SJP CEO praises Qwil Messenger in first virtual annual conference

22 May 2020  |  Nima Akbari

In his keynote address, as part of St James's Place's three day virutual partner converence, CEO Andrew Croft discussed how platforms such as Qwil, Salesforce and Docusign were clear examples of how the company was capable of adapting quicker than ever before to respond to change. 

"Salesforce will be a reality in the second half of this year, but we have also fast-tracked components of our journey to support you in this new world now. For example, Qwil Messenger – enabling secure messaging with your clients and DocuSign – the world’s leading e-signature platform"

Qwil Messenger has allowed SJP to maintain security and client relationships through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read the full speach below. 

Good afternoon everyone. It’s great to be speaking to you today, albeit virtually.

We are living in unprecedented times and I want to start with a thank you to all of you here today, together with the rest of our community. Thank you for the outstanding way everyone has adapted to the changing way of working, particularly so when we all have our own anxieties and fears. Thank you also for the support you are giving one another. 

As Ian Gascoigne said on day one of the conference, there’s something both exciting about holding our first conference in this way, but also sadness at not being able to meet face to face. But I hope you’ve found this first virtual conference valuable and it’s provided good, practical food for thought in these uncertain times. 

It is truly incredible that it’s only 16 weeks ago that I spoke at the ACM. Even as the situation was emerging in Asia at the time, none of us could have imagined the scale of the global crisis faced today, and it is still early days. As you’ve heard from others during the conference, it feels like the world has shifted permanently. It’s been both a time of re-evaluation, about what’s important in life and a change in the way we are working and behaving – as are our clients. 

So as we move through and beyond this, there will only be stepping forward…. not stepping back. 

What I want to touch on today alongside an update on how we are doing as a business, is why I believe we are in an excellent position to step forward.  

And there are three areas which I think are key at the moment: 
-Resilience 
-Agility 
-And Doing the right thing 

I believe these three things together mean we have an opportunity to come out stronger on the other side of this crisis. 

For those of you who know me, I draw inspiration from great historical figures, so here’s the first quote for the day from J F Kennedy who said: 

“In a crisis be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity” 

So I want to start by focusing on our resilience and firstly turn to our financial resilience and trading update. As you will have seen in the recent statement to the market, we had a strong start to 2020 with Gross Inflows of just over £4.0 billion increasing 12% over the same period last year. With retention remaining very strong, net inflows for the period were up 9% at £2.37 billion. Despite the market falls these net inflows helped to maintain funds under management above the £100 billion milestone. 

We also took the opportunity of updating the market to comment that both gross and net flows in April had been robust albeit lower than the same month last year. 

This performance provides the proof, as I ‘ve said before, that we have 
-the best advisers, 
-the right people, 
-the right client proposition 

Looking forward I believe that we will perform positively relative to others in the sector during this period, as we did during the aftermath of 9/11 and in the banking crisis of 2008-9. 

This is illustrated on the current slide which shows both gross and net inflows by quarter since the start of 2008 – consistent positive flows every quarter. 

I am confident we will continue this impressive track record throughout 2020 and into the future despite the external environment. I can be confident because I know the excellent service and relationship the Partnership maintain with their clients. 

However, clearly there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, which is impacting the whole world and all organisations. We are not immune. Hence the decision to withhold a third of the proposed final dividend for 2019. 

This was not a decision we took lightly but it was a sensible precaution until the financial and economic impact of COVID-19 becomes clearer. 

Withholding this proportion of the dividend provides a layer of protection should we need it in the event of extreme circumstances. A layer of protection which provides us with funds to give financial support to Partner businesses should it be required 

So, this is very much about planning for the worst case and being able to protect the business if we need to. 

Whilst this was the prudent and right thing to do, we hope it proves to be an unnecessary move and that the withheld dividend can be returned to shareholders in due course. 

Underpinning our financial strength is the benefit of a resilient business model – a model that means we can stand behind our Partner businesses, our people and our clients, together with providing assistance to the wider community. 

What I’ve said in recent video messages is that you have to remember the significant value in our FUM which every day continues to generate the income we need to support and protect the business during these challenging times. 

As a Unit Linked Asset Matched business, our assets and liabilities move in sync regardless of what happens in the markets. This means that at any given time we have exactly the assets we need to meet client commitments. Over and above these matching assets we hold a liquid solvency buffer across the group of some £500 million which is readily available should the need occur. 

Financial stability is a really important quality at times like this. 

Yes, our share price will move up and down and reflect the market overall, but we are in a very different place to sectors like travel and airlines, which are under real strain. These sectors have essentially seen their income drop to zero whilst still having to meet the costs of the business. 

Since the beginning of the year our share price is down some 25% but as you can see on the current slide that this fall is in line with a selection of other financial companies. Coming back to the travel sector IAG (the owner of British Airways) has seen its share price fall 70% since the start of the year. 

