort from several local financial firms aimed at encouraging people from a wider range of backgrounds into financial services. University students are encouraged to take a one-year work placement in financial advisory firms, with the intention of making them more aware of the industry and the opportunities it presents. Now in its second year, the initiative has attracted the participation of three universities; Bournemouth, Southampton and Winchester – and twenty local financial advisory firms. It's all about developing trust on both sides, but especially demonstrating to the firms that these young people are worth the effort and investment.
How else are you trying to promote inclusivity in financial services?
The Future of Advice programme aligns with some of my other work. I volunteer as Chairman of the Hants and Dorset Personal Finance Society Region, which delivers financial education workshops, via its "Education Champions", to hundreds of children in schools each year. Through gamification of investing, we want to make looking after your finances more interesting so these young people will engage in years to come.
In addition, at Strategic Solutions, we have set up a community foundation to donate 1% of our gross annual income to our local community. We support all manner of charities via the foundation, but financial education is a key area of focus. We sponsor local charity Safewise, which delivers financial education to young and older people, at the start and end of their working life.
All of these efforts will hopefully make people more financially savvy and more mindful of where they are putting their money – avoiding the scams and unregulated investments we so often hear about in the news. We also want to reinforce the fact that financial services is part of society and local communities: it's there for everyone.
What advice would you give to young people starting out in your career?
Empathy is important in this job. You have to empathise with your clients, their situation, where they want to get to, and find the best solution for them. You need a vested interest in the family or household you take on, you want to be a trusted advisor, someone who is trying to drive the family forward. The relationship is very different to that of a lawyer or accountant, which is more transactional and for a specific need. This is more about the overall picture.
Apart from that, I'd say that with an inquisitive mind and a great work ethic you can rise above the rest.
What has been your proudest moment in your career?
I'm very proud of the network we have. I have made some amazing acquaintances in the peer groups I am a part of, who are always supportive and encouraging of any initiatives we try at Strategic Solutions. And it's also been important that we've built up a good relationship with the regulator. They have a difficult mandate, regulating everything from a one-man-band IFA to the largest banks and asset managers. There a lot of myths that have been built up around them, but getting to know them on a personal level, at roadshows or workshops, helps everyone – it gets them to understand your viewpoint.
And, as I've already mentioned, giving back to the community is extremely important. Through our community foundation, approximately £40,000 a year is donated to local communities, not just to financial education, but also to charities which provide respite care or host events and activities for disabled children. It makes our success all the more rewarding.
At LGT Vestra, we believe in contributing toward a society worth living in. We hope that our 'From all walks of life' series, inspires others regardless of their background to be bold and pursue their ambitions. Read more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
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