In defence of BACK2Y-ers (and why you can’t trust Financial Journalists).

“Journalism: A profession whose business is to explain to others

what it personally does not understand.”

Lord Northcliffe

Imagine the situation. You’ve been sent to Poland by your Employer, to a Convention on Polish Architecture in the 17th Century. You don’t speak Polish, you don’t like Poland and you have no interest in architecture. But you have to go. And you must try and decipher or spin at least one nugget of information gleaned in order to justify your existence to your Employer.

That’s how Laura Miller of Professional Adviser must have felt when she attended the BACK2Y Financial Planning Conference a few weeks ago. Granted she was well outside her comfort zone (which is Zone 3, according to her twitter bio @CitizenLaura). And she did have to spend a night in a hotel, in Birmingham, of all places.

I’m guessing she was having a bad day. Why on earth did I invite her?

It all started a year ago, on 12th February 2014 to be exact, when I met up with her boss, Scott Sinclair at Professional Adviser for a coffee. He told me that he would really like to get behind proper Financial Planning, even though he openly confessed to being extremely frustrated by having his hands tied by his paymasters – being the product provider advertisers – in particular Scottish Widows, who were constantly demanding more and more product pushing coverage in return for their big bucks advertising spend.

What inspired me about Scott was that it seemed like he really got the message about the pressing need for Advisers – in a fee-only world – to create a service proposition that focused on the client more than financial products. With this in mind I invited him along to BACK2Y: The first, ever, independent Financial Planning Conference NOT funded by product providers or investment houses: A Conference focused on getting Advisers ‘Back to Why’ they do the job – i.e. to take care of clients and to help them get and keep the life they want.

Unfortunately, Scott couldn’t make it. So he sent Laura.

This year Laura asked if she could have an exclusive. She wanted to be the only journalist in the room.

I made a mistake. I said yes.

This resulted in two articles written by Laura, who appears to have a personal vendetta against myself, Alan Smith and other speakers, not to mention the delegates (whom she refers to as the ‘BACK2Y-ers’) – who, unlike Laura, had paid to be there.

She suggests a ‘cult’ and she intimates that she knows WHAT and HOW ‘they’ (the ‘BACK2Y-ers’) think. She has no idea.

Her articles are extremely bad examples of professional journalism.

She had to wait until the last speaker of the day to find her ‘angle’ for this article. The last speaker was Sean Weafer, who is not a Financial Adviser (and therefore not a ‘BACK2Y-er’). Sean is a professional Business Coach and his talk was about the High Trust Adviser. He said that “the age of selling is dead; this is the age of the High Trust Adviser – where the focus is on creating engaging advice-based trusting client relationships rather than the sale of products”.

What Financial Planners are selling is a PROFESSIONAL SERVICE which has to be ‘sold’ because most clients are unfamiliar with the ‘new methodology’. Another word for sell is ‘promote’ and yes, speakers were promoting their methodology elicited through personal experiences – or as she calls it ‘storytelling’.

For some reason Laura states that all BACK2Y-ers believe that selling is bad. She states that ‘not selling’ is the backbone of the ‘BACK2Y movement’. Not true.

It seems to me that Laura Miller doesn’t much like Financial Advisers – and it is her who believes that selling is bad. “Ergo, selling and sales are bad” Laura Miller, 20th March 2015.

I didn’t know that there was a ‘movement’ as such, but perhaps there is now, so let me correct Laura on behalf of the ‘movement’. The backbone of the ‘movement’ is that the time has come for Financial Advisers to break the ‘shackles’ of the ‘Industry’, to stop being pawns in the game of product providers and investment houses and instead create, communicate and deliver a service that does not revolve around the sale, distribution, switching, rebalancing or churning of a financial product. Advisers need to realise that they are no longer paid by product providers to market / distribute their financial products and investments and are instead paid by a client to deliver a professional service that makes their life better, not makes the ‘Industry’ richer. BACK2Y is an event put on by Advisers for Advisers and exists to create a platform for Advisers to help and inspire other Advisers to succeed in a new world – a fee-only world – not by peddling products, but instead serving their clients.

Those Advisers in the room, nearly 350, turned up at their own expense, and are all on various stages of the journey. These Advisers (the brainwashed cult, according to Laura) are actually free thinking professional Advisers who have come to the same conclusion – that things must change.

Laura makes no mention of the general buzz for the day – i.e. that it’s all about the client, not their money – or the fact that it was NOT sponsored; that several MMU University students were invited free of charge (and have probably found jobs) and that well known and highly respected figures from the Financial Planning profession were present. Delegates included some of the UK’s leading financial planners, including several CFP examiners, also present were Nick Cann & Steve Gazzard from the IFP – and also the next President of the PFS, Sharon Sutton. They paid to be there. All clearly brainwashed and part of the ‘cult’?

