The Informed Choice Christmas Letter
At this time of year, thoughts naturally turn to the previous twelve months before we all start to look ahead to the New Year.
In what has been a busy, interesting and exciting year at Informed Choice, it seems an opportune time to reflect and also describe our plans for the year ahead.
Within a few days of reopening after the Christmas and New Year holidays, Cranleigh was on the receiving end of a lot of snow. We managed to keep the office open, although the roads and pavements were treacherous.
At the end of January, the UK economy officially left its recession and entered a period of economic recovery. Growth in the final quarter of last year was an anaemic 0.1%, although it was subsequently revised higher in subsequent months.
In February, we discovered that we had been on the receiving end of a mystery shopping exercise by an FT publication. We were delighted to receive the highest score in the feature, which spoke to four other financial advisers in the Guildford area, with 31 points out of a maximum of 35 being awarded to Informed Choice.
Busy tax year end
Activity surrounding the tax year end fell slightly earlier than usual, coinciding with a weekend and the Easter Bank Holidays.
We had an exceptionally busy end to the tax year, with investors rushing to top-up their ISA investments after the limit was raised to £10,200 from £7,200 the previous October for people 50 or over. A change to the minimum pension benefit age also prompted a large number of people to access their pension funds before the start of the 2010/11 tax year.
March saw our first Budget of the Year, where outgoing Chancellor Alistair Darling delivered an unremarkable Budget statement designed to give his party a better chance in the shortly to be held General Election.
IFA of the Year
Also in March, we were named IFA of the Year at the Money Marketing Financial Services Awards 2010. This was a major award win for our business, against stiff competition from a number of much larger businesses. Nick received the award at a gala black tie dinner at The Grosvenor House Hotel in London.
Throughout the year we have had nearly 500 conversations with journalists from the trade and national press. They seek our opinions and comments on a variety of personal finance and investment subjects, and we are always happy to help. In April, I was a runner up for Best Individual IFA at the 2010 Media IFA of the Year Awards, in recognition of the work I do with journalists.
Volatile investment markets
The investment markets have been rather volatile throughout the year. They were not helped in May when a trading error at a major firm was reportedly responsible for causing a plunge in the value of the US stockmarket. In what became known as the ‘fat finger’ incident, the Dow Jones was down more than 9% during trading and the US dollar fell by around 6% against the Yen.
Inflation and interest rates have been a recurring theme throughout the year. Whilst price inflation has remained stubbornly above the government target, the Bank Rate has remained at the historic low of 0.5% throughout the year, in line with our expectations. This has disappointed savers who have been looking for better returns but pleased those with mortgage borrowings linked to the Bank of England interest rate.
Our Financial Planners have been studying hard this year, to remain at the leading edge of professional standards.
In June, Ian Lovelace obtained the Diploma for Financial Advisers from the ifs School of Finance. Later that month, Philip Sullivan passed an advanced examination module about retirement income options, on his path to the Diploma in Financial Planning qualification. Angela Murfitt obtained the new STEP Certificate in Financial Services (Trust and Estate Planning) in July, enabling her to work closely with legal professionals.
June also saw our second Budget of the year, with the new Chancellor George Osborne starting the process of delivering his austerity measures to get Britain out of the big debt hole created in part my the excessive borrowing and spending of the previous government. The Budget saw a Corporation Tax cut, the introduction of a new Banking Levy and VAT going up to 20% from January 2011.
Regulation under the microscope
It was a year when the regulation of financial services came under the microscope.
The Financial Services Authority (FSA) took action against a number of IFA firms who had been flaunting the rules when selling Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes to clients. Their review of this market confirmed that some poor standards remain in the UK market, highlighting the importance of working with a professionally qualified and experienced adviser who operates a transparent charging structure.
Throughout the year we have remained supportive of the regulatory proposals to fully implement the Retail Distribution Review (RDR) at the end of 2012. This will require all financial advisers to be qualified to a higher standard and will abolish commission.
Best Retirement Adviser
In September, we were delighted to be named Best Retirement Adviser at the Moneyfacts Good Advice Awards. This award was received in recognition of the quality of advice we provide to our clients who are planning for retirement or deciding on the most appropriate retirement income options. We were very pleased to add another trophy to our display in the meeting room at Sundial House.
There were further award wins for the team in October, when we won Best Paraplanner Team at the FT New Breed Adviser Awards. Nick received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the same ceremony in recognition for his work developing the retail financial services sector.
Throughout the year, Nick has spoken at several high profile events. In October, he was invited to speak at the 2nd Annual FT UK Retirement Summit, where he participated in a panel discussion about the forthcoming changes to the regulation of retail financial services.
Gold Standard Awards
Our award-winning year was completed in November when we were awarded the Gold Standard for Independent Financial Advice at the Gold Standard Awards 2010. This is the fourth Gold Standard Award for Informed Choice and we were very proud to be presented this trophy at the House of Commons, managing to negotiate our way past the student riots to reach the award ceremony!
Next year and beyond
Looking ahead to 2011, we are confident that it will be another year filled with opportunities for our clients, as well as the inevitable dose of drama in various world economies as global nations continue to rebuild from the financial crisis and recession.
At the end of the year, we say farewell to Dermott Whelan and Simon Hewitt who are both leaving to join other firms. Dermott and Simon have both made a welcome contribution to the business this year and we wish them every success in their new ventures.
Following a year in which we have grown the business by nearly 80%, we look forward to welcoming more new clients to Informed Choice in 2011 and continuing to provide the same level of ongoing service to our existing clients.
We have some exciting developments planned to enhance our investment proposition as we start the New Year and will be adding regular video updates to our website, to keep our clients informed of personal finance and investment developments.
We also have a number of new joint ventures planned with other professional practices, which will help us reach a wider audience with our award-winning independent financial advice.
We wish all of our clients, professional connections and staff a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Thank you for all of your support in 2010. We look forward to working with you in 2011.