We catch up with Nick Lawman, senior financial adviser at OpenMoney on starting his career in direct sales, why money is such an emotional subject, and why he’d like to invest in a barrel of whisky for his kids.
- Tell us a bit about yourself and OpenMoney
I came into financial services via retail banking,. The first half of my career was in management – I was on the management development programme at Lloyds Bank.
I eventually came back to giving advice and have worked in most traditional distribution channels, including the Lloyds Bank St James Street branch which has an incredible client base. But I cut my teeth in direct selling at places like Abbey Life and Allied Dunbar.
Things were very different back then, and obviously much better regulated now but I learned a lot about business, management, financial services and advice from my time in direct sales.
More recently I’ve joined OpenMoney. As an industry, many people wring their hands saying there’s a problem with the advice gap, but not doing a lot about it. Anthony Morrow and Duncan Cameron through OpenMoney are directly challenging that problem.
The value for money it offers customers is extraordinary. It’s not just, low-cost fees for investments, but the fact you can talk to a regulated adviser for free at any time. That’s what I do now, I’m a senior financial adviser at the firm for new and existing clients.
I also help support the development of new advisers and work on a number of projects within the OpenMoney advice service.
- What are the most typical concerns/questions that people come to you about?
It often starts with investments and how to invest. But the more you talk to a client, the more you’ll find what drives them, what they really want to do. Those goals and objectives are absolutely essential.
Money is a very emotional subject. People get very concerned by it, and this has been particularly amplified by the pandemic. Helping them to set and achieve realistic goals is key to mitigating this, and for me is incredibly enjoyable.
- What positives have you taken from the whole lockdown experience?
The industry and people in general are more focused on protecting income than ever. If you look at the figures coming out of the industry in the last 14 months, the amount of new business in protection, life insurance and other products has been huge. It’s a good sign because people have become more aware of the need for such policies.
Customers are asking what to do about these scenarios, what plans they should put in place, whether they should try and clear certain debts, how to better build up investments.
- What does the advice industry do well and what could it do better?
Financial services in the UK is highly sophisticated and developed. But advice is lagging behind the coverage of other sectors such as banking and insurance. Some 21 million people are still unaware of the free financial advice they could get.
It is good though that the industry recognises and talks about the issue now though. That’s a start. Solutions such as pure robo advice have arrived but it’s not enough. People need to be able to speak to humans who can understand the nuances of their situations.
- Is there a book or podcast that is essential reading/listening for your industry?
Yes, a book that came out about 13 years ago just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, called The Puritan Gift by Kenneth and William Hopper.
It’s focused on American culture, industry and business in the last 300 years and how the core values of innovation and discipline made the US what it is. The authors blamed the malaise of the financial crisis on the loss of these traits.
I don’t normally read business books, but I’ve read this one twice. It reflects on how people once worked their way up from the bottom but now expect to enter high up in an industry because they’ve got a degree, which has given them very little life experience.
- Who has single-handedly made your industry better?
I have three, actually. First is George Osborne because he introduced pension freedoms in 2015. He put a bomb under the pensions industry, which it needed, and let it explode.
Baroness Altmann would be the other, the ex-pensions minister. She really understood the environment and what legislation was needed to improve conditions.
And thirdly, Frank, now Baron, Field. His work in social services, pensions, child poverty and most importantly welfare reform was exemplary and so important because it affects everyone. He was so dogmatic and persistent in effecting change.
- If you could give a younger version of yourself one piece of financial advice, what would it be?
Normalise a savings habit early on. You’ve got a food bill and a rent bill, so make a savings bill too and stick to it.
- What three things would you do if you were head of the FCA for the day?
I would call a small IFA firm, a medium IFA firm and a large network and get them to talk me through a day in their lives. Not ask for numbers or facts and figures but actually get to grips with what they’re doing day in, day out.
The industry has lost many skills. I came up through direct sales for example. People miss out on something in their career journeys now. I think IFAs need more graduate schemes, get advisers started early.
The IFAs I admire these days are the specialists, the one who deal with clients or with protection, they’re making a difference in the industry.
- What is the one column or website that you read every day?
- What would you do if you received a windfall of £10,000?
I’d lay down some whisky barrels for my children and grandchildren. I’ve always wanted to do that. I worked in Scotland for 20-odd years and absolutely loved it.
I used to go past these sorts of mounds and asked what they were. Someone told me it was families burying whisky barrels as a form of investment, where in 10-15 years you dig them up for kids when they get married and such. £10,000 would probably only get me one cask, but it’d be great fun.