Personally, I committed nearly £70,000 of my own money to put on this year’s BACK2Y. I had no guarantees. I had to just hope that other Advisers felt the same way as I did; that I wasn’t the only one who had become tired of Conferences dominated by product provider ‘sponsors’, free golf balls, free cuddly toys and boring investment manager fund pitches.  I’m not the only one who has become tired of the Financial Porn – and it’s wrap around advertising covers and increasingly loud banner ads – which exists purely to keep Advisers attention on products and investments in order to keep flogging advertising space – and keep paying Laura’s wages.

So, with no advertising budget, 350 folk turned up. Almost twice the numbers of the first year. Simply by word of mouth. Advisers telling other Advisers. And yes, I did have to ‘sell’ them tickets to help recover the cost. Sorry about that.

None of the good intentions of the event were mentioned by Laura.

Instead she chose to ‘slag off’ the event, completely ignoring its good intentions and instead fill her article with inaccurate references – and irrelevant and misguided quotations from books (without citing the author – which is bad practice) or worse, quoting other speakers who were not even present.

Her use of the words ‘financial Disneyland’ is very derogatory to Financial Planning. As are numerous references throughout her article. Her continuous reference to ‘storytelling’ suggests myths or fibs. Her continued use of the word ‘cult’ is also derogatory.

She completely misunderstood and misquoted Alan Smith when he stated “There’s only so much that clients will pay for transaction based advice, but there is no limit to what they will pay for changing their life”. She twisted this into a cheap and nasty dig that suggested that clients were being ripped off for lifestyle financial planning, when it’s quite the opposite. Lifestyle Financial Planning done well delivers genuine benefits and demonstratable value.  Advisers charging 1%pa and NOT doing proper financial planning are more likely to be the one’s who are fleecing clients.

She also failed to report accurately on Alan’s wise suggestion to delegates of considering moving to fixed fees and his explanation using the ‘Dragons Den Test’:

Bannatyne: “So, let’s get this right, you make a 20-25% margin?”

Investment Focused ‘New Model’ Adviser: “Yes”

Bannatyne: “And your income revolves around the one thing you can’t control?”

Investment Focused ‘New Model’ Adviser: “Yes”

Bannatyne:  “So, if markets fall by 40% your income goes down by 40%? Just when you’ll need to work harder than ever to keep clients from leaving?”

Investment Focused ‘New Model’ Adviser:  “Yes”

Bannatyne:  “I’m out!”

An increasing number of BACK2Y delegates are charging their clients fixed fees for a service that does not necessarily depend on the levels of assets under management.

For example, she made no reference to the fact that 64 advisers had travelled from the Netherlands to attend BACK2Y. These Dutch Advisers can only charge their clients directly – i.e. from their personal bank accounts. That’s why they support and benefit from the BACK2Y ‘message’.

Closer to home, she made no reference to Steve Martin’s talk about advising Business Owners and charging for a comprehensive financial planning service that did not depend on the value of invested assets.

She obviously did not pay attention to Chartered and Certified Financial Planner, Ruth Sturkey’s inspiring talk about digging deeper with clients to uncover what they really want most – which is not financial products. She made no reference to Chris Budd’s talk on ‘Advising versus Coaching’.

I could go on.

What saddens me about this is that, because Laura wanted an ‘exclusive’, I honoured that. I even turned down the suggestion from Steve Gazzard at the IFP to invite Kevin O’Donnell, editor of Financial Planner magazine – because I had already promised Laura she would have her ‘exclusive’.

Well, we all make mistakes.

To sum up, BACK2Y was an incredible success. The survey results say so. And hundreds of great suggestions have been put forward by delegates to make sure next year’s event is even better. And, subject to our budget, we’ll do what we can to accommodate these suggestions.

All I’d say is, if you don’t GET it, if you don’t see why things have to change, please don’t come to BACK2Y.

Finally, to quote Stephen Fry:

“Many people would no more think of entering journalism, than the sewage business – which at least does us all some good.”


11 thoughts on “In defence of BACK2Y-ers (and why you can’t trust Financial Journalists).

  • Hi Paul
    It doesnt matter what she writes. It was a great conference and well worth the money. I’ll recommend that other people attend in the future.
    I’ve only been to one conference where the organiser got a spontaneous standing ovation! Nuff said!

