Informed Choice's new managing director Shelley McCarthy tells Claire Tyrrell she has promised to continue the Bamford family legacy, but that does not mean she will shy away from introducing modern touches to the IFA firm
Shelley McCarthy, 41, replaced Martin Bamford as head of the Cranleigh-based company this month after 10 years at the firm and, most recently, as its financial planning director.
As the only female and non-family member to head Informed Choice, founded by Martin Bamford's parents Nick and Andrea in 1994, McCarthy knows she has big shoes to fill. Nick and Martin Bamford will still work with Informed Choice, though they are taking a step back from the operations of the company.
"It's a 25-year-old company and it's almost like a baby in that way, so it's about letting go and about driving forward some of the things we haven't been able to do," she says.
Though it is a challenging time in financial advice, with political uncertainty and pension reform dominating the industry, McCarthy believes it is a good time to work in the sector.
"I think uncertainty can be good for advisers in that it often drives more people to seek advice," she muses. "Financial services is ever changing and evolving … that's what makes it interesting."
She said "revisiting systems and processes", including introducing virtual filing, were among her priorities: "I'm hoping to drive more efficiencies in a more modern approach to the back-office side of things."
The firm will also take on two new paraplanners in November and one of these will also work as a senior administrator.
Responding to an advert in a college newsletter at a local finance firm, McCarthy entered the industry in 1997 as an administrator for Hampshire Financial Services.
She then joined London financial advice firm Kidson Impey, which became Baker Tilly and then RSM UK, where she furthered her training and worked for eight and a half years as an adviser.
Disenchanted with finance when Baker Tilly sold its financial services arm to Towry Law (now Tilney Group) McCarthy took 18 months off to travel the world.
"I had come from somewhere where it was very much fee-based, linked to an accountancy to then somewhere that I thought was much more salesy," she explains. "I fell out of love with financial services… so that's when I rented my house out, sold my car and went around the world."
Upon her return to London in 2009 she re-entered finance as a paraplanner for Informed Choice.
"Informed Choice had all the things I loved about financial services: putting the client first and it's a family company," she said.
She said Informed Choice's fee-based approach was attractive to her after being with accountancy-linked Baker Tilly, and made the transition post Retail Distribution Review (RDR) easier.
"Even before RDR we were very much fee-based and, at Baker Tilly, our clients were clients of the accountancy who are used to paying fees for professional advice… there wasn't much of a transition (post-RDR)," she said.
She also plays netball for a team, trains at Gladiator Camp three mornings a week and raises two teenage step-sons.
McCarthy said being female in the male-dominated finance world did not faze her, though she encountered sexism occasionally.
"For me it's water off a duck's back - I'm not bothered by it," she affirms. "I think people who sometimes struggle are the people who are really conscious of it and for me I've never seen it as an issue.
"There may be one or two clients that don't want to sign up with me because I'm a female, for example, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I don't mind if I'm the only woman in a meeting room full of men, though it's not ideal."
She said Informed Choice's board is split 50/50 between men and women and its two new hires are both women, so in a way the balance tipped towards females in the firm.
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