Last time I wrote about my decision to take the plunge and leave my well-paid role with a lender and set up my own advice business. Although that decision was a watershed moment and a long time coming, that was the point when the real work started.
Although I was a qualified mortgage adviser and very experienced in terms of mortgages and protection sales, there was the not insignificant matter of becoming authorised. Coming from a mortgage lender, to go down the directly authorised route was a non-starter. Not only would the regulator probably say no, the process itself was totally daunting.
It was clear that I would need help and a network seemed the obvious choice. If you’re starting from scratch and don’t have any contacts within networks to explore then you could do a lot worse that to speak to Gary Watts at Which Network. They assess the costs and offerings of all the main networks, as well as their systems and even claim to try to match you with a network with the right corporate culture for you. It’s also a good idea to speak to other brokers who have already gone through this. I got some great advice from Kevin McRobie of Mcrobie Adams, a fantastic broker in Oxfordshire and I’ll always be grateful to him for his insight.
Fortunately, I had spent many years running day to day relationships for a number of lenders with most of the networks in the market place and had a lot of contacts. Easy for you then I hear you say, all you had to do was contact them and take the best offer, right? Wrong, things in life are seldom that simple and this turned out to be the case here too. Most of the networks only want to take on an adviser that already has competent adviser status and however well they knew me, that included me too. As a result, I had numerous conversations with network heads who were only too keen to help me set up my business as long as I went under the umbrella of one of their existing AR’s. The whole reason for doing this though was so I could take control and do things my way. On top of that I didn’t want to use another intermediary just to get competent adviser status only to walk away and set up on my own firm as soon as I got it. When I raised this the response I got was that it would be up to them to keep me. “Really? Even though I’m telling you I have no intention of staying?!” That approach seemed crazy to me and I wasn’t prepared to waste someone else’s time like that.
In my opinion, the whole industry needs to rethink its approach to this matter. We’re constantly told there’s a shortage of advisers so we need to think of new ways to bring people in and that’s how I found my network, Julian Harris Mortgages Limited. Julian’s isn’t the biggest network but I knew them and more importantly, I liked them. They have a really straightforward approach, clear policies and charges and good partners such as L&G mortgage club. Quality and high standards sit at the heart of their ethos. He also insists on good value, offering IFA rates to clients on protection and he is clear that he is here for the long term, plus he was approachable and spent a long time listening to my plans. There are no overseas sales conventions here, just a determination to offer great support and ensure high standards at a fair price whilst helping and working with their AR’s. Most importantly for me though they had a mentoring scheme that could take me where I needed to be. Julian had recognised the need to be creative in attracting new talent and realised that there were experienced people like me looking to set up on their own. He has had to invest a lot of time and money in putting a great training and assessment program in place, ably run by Peter Welsh, along with highly experienced mentors to train, guide and support you along the way. With a structured program, I could work under Julian Harris Mortgages with 100% supervision and a mentor checking and discussing my cases before advice was given until I achieved CAS status and that’s the route I decided to take.
It wasn’t the only route but it was the best one for me given my position and they’ve really helped me. I think too much emphasis is put on the commercial offerings of networks. The culture and support they offer is every bit as important; indeed probably much more so. You need to know they will work with you and be there for the long term. Other networks are waking up to the idea of a mentoring program though; I believe that the Right Mortgage Network are offering a similar approach. Interestingly, a number of networks that I thought wouldn’t have been able to help me have since been in touch but I’m happy where I am and I’m confident I made the right choice and I look forward to growing my business with Julian and his team for the long term.
My advice when choosing a network, therefore, is to cast your net wide, take your time and think about the whole offering, the people and the culture and not just the price. Explain your vision to them and ask how they can help you. After all, this will be a long-term partnership and if you get it wrong it could prove very costly to change things later.