As the cost of living crisis rages, inflation climbs and a recession looms, the City increasingly holds its breath. What does the remainder of 2022 hold in store for the Square Mile?
Time for City A.M. to catch up with Paul Feeney, since 2012 the CEO of Mansion House-based wealth management giant Quilter, formerly known as Old Mutual Wealth Management.
With over 4,000 employees, Quilter manages over £107.2bn of assets, supporting advisers and their clients through uncertain and unpredictable times.
We are facing a cost-of-living crisis, and many predict we are about to go into recession. What impact does that have on the way people look to invest and manage their investments?
It increasingly looks like a recession is coming, with rising prices and the very real impact on day-to-day lives starting to show up in the economic data. The market represents an amalgamation of global investors’ views about the future – not what is happening today, and pain in the stock market historically ends before a recession does. If you wait for the end of a recession before switching back to stocks, you tend to miss out on a substantial chunk of the market’s recovery.
You have recently completed a major transformation of your technology platform. How is technology changing the industry?
While financial planning is and always will be a relationships business, there remain significant opportunities to harness technology to create a much slicker client experience. The pandemic brought the future forward, prompting seismic shifts in consumer behaviour and upskilling when it comes to technology. This isn’t because our clients wanted to access and speak to their wealth manager, but because they wanted to see their families online. .
“You need modern technology, but the basic sense of client safety and trust is still best delivered in person.”Paul Feeney
Do you see a day coming when technology will completely replace the need for face-to-face human advice?
Everything should be led by the client experience and how the client wants to work with us. So called ‘robo-advice’ failed in the UK and that’s because it remains the case that you can offer a fantastic online interface, but you still have to make sure the phones are answered when somebody needs to speak to someone. The real opportunity is to combine digital capability with human capability to reach a wider audience.
What should be done to address the perceived ‘advice gap’ in the UK?
There are over 12m savers who cannot, or do not, access traditional face to face advice, yet with the complexity of UK pensions and the responsibility for providing for a secure retirement being pushed to individuals, the need for well-informed advice is ever increasing.
“Government guidance services do an excellent job, but they can only do so much.”Paul Feeney
The pandemic has seen new models of hybrid advice services emerge which may serve to help plug the gap, including for those with lower levels of pension provision. There’s also likely to be a major role for the workplace to play when it comes to offering people support at pivotal times and in facilitating financial advice to plan for their retirement.
On a more personal subject you’ve been very open with your own struggles with mental health – what do you think are the biggest issues companies face in dealing with workplace mental health?
Culture change is the biggest issue, and it is not easy. Instead, the tendency of business leaders is not to talk about the issue of mental health. We often refer to culture as the ‘soft’ aspect of business, when in fact it’s the hardest thing to get right. I believe that for businesses to flourish you have to let people know that it is ok to not be ok, and that admitting you need support won’t be held against you.
Do you think the City has seen a change in its attitude towards mental health issues, particularly in the wake of the pandemic?
The pandemic turned all our lives upside-down, often evaporating the barriers between work and home life which was a cause of stress for many people and also gave people an insight into colleagues’ personal lives. On the whole, it prompted the right kind of response from business and great strides have been made in talking more openly about mental health in the workplace.
“The City remains quite a testosterone-fuelled environment.”Paul Feeney
The City is changing, but it will take time. There are still workers who will fear if they talk about their mental health then their boss will think that they are somehow damaged goods. Mental health difficulties are often related to workload, work-related stress and can be the product of a success-at-all-costs philosophy. But a culture of cut-throat competitiveness that views burnout as a benchmark of dedication is completely unacceptable. The best performing teams I have worked in are driven and competitive, but they also had open and supportive cultures.
Finally, how have your struggles with your mental health informed the way you run Quilter and look after Quilter’s employees?
It was important for me to lead this issue, not only because it is personal to me, but also to demonstrate to people that it is ok to have these conversations. When we floated Quilter four years ago I set myself a personal goal to create the environment where our people can thrive. We created our Thrive initiative, which is about supporting and enhancing the wellbeing of our people. We want to help them to be healthy, in their physical, social, financial, emotional and mental wellbeing. We provide information, services and tools to employees to enhance their awareness and personal well-being and mental health. We also have a network of Thrive Ambassadors operating across the business.