Furloughing staff 'the hardest thing I've ever done': Veteran adviser discusses his four-decade career

Lockdown impacts

clock • 9 min read

Claire Tyrrell speaks to Kevin Walsh, an adviser of 43 years, who describes having to furlough some of his staff during the coronavirus pandemic as the most difficult thing he has ever done in his career...

Family man

Before Walsh started H&F, he was establishing his own retirement plan. But now, 32 years on, the 68-year-old has no plans to stop his career as an adviser.

Realising at his planned retirement age that he could still tick off his travel bucket list while still running the firm, Walsh decided to stick it out in the profession for as long as he was able.

"I drew myself a little plan, between 40 and 60, and thought ‘what do I want to do'. And when I looked at my life and the business we have, I thought ‘well, actually I like, this - I can do some of these things while I still work', which is what I've managed to do," he says.

"I'm becoming sadder and sadder that the industry is I think going in the right direction and I'm at the wrong end of my career, because I can't go on forever."

At the beginning of his career he was on a portable contract with Prudential and moved house five times in 10 years on promotions.

Part of the rationale behind starting his own firm was to spend more time with his family.

"I've stayed away from home that long in those years, but I didn't feel it was right. I said I would never stay away again on my own because it was too soul destroying - it was wasn't fair for them. In those days, I work till nine and 10 o'clock at night, that's what insurance was like," he recalls.

"If we've gone away for business, my wife's come with me - she works in the business."

Walsh has two sons and five grandchildren, and lives about a mile from them.

"We FaceTime our grandchildren every single night. And now, because we're allowed to see them from a distance, we do that too. I have 67 hugs in the bank from 12 year old Ava," he says.

Walsh's wife of 49 years Ann works on the firm's accounts.

Walsh and his wife Ann at a Prudential function on the Orient Express around 1986.

An evolving profession

Walsh says he wishes he was starting out as an IFA now instead of 40 years ago because the industry has been shaken up considerably in that time.

He explains how technology has changed the conversations advisers have with their clients, particularly when it comes to portfolio projections and analysis.

"[Having a] balanced portfolio is the secret; nowadays with the technology we've got, we can show that balanced portfolio so well. An efficient portfolio chart can show you the risk in your portfolio, the return, the fractions of a portfolio," he remarks.

"I couldn't show that at all 10-15 years ago - I was using four and five computer programs to try and tool one thing - analysis of fund pricing structures. Now we can get all that together in one system and go [and quickly ask] 'if I replace this fund in a portfolio with that fund, what does it do to the risk of the client's portfolio?'"

He says the evolution of charging structures, with the shift away from a commission model, was one of the most significant developments during his career.

"If you look at what the banks in particular, some of the big boys were for an investment bond taking 7% and 8% commissions on them. Now all of a sudden, we have a wrap world.

"You look at the principal now it doesn't look at the contract, it looks at the client. It looks at the value of the money and a bond is priced or should be priced the same as an ISA, the same as a pension."

Walsh says investors' views on pensions has improved over the years, but still had some way to go.

"Pensions were heavily charged 30 and 40 years ago. Nowadays, I talk to customers and I say the bad press sometimes that they [pensions] get over the years is fundamentally wrong. When you look at a charging structure of a pension, we can do the same charging structure on a pension as we can in an ISA with tax relief.

"When you look at that it's an important part for somebody's future. But the public concept of pensions still isn't quite back to where it should be I don't think - they're still held in a lower esteem."

Walsh says seeing people's retirement plans materialise is the most rewarding aspect of his job and the most important part of any adviser's role.

"We have nothing to show - an IFA doesn't make a desk, a chair a product and see an end result, but we do get end results, we see the fruition of a plan, whether it be that Australia/ New Zealand trip, whether it be a world cruise, whether it be the daughter's wedding, we see the end result of the planning for those events. And that gives a lot of satisfaction in helping people do that," he muses.

"I used to say that years ago: 'I don't make anything when we don't do anything'. But when you look at it in truth, when you live long enough to see policies maturing, you see the benefit that it gives people."

Walsh is stepping back from taking on many new clients as he approaches the final stages of his career, but still has a lot to do with his own client bank.

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