  • I’m in two minds about this. Laura’s piece was, I thought, only a little more sensationalist that we have all come to expect from Professional Adviser, our trade press equivalent of the Mail Online when it comes to click-bait headlines and often irrelevant tittle-tattle.

    That said, a lot of what I saw coming out of BACK2Y via Twitter was equally sensationalist. Of course that’s not Paul’s responsibility. I’m sure some of the views and debate we saw around BACK2Y did not accurately reflect his own views on the future of the Financial Planning profession.

    Here’s where I think the sensible middle ground sits.

    The retail financial services world has changed. Financial Planning has potential to offer more value than just financial advice/selling products. People often still need a product solution to implement the goals established in their Financial Plan, which I guess is why the majority of Financial Planners remain regulated to deliver an unregulated service. As mature, experienced and intelligent people, we can identify where product providers are attempting to exert influence and behave appropriately.

    Well done to both Laura and Paul for presenting extreme views on either side of the debate. This is how we get progress.

  • Hi Paul, Laura sat on our table at the conference. She joined us for drinks afterwards and discussed with my colleagues and myself the business we are in. We discussed all aspects of the day and fee charges. We really tried to make sure she understood exactly what it is that we do, but in the words of Margaret Thatcher ‘The lady’s not for turning.’ It became evident that she felt it was a sham and just flogging products dressed up in a diferent guise.

    When I told her I managed to get a client of mine a £176,000 critical illness payout she showed genuine empathy and a softer side. The somewhat surprising and worrying aspect of her response is that it became clear that she wasn’t aware that protection was part of what we do. She seemed to think it was all about annual fees on money under management. This also clearly illustrates a misunderstanding by her of what we do as advisers whether involved with BACKSY or not.

    I also explained that by working with their accountant I set up a DB SSAS for some company directors that saved them £500,000 in corporation tax and IHT. We asked her what value she would put on that advice, but she wouldn’t commit to an answer and again demonstrated that she hadn’t considered another aspect of what we do. Any decent adviser would have seen this type of opportunity.

    I responded to her article by saying it was a decent view, but was also a misrepresented one. It was tarring all advisers with the same brush as far as fees were concerned. I thought the day was great and will certainly be attending next year. I think you should be commended for your time and effort. Sadly most journalists appear to try to make a name for themselves and this is evident by sensationlist reporting. Laura is clearly a very well educated and well spoken lady. It is just a pity her piece wasn’t a little more balanced. I don’t imagine you will make the same mistake twice Paul. Hope to speak soon.
    Mike LeGassick

  • I’m not sure the heat being generated here is that constructive. I advise a cold bath for all.

    I wasn’t at BACK2Y.

    I should have been because I think the future of the profession has to be independent of product if it is to survive.

    For me this is purely long-term pragmatism. For the clients that I advise the %AUM model is time-limited because:
    – the next cohort of clients coming through are stretched to the max on their mortgages
    – and those that can save will do so through their workplace pensions.

    But these people will still want advice about how to achieve their financial goals. So lifestyle/financial planning will have a place for many firms.

    Now Paul is a bit of a Marmite character, Sean Weafer is not to my taste and I can see how bits of the conference verged on the rah-rah that harked back to an LIA conference from the early 90s (obviously without the products)!

    Some of the reaction to this has has been hysterical and massively overblown. Clearly this is unwarranted and should be condemned. (Indeed I watched one young man commit career suicide on twitter in his outbursts against BACK2Y).

    I think Laura Miller’s article lacked balance, but was not bag out of order. And I don’t think it justified Paul response above.

    So can we all just cool it and work together towards a future where advisers will have less direct contact with product and will have to work out how to charge the client more direct fees for their services?

  • Well, this has all been tremendous fun. I want to speak up in defence of Laura a little, not that she needs it.

    First. I’m a believer in ‘proper’ (and I really don’t like that word) financial planning; one which treats products and investments as means to an end rather than an end in themselves, like pipework for plumbers (but plumbers still debate the relative merits of different manufacturers, it’s part of any trade).

    My business works or has worked with a number of ‘proper’ financial planning businesses – including some of the speakers at BACK2Y – and I’m pretty confident that we GET IT.

    However. I think the ad hom elements of this piece are regrettable. For what it’s worth, in my experience Laura is a moral, conscientious and highly capable journalist. As part of her remit at PA (which ain’t the Daily Mail, Martin, there are worse culprits who are more Buzzfeed than trade press) she sometimes writes opinion, sometimes analysis, sometimes straight news. Sometimes she’s challenging and writes things you wish she hadn’t. That’s part of her job. No part of her job is being on-message (and the same would be true of Kevin, another highly professional journalist, whose title also carries provider ads).

