Rebecca Jones investigates whether having a street-side office is, or ever was, important for financial advisory firms.
In today’s internet age, it seems a truism that financial advisers no longer need to have a visible high street presence – if indeed, they ever did. Now, argue most, the general population is making its consumer, business and financial choices via Google, not the high street.
But how true is this? After all, generations of today’s population did not grow up with the internet and many still put a large amount of faith into a visible, accessible high street brand. This is not restricted to the likes of Marks & Spencer but, evidently, includes banks.
Indeed, when it comes to their finances, most people still want the option to pop in to a bank and speak to someone informally, with a 2009 poll revealing that 53% of Brits would not even consider saving with a bank that did not have a local high street branch.
Do advisers need a High St presence anymore?
Drumming up business
Of course, financial advisers are not banks, so just how relevant is this example? In terms of brand awareness, it is perhaps more-so than you would think.Yorkshire-based advisory firm Dobson and Hodge, established some 80 years ago, currently occupies a central office location close to the main town, which director Paul Stocks believes is important to its success.
“You are more likely to go with someone whose name you recognise than pick somebody you have never heard of. Being on quite a main road means we are getting that sort of exposure to passers-by,” he says.
However, director of Barretts Financial Solutions Kim Barrett, who operates his firm from his home, has a different view.
“Financial advice is more about reputation passed on by word of mouth than someone driving past your window and deciding to knock on your door,” he argues.
Barrett does, however, feel that branding and brand awareness is important and says that his firm’s name, logo and website form the basis of its ‘presence’, which he hopes communicates his values to clients.
The main debate concerning whether advisers should have a high street presence centres on the issue of ‘passing trade’, which Barrett argues has vastly reduced.
“The passing trade element of what we do is less than ever. In the past, there were some things that were more one-stop, like life assurance or a mortgage, but invariably it is now about establishing a relationship with a client,” he argues.
Simon Webster, managing director of Facts & Figures, agrees, adding that despite having a well-signed high street presence, he gets no passing trade at all.
Presenting the right image
Financial advisers, especially in today’s commission-free world, should be focusing on creating relationships with – preferably wealthy – clients via referrals. With this in mind, do they really want to be attracting passing trade? If not, what is the need for a high street office?
This is a common argument; however, it might be missing the point. While Stocks does indeed get the odd walk in, he argues that having a central office location is more useful for the image it projects, adding that his clients put a lot of stock in visiting a town centre-located office to talk about their finances, rather than his living room. Meanwhile, for Webster, having a high street office can also help with professional contacts.
Barrett also believes that image and first impressions are an important factor of financial advice.
“Image is important. Taking it to the extreme, if someone had to walk through a dirty back alley to get to your office, you are not presenting the right sort of image. You want to have an air of professionalism,” he says, insisting that his home comfortably projects that.
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