Of course, the fall in the markets since February will have a negative impact on our income for the year as will lower new business, but that stock of funds under management means we are in a very fortunate position as a business. That doesn’t mean we can be complacent and like others we will need to flex the strategy and our immediate priorities. We are currently working through the detail of what that means as ExBo. 

Overall, though the strategy for 2025 is unchanged. 

Importantly our market remains large and growing, the need for trusted face to face advice continues to increase, there remains a very large intergeneration transfer of wealth in the next decade whilst there are simply just not enough quality financial advisers in the UK – long term an exciting place to find ourselves in. 

At the ACM, I talked about our our vision to be the go-to brand for trusted face to face advice. 
-A place where Partners can build and develop their business 
-A place where employees can build and develop their career 
-A place to provide clients with peace of mind in an uncertain world. 
-A place that is safe and secure. 

That is all still the case. 

And underpinning that vision we remain focused on the key pillars of our strategy: 
-operational excellence – building on our investment in Bluedoor which has provided us with a modern scalable 21st century IT platform 
-proposition excellence – we want to lead the sector in the service we provide and build a brand and reputation to match. 
-Our special culture built on our partnership with clients and each other – our community. 
-And finally social value – St. James’s Place will aim to become a leading UK Responsible Business and be known as a ‘force for good’ by employees, Partners, clients and society generally. 

What that means – as you will have heard in the workshops over the course of the last few days – is a continuing focus and investment in the support we provide to the Partnership as we outlined at the O2 in January. 

Ian MacKenzie mentioned in his speech that Salesforce will be a reality in the second half of this year, but we have also fast-tracked components of our journey to support you in this new world now. 

For example, Qwil Messenger – enabling secure messaging with your clients and DocuSign – the world’s leading e-signature platform 

We are also pushing forward with our brand work and many of you will have been involved in the consultations Claire Blackwell has been running. 

So, the resilience of the business and our financial strength enables a continuing investment in the those areas that enable us to better support you, your business and clients. 

But part of our resilience as a business is the resilience and wellbeing of our community, that includes you our Partners.

For all of us, the disruption to our lives has been profound; we are all continuing to adjust. 

Many of us are juggling multiple responsibilities alongside our work – whether that’s looking after kids at home; helping elderly or vulnerable relatives or indeed neighbours. 

And we have a mix of feelings. From being inspired by some of the technology and innovation we have all got to grips with; to equally finding the new way of working and the endless Teams or zoom calls exhausting. 

Let me emphasise three really important points here. 

-Firstly, the whole country SJP included are on a journey…this is not a sprint so pace yourselves. 
-Secondly, social distancing does not mean emotional distancing so stay connected to your teams, your       friends and family and also those that may need more support in these difficult times. 
-And thirdly your well being is paramount. You can not help others nor your clients properly if you are not     looking after yourself. 

For all of us, it is completely normal in these extraordinary circumstances to have concerns. And we will look to support as much as we can. But it’s also vital you support yourself, pace yourself and take care of your health. 

For me I continue to maintain my sanity by keeping to a regular routine – getting up at the same time as always but also adapting my day so that I compensate for missing ‘my commute’ – which used to be a walk into the office. I’ve found new and different routes around my local neighbourhood that I never knew existed. 

And we’re trying to reclaim the dining room from being my office at weekends. In fact, it is the blurred demarcation line between work and home that I am now finding the hardest. 

Find what works for you to build your own resilience. 

We have recently launched a new Partner Assistance Plan provided by BUPA which offers Partners 24/7 access to confidential mental health and wellbeing support should it be needed. Details are on the intranet.

It’s also important to remember that you can draw on the collective experience – both in the business and across the Partnership. We’re stronger together and it’s important we tap into this depth of knowledge and skills. I hope the workshops have shown in action how others are adapting and facing some of the challenges successfully. Alternative approaches or ways of thinking you can perhaps adopt. 

Which brings me on to Agility. 

I feel we’re on a massive learning curve at the moment adapting quicker than ever before but gaining confidence everyday in our ability to respond to change…and let’s be brave

Many people have said they feel the same. 

I’ve done things in the working day I’d never imagined I would 12 weeks ago from having joined well over 200 team calls since the lockdown begun to recording my community messages on an iPhone at home. 

And on one occasion I even delivered client documentation for my partner Lynn whilst on my daily walk. I think the clients concerned were somewhat surprised to find the CEO on their doorstep! 

We have also all been adapting in our personal lives too – I’ve seen many new haircuts and beards on Team calls across the business! 

But in all seriousness, I’m really proud of how the business has responded. 

I believe the strength we’ve shown as a community, adapting with speed should provide us with the confidence to collectively push forward for the future. 

