March 10, 2021

An interview with a top five scoring CEO in our financial advisor report

Barry is CEO of Paradigm Norton, a leading financial planning firm, which featured in our recent report. We sat with him to discuss the results.
7 min read
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Jeremy Bourhis
Demand Generation Manager
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Barry Horner is CEO and Co-founder of Paradigm Norton, a leading financial planning firm which has won dozens of awards in the last 20 years for its customer-centric approach.

Paradigm Norton was among the top five scoring firms in our recent First Impressions report, looking at how leading financial advisors make the best possible impact on potential clients.

We sat down with Barry to discuss the results – read on for what he had to say about this and more.

How do you approach the client experience?

From my perspective, the whole client experience starts with those initial touch points. I think about examples like the Ritz Carlton, which is known for excellent customer service right from the moment you reach their front door.

We are a relatively small team of about 75 – so when we receive a new client inquiry, it is emailed to about six or seven different people, and I’m always on the list. I’m keen that the team jump on new client enquiries promptly and make the right initial impression.

It’s about using scripts that make sure all the key messages are communicated, without it feeling like it’s a script to the client. I think it’s so important that the speed of response and then follow up email and call to the client all make the right initial impression.

You are obviously in a people business – but how do you use technology to support your team offering a great experience to your clients?

There are many challenges in the world of financial planning, in that there isn’t always a lot of joined up technology. But when it comes to initial inquiries, they typically come from the website or directly through email.

We use Intelligent Office as a portal behind the scenes, and that’s starting to help us join the dots between data.

The current website form does ask: do you have an existing financial adviser, can you give me a little bit more information – but it’s that careful balance of not wanting to be too intrusive too quickly.

We’ve found through inquiries that sometimes people are quite cautious and the information that they initially provide might appear modest. And then they reveal that sitting in the background is a whole load more resources for us to work with in terms of size and complexity.

So I think how you capture this information in a sensitive way is really key.

How have you seen the kinds of clients approaching financial advice change?

Going back 10 years, our typical client would be probably 50-60+, whereas now we are seeing more enquiries coming from the younger generation, who may have set up a tech company and come into money earlier for example.

Something we have been very mindful about for the next iteration of our website, which we are currently building is: how do we make our services attractive for a good cross section of the population? With some of the more recent client stories on the site, we’ve tried to be a bit more accessible and present clients of more modest means.

The fact remains, you probably need GBP 300,000 or more to make it cost effective for a firm like ours to appropriately manage a client with all the associated costs and the high compliance burden that we have to shoulder.

We are about to start doing lots more on social media – and we have recently refreshed all of our Instagram and Facebook accounts with new branding, look and feel. And we are about to launch a podcast series interviewing people with common ‘money and life’ issues.

Often potential clients think the conversation we’re going to have with them is that we’re going to bring out some whizzy charts and show them if you come to us, we can do better than the firm down the road.

Actually, the way we invest using a “low cost market return” approach means that we’re just buying the whole market and not trying to outsmart it. So our clear value add is around the planning side and helping identify a clients life goals and making sure that they can afford to do all that they have articulated.

It’s about taking clients along that journey of: let’s put the investments aside for a minute and talk about what’s really important to you. Let’s talk about giving and philanthropy. Let’s talk about intergenerational transfer. Let’s talk about when you want to retire and your dream home. What charities do you want to support? What do you want your legacy to be?

What do you feel are the biggest areas of innovations you’ve introduced in recent years? What about looking forward?

We have a Client Board with 12 of our clients sitting on that, and you get really good feedback in terms of what we’re doing. We were due to meet just before Covid changed everything, so we have yet to gather their thoughts on the turbulent last 12 months that we have all had to navigate. After every significant piece of work, we send out a questionnaire to clients asking how well we have served them and they respond. We then calculate as a ