In Conversation with Neil Parker from PlanHappy Franchise
We speak to Neil Parker, CEO of Joslin Rhodes and PlanHappy Franchise, about how he started his lifestyle financial planning company and the franchise opportunity set to change franchising possibilities for independent financial advisers.
“If PlanHappy had been around 17 years ago when I started Joslin Rhodes, I would have chewed through my left arm to get at it, because it saves you 17 years of pain doing it the wrong way.”
What inspired you to start a business that combines financial advice with lifestyle planning?
One of the aspects I love about working with clients is the coaching element.
The real challenge was always stopping them thinking about products, charges and performance, and instead focusing on what really matters.
I always felt I could add real value to their lives by sending them away knowing more about themselves, so being able to encompass that with one overarching service just seemed like a natural progression.
I realised over the years I’d created systems, tools and processes to help coach clients through certain life events, particularly retirement. PlanHappy was born from really sitting down and exploring that structure and realising it was a great process for delivering lifestyle financial planning to clients.
Has how the financial services industry evolved since you launched PlanHappy?
I think in financial services, certainly in financial advice, most advisers are seen as a conduit between the client and the underlying product, so in effect, you’re arranging someone else’s product for the client. The problem with this is you don’t really add any value yourself. Plus, if a client can obtain the same product cheaper or faster your business model is at risk.
Also, there’s no built-in loyalty, client’s don’t care whether they can get the product from you or from someone else, in the same way as you don’t care whether you buy a tin of beans from Asda or Morrisons, you’ll go wherever gives you the best price at the time because it’s the tin of beans you ultimately want, not the experience of purchasing it.
So, PlanHappy is a product that gives value to the client who as an addition may buy a product, but that’s not their primary reason for dealing with us.
An awful lot of the industry is under cost pressures and there’s much more automation involving clients being able to select products online. So, if you’re not adding real value as a financial adviser then your business model is at risk.
What are the biggest challenges facing the service industry at the moment and how is PlanHappy overcoming them?
Trust has always been a big issue in financial services. You don’t need me to walk you through the catalogue of misdemeanours in the financial services industry. Whether that can ever truly be repaired, I don’t know.
But the fact that PlanHappy is a boutique service that’s designed for the local market and really builds relationships with clients before you even talk about financial products, protects it and makes it very different.
So, how the rest of the industry solves their problems isn’t our problem to fix but we find clients very much like the way we do things.
The way PlanHappy is and what it does builds an incredible sense of loyalty, so we rarely lose any clients, ever, because of the relationships we’ve spent time building.
What would you say has been your biggest achievement at PlanHappy?
Recognising that this PlanHappy service we’ve been delivering and have developed naturally over many years exists and is not only a great service for us to deliver but for others to receive.
Then, extracting the underlying processes of it and delivering it in a systematised way, repeatedly and at scale, without losing any of the boutique personal feel is one of the biggest achievements.
Also, taking the time to lay that out and create the collateral needed to train other people, which has been a labour of love for the last few years, is another.
Why do you think your clients choose PlanHappy?
Clients want to feel safe; they want the comfort of dealing with someone they know, not in terms of brand, but in terms of people and they want to deal with someone local. They also want to know you’re one of them, and if you can prove to them you understand how important their money is to them, they’re far more likely to trust you with their decision making.
With PlanHappy, clients really understand they’re getting added value and once you’ve spent time building that relationship, they don’t want to go through all that again, dealing with someone who doesn’t truly know them and the reasons they’ve arrived at that point in their life.
Although, it’s worth noting not everyone chooses PlanHappy. Some clients are attracted to PlanHappy because they’ve read and heard about it and that’s great. Others come in wanting a transaction and we chat to them and they think; “Well that’s fantastic, let’s give that a go.”
But there’s some that want a transaction and go away still wanting a transaction, we tend to pass these onto other firms, so it’s not for everyone, but for the majority of clients it works very well and they very much warm to the service when they hear about it.
Why would you recommend PlanHappy to those thinking of opening a franchise?
If PlanHappy had been around 17 years ago when I started Joslin Rhodes, I would have chewed through my left arm to get at it because it saves you 17 years of pain doing it the wrong way.
People often ask me; “When did you invent or develop PlanHappy?” and I say; “I never did, we’re just on version 4028 and it’s constantly evolving.”
So, as a franchise it’s a fantastic opportunity to get some great high-quality training in a very holistic environment, developing a feel-good business so every day you’re working with clients helping them.
We’re constantly getting thank you cards through the post because we’ve changed people’s lives. There are tears along the way, but no other job gives so much feel-good job satisfaction.
It also helps you build that recurring income stream as you bill your clients on a monthly basis for the services you provide, meaning every time you help someone, you’re not only helping them but yourself.
So, it’s a really great way to build some value, not only into a professional business, but something that’s really enjoyable too.
What are the three most important traits for franchisees to possess?
I would say number one would be determination. You’ve got to want to push yourself and have that drive to build your business. PlanHappy is a fantastic business-in-a-box, anyone can do it. But, the one thing you’ve got to bring is a drive to really push it on, so that’s the first thing.
Secondly, you have to have pride in delivering a great service. You’ve got to really want to have a good business within your own community because that’s how you’ll build that longevity and become the go-to person for everyone when they’re approaching retirement.
Thirdly, in order to coach someone you’ve got to come across as someone with experience, who people can take counsel from and sometimes that means putting a bit of work into yourself, sometimes it just means being at a stage in your life where you’ve been around enough to have that experience.
You can’t really quantify that. It’s not a particular age thing, it’s not having done certain jobs, it’s just having credibility in the delivery of you coaching work with clients. If they don’t respect you and they don’t feel your credibility you aren’t going to succeed.
You're not selling a sandwich, it’s not a Subway franchise. You are effectively part of a product and as such, you’ve got to have that quality and credibility that goes with it.
What training and support do you offer franchisees?
We provide absolutely loads of training and support. So, before they even start, a franchisee has access to our operating manual library, which has hundreds and hundreds of videos. Throughout every aspect of the process we provide academic training - through the diploma in regulated financial planning.
So, it really is a very structured training programme and it’s delivered by people who work in PlanHappy for a living, so you’re getting a strong grounding that’s overlaid by personal help and support from individuals.
Having said all that we can provide the content, we can provide all the training but you’re the one who must read the books and really get your head down and pass those exams.
What are the biggest challenges your franchisees face and how do you help them overcome them?
I think initially it’s experience. It can be very daunting to come into a new profession for a franchisee or even someone who is crossing over from being an Independent Financial Adviser and I think it can appear a little overwhelming to start with and that’s why we put a lot of work into the training to make sure it’s delivered in modules.
You’ll be able to do the training, do some examples, and some tests and trials before you deliver to a real client. So, hanging in there over that first six to nine months is particularly important and that’s where the determination comes in.
Those who do, have massively successful careers and you’ve got to be really geared up for it and in the right frame of mind.
It’s that determination to take the support and training, put it into practice and in a year’s time look back and think; “What was I worried about? It’s all so obvious now, it makes so much sense.”
What are your ambitions for the future of PlanHappy?
We want to deliver PlanHappy to as many people as possible. It’s a great product and a great service. Ideally, I’d like everybody who approaches retirement to have the benefit of PlanHappy.
My dream has always been that a client or potential client rings an Independent Financial Adviser or some financial advisory firm and the first question they ask is; “Do you do PlanHappy?”
And if the firm says no, they’re just going to hear a click at the end of the line because the client understands the value of the PlanHappy service more than they desire some financial transaction that may be required at the end of it.
Gemma Brown, Point Franchise ©