There’s no doubt our investments in the likes of Bluedoor have really paid off and the level of technology we’ve embraced as a business is extremely high. 

More clients have signed up to online wealth accounts , we are seeing a huge growth in the use of teams and video calls to liaise with each other and our clients, we have launched the secure messaging system Qwil and there are many more examples 

We’ve also built on our self-service capabilities enabling you and your teams to do more– simply and swiftly—with the added benefit of a drop in error rates and less Admin issues. 

I’d like to thank Partners again for all their efforts as part of this. Your fantastic response to our requests to use self-service within My Practice rather than call the Administration Centres, has made a real difference. 

In fact the only critical operation that we couldn’t move online was our post, and going forward even here we should question how we reduce the amount of paper still flowing around the business. 

So embracing technology has provided a better-quality and faster service for you and your clients, but what we have accomplished to date must be the start of a journey. 

It’s vital we continue to step forward rather than step back to how we used to do things. 

The technological change all of us have embraced is mirrored by that of our clients – younger and older. 

Sixty, seventy and eighty year olds who never dreamt of online shopping or using Facetime to speak to their loved ones are doing it because they don’t have a choice.  

The can’t do has become the must do. 

There was a poll run on twitter recently which showed that only 1 in 5 advisers thought that client meetings would go back to exactly how they were before the crisis. 

As Ian Gascoigne said, the next normal is here to stay. 

Of course, we all look forward to the day where we meet face to face, but across the business the crisis has driven some efficiencies and accelerated the pace of change. This is a positive thing and we must all embrace it. 

Now is the time to be seen and heard. To utilise the different routes to communicate with clients virtually, to get them to adopt new ways of working with you, such as helping them sign up to the online wealth account. To be proactive. 

Overall – It’s the time to show the value we add by doing the right thing. 

And doing the right thing, as I said at the start, is the third area that I believe is key to coming through this crisis stronger. 

This is our opportunity to show the importance and the value of quality personal financial advice. 

By doing the right thing now; by giving that bespoke personal advice that’s right for each client’s individual circumstances. 

It has never mattered more. 

I firmly believe businesses that are doing the right thing for their clients, their employees and the community at large through this crisis – will generate goodwill, experience strong retention and attract new clients. 

The Partnership has been brilliant at being there for clients over the last few months, not only giving the right advice but also just the time, empathy and reassurance. 

It’s vital we maintain that. 

It’s also important that clients know we are doing the right thing in terms of our wider community too – all the great work of the Foundation and your support of it. 

Our recent Foundation appeal was the most successful ever raising over £550,000 in support of the National Emergency Fund and NHS Charities together. This goes alongside the volunteering than many of you and our employees have participated in across the country. At this difficult time we are allowing our employees unlimited volunteering days and I am pleased to say this has been recognized by the Business in the Community who said the following in a recent publication 

"I am delighted to see organisations innovate and flex their offer such as St James’s Place Wealth Management. They have removed their limit on volunteering to unlimited days, which has freed up staff who used to work in the military or NHS. They are also supporting employees to fundraise at home and deliver desk-based volunteering.”Jodie Cross, Community Adviser, Business in the Community 

It’s great to see the recognition and let clients know about the type of business they are placing their investments with—People care. 

Organisations will be judged by how they have responded to this crisis and I’m very proud of the contribution we are making. 

I also believe that doing the right thing, showing our value will also make a difference in developing new business in this period. 

That’s particularly the case as 50% of our new business comes from existing clients and 40% from introductions and referrals from existing clients. 

I’m not underestimating the difficulty of onboarding new clients against the current backdrop. It’s tough – but we are seeing evidence of first meetings being held online and moving through successfully to establishing a new relationship. All done virtually. 

As I said earlier, there’s never been a more important time for quality financial advice, to fulfil our roles as financial planners and advisers – providing peace of mind at an uncertain time. 

Now, before the Q&A session, I’d like to finish with a quote that resonated with me from Nelson Mandela. 

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” 

I’m in the same place as you in having to adapt quickly, coping with my own anxieties and not being able to look ahead with more certainty. There remains a lot of unknowns and sometimes this will test our resilience. 

But as I’ve said today 
-we’re a strong business 
-everything we have already done since the lockdown demonstrates our agility to adapt confidently as required 
-and we are united behind doing the right thing by our clients, by each other and for society 

At the ACM I talked about the size of the advice market and the exciting future for a trusted professional advice business. What I said then continues to remain true. Yes 2020 will be a more difficult year, but the need for advice continues to grow, and the service we provide at SJP places us in a sweet spot for the future. 

The key as I said at the beginning is stepping forward not stepping back. 

Once again thank you.

Interested in learning more?

Send us a request for more details or to see our solution in action

Get in touch
Follow us

© Copyright 2020 - All rights reserved.