    Disagreeing with her analysis is grand, pointing out things you wish she’d covered is grand, asking for and expecting a right of reply in PA is grand. Going on a 1600 word personal offensive isn’t.

    We put on events from time to time and I know how much work they take and how much heart and soul goes into them. BACK2Y sounds to me like it was a good’un, and I hope Paul made a good return on it – doing this stuff purely on ticket sales without sponsors is brutally difficult and making it work is a massive achievement. I fear by hitting out like this what people who didn’t attend BACK2Y 2015 will remember is the spat; the process story rather than the positives.

    We’re Googling journalist quotes, so here’s one from Mark Twain: ‘never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel’.

    I think it’s possible to support both financial planning and Laura. So I am.

  • Journalist gets fed and watered for free, with exclusive access but in the end gives an independent opinion.

    A lot of irony in this article; quite a lot.

    If she didn’t have a vendetta, she will certainly have by now, but me thinks she was doing her job: giving opinion.

    Had it gone the other way, there would have been just as much imbalance as this one opinion.

  • Having read Laura’s piece, I am rather surprised at the vitriol contained within this response.

    For my money (though I confess I am one of those untrustworthy types Paul vilifies here) it was balanced, even if it didn’t necessarily reflect the views of the believers in the room. But there’s always two sides to a story.

    However, to claim “her stories are extremely bad examples of professional journalism” is something of a stretch, when the evidence base is a single article.

    Which, it should be remembered, the author didn’t like.

    Because he didn’t get what he wanted from it.

    If we were to apply that logic to the profession of financial planning, then every client who experienced an outcome that deviated from their expectations should be blogging about it, naming and shaming their tormentor. That of course, is their right, but doesn’t make it right.

    By the same logic, that would suggest anyone unsatisfied with the performance of their adviser would be justified in tarring all advisers with the same brush. That would be equally wrong.

    The supplementary ‘evidence’ is also flawed. Fry bemoans journalism due to suffering from the worst excesses of Fleet Street. That is quite a different type of journalism. Yet Fry is not averse to making use of the power of the media when it suits his purpose.

    However, the use of Northcliffe is baffling. He was a newspaperman and is a vindication of journalism, not a criticism.

    I’m all for healthy debate but must confess to being surprised The Lounge has allowed the publication of a personal attack masquerading as a J’accuse.

    Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but if you want to take the moral high ground, it is best to be sure you own the freehold, not only have a holiday let.

  • In defence of myself.

    I’ve had a bit of a battering on Social Media for this post. I’m actually a sensitive sort of chap so I’ve read and re-read the article to check if I’ve personally ‘attacked’ Laura. Still can’t see it, other than a little sarcasm. Compared to Laura’s attack of BACK2Y I was rather kind.

    BACK2Y 2015 was the most client-centric financial Conference ever. Laura didn’t see that. She didn’t want to. It appears, as others have observed, that her mind was made up before she arrived. And just needed that Sean Weafer quote to spin and twist a story to create some sensationalism and demean the speakers and their content, not to mention the delegates.

    It’s strange that Journalists appear to claim some superior position where they can ‘dish out’ and ‘print’ what they like, but can’t take it when someone challenges them. Perhaps it’s because they know that most people are afraid to challenge them in case their attention turns to them, so they continue to get away with it. In fact, certain ‘types’ come out of the woodwork to suck up and earn some brownie points to make sure they get their next self promoting article. You can spot them a mile off.

    Someone said to me yesterday, ‘Paul, you need to start playing their game and say what they want to hear, rather than what you believe.”

    Er… NO!

    • Sigh…

      This is not the way forward.

      I say YES to moving the profession forward.

      I say YES to removing provider conference subsidies.

      I say YES to delivering services clients want rather than products the providers want us to distribute for them.

      I say NO to anyone claiming “If you are not with me you are against me”.

      I will NOT have the warm, friendly, inclusive, collegiate and constructive financial planning community ripped asunder by this sort of rubbish.

  • I’m always sceptical of articles that start off (and in this case ends as well) with a quote or include Latin as this sort of requests immediate intellectual credibility.

    I’m at a loss as to what purpose this article actually served anyone? the financial planner (good) and financial adviser (bad) argument is so tiresome and misguided that I am surprised anyone can actually be bothered typing about it. There is nothing new to be said and there is obviously never going to be a definitive answer to the non-problem, surely people would be better off just getting on with doing what it is that they do.

    “If you haven’t got anything pleasant to say, just shut up”; My Mother to a young Bert.


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