Reflections of an ex-PFS President

Sharon Sutton – About me;

I was born and live in the Isle of Man. I’ve worked in Financial Services since 1984 starting as an office junior in Barclays Bank, and left 16 years later an IFA, starting my own company Thornton, in 2000. My day jobs are MD of Thornton, Luke’s mum and Jools’ wife. I do a bit of cycling, competed for years at national and international cycling events including the 2002 Commonwealth Games. I still try hard to keep fit.

I was the island’s first Chartered Financial Planner and initiated the PFS Isle of Man region with Fay Goddard’s help.  I was appointed to the PFS national board in 2012 and became President in 2017/18 which for me was the highlight of my professional career and a huge honour.

What I learned;

Much!…. from being a member of a UK national board and from my fellow board members over the past 6 years. Keith Richards is top notch in his CEO role and has placed the PFS high on the radar with regulators, government and consumers.

Each President’s ‘theme’ carefully builds on the last, but all have the aim of increasing public trust and confidence in the sector. We’ve seen massive change from the implementation of RDR in 2012 and PFS membership risen from the low 20k’s to 40 thousand now. Being President gave me a great opportunity to raise the profile of the role and of financial planning. Being a woman hopefully also encouraged more females to ‘be it, now they see it’.

‘My’ Theme for the year was Financial Planning and during that year we set up the PFS Financial Planning Practitioner Panel (FPP), which I have chaired since.

The panel’s goal

To advance the practice and profession of financial planning so as to encourage our members and the wider personal finance profession, to embrace the use of such tools and techniques that may help them and their clients achieve excellent outcomes. For the formation of the PFS Financial Planning Practitioner (Power) panel. I was able to help select and lead this amazing panel of volunteers made up by some of the practitioners I have looked up to for years, as well as having an exciting representation of future leaders. These amazing people all give up their time in order to share good practice to help others be more successful.

I ensure that our focus as a panel is to be inclusive, not elitist or negative about other methods of financial advice. My hope is uniting our profession will help us move from being a cottage industry (in comparison to say, accountancy) to being a mainstream profession.

Teamwork has been a strong theme in all my working life, not least in 2018, with the support of my family and the team at Thornton who allowed me, as PFS President to take the time out to travel frequently, and the Power team; Steve Gazzard, Carrie Bendall & Mark Hutchinson. I believe every adviser firm needs to invest in their community, not just by throwing a few £’s around but also by leading by example.

The more I know, the less I realise I know!

Whilst exams are a great finish line, embracing and entering a new, continuous regime of life-long learning helps me keep balanced. I read many recommended books and share learning gained with clients and other financial practitioners.

Most regulated advisers I have met (and I’ve met many) have one thing in common, which is being genuinely interested in helping others. It’s really easy to criticise others in our profession but I would question anyone as to why are they publicly doing such a thing? If it’s to make you more successful by denigrating someone else, ultimately it’s going to affect you, as it ends up being toxic for the whole profession. So be constructive and stay classy! If you need to call out bad practice, don’t do it on Twitter! That gets picked up and amplified as another reason to batter the great financial advice community. The unintended consequences are that it puts off many consumers getting much needed advice. There are proper (and private) channels to the regulator to decry poor behaviours and poor consumer outcomes. Note; your professional body is not and cannot be a secondary regulator; but they can and do collaborate with the regulator behind the scenes.

By adopting an inclusive and positive “how to make you & your clients more successful” programme through the financial planning panel and programme as events, I believe we have proved that the PFS is a natural home for financial planners helping our members produce positive client outcomes that the regulator really wants to see. Check out www.pfspower.org/event  as a great (but not exclusive!) resource of good practice guides, videos and events (Power Live, June 13th in Manchester) for the ambitious financial planner, or even for one with a recent ‘loss of mojo’. I’ve learned that networking with your peers at many of the events you can attend throughout the UK are invaluable for fresh ideas, inspiration and meeting of minds.

Financial planning is the most important and most authentic profession of the 21st-century. The survival skill (financial capability) with money is what every human being needs yet isn’t widely taught but it compels our decisions around everything.

I accept every opportunity I can that comes my way, to speak to the profession, public and press. But I’ve learned I still don’t like doing it!

The highlights; giving the President’s keynote at the Festival of Financial Planning, NEC to over 1000 PFS members, a presentation to the London Insurance Institute, ‘Power Live’ at the National Motorcycle Museum and speaking to Isle of Man consumers in jointly organised events by our IOM Regulator and the PFS.

A good positive attitude is everything, but above all love what you do, be true to your values, keep learning and help others. 

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