Does an IFA business need an office?

By Jo Gilbey
Find me on: LinkedIn 08-Jan-2016 16:45:58


Do you remember Reginald Perrin from the 1970s TV comedy? He was the stressed executive whose excuses for being late into the office every morning from his suburban home ranged from the mundane to the ridiculous (“Twenty-two minutes late, badger ate a junction box at New Malden”).

These days many businesses can operate very successfully without requiring their entire workforce to travel into a central office every day. Homeworking is increasing all the time. In 2012, the TUC estimated there were over four million people working full time from home, with many more working from home occasionally.

That same year, in preparation for an expected disruption to working patterns during the London Olympics, the telecommunications company O2 carried out an experiment when all but 125 “mission critical” staff from a workforce of 3,000 worked from home instead of travelling to an office. O2 estimated that those staff saved a collective £9,000 in commuting costs and an additional 1,000 hours was spent working rather than travelling.

O2 achieved this by upgrading its virtual private network so the workforce could securely access files and internal websites from their home computers.

Many UK financial advisers are used to working away from a central office but I’m surprised at how many firms still operate a model that has a central office at its heart, with a hub of people commuting in every day.

Perhaps the time has come for more financial advisers to ask themselves if their business actually needs an office at all.

On a practical level, running an office – regardless of how big or small it is – involves a whole range of considerations. Office rent and rates; insurance; repairs; cleaning; maintenance; heating/cooling; lighting; health & safety measures; tea/coffee/water etc. All of these elements cost money and, importantly, time to organise and manage.

Imagine sweeping away all that and having time to focus on the main reason you are working: building your advisory business.

The rapid rise of specialist intelligent software such as Intelligent Office together with fast internet connections and the availability of mobile smartphones and tablets are not only of benefit to advisers who want freedom to operate from multiple geographical locations, they are significantly changing the way clients expect to do business too.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2014 38 million British adults accessed the internet daily, 21 million more than in 2006. Accessing the internet via a mobile device more than doubled between 2010 and 2014, from 24% to 58% and fixed broadband internet connections were used by nine out 10 British households.

The days when clients expected to do their financial planning face-to-face with advisers are rapidly disappearing, with all age groups embracing the benefits of digital interaction and the real-time, instant access information it provides.

Specialist software such as Intelligent Office that allows advisers to run their businesses more efficiently and cost effectively is increasingly sophisticated yet does not require users to be IT geeks; it just requires a different mind-set. The hub of a business is no longer the office building; it’s the technology eco system at its heart that is driving success.

With cost pressures likely to increase for today’s IFAs, there’s never been a better time to take a long hard look at how advisory businesses are structured. Life may not always be a beach but working from one is not out of the question for advisers who fully switch on to the benefits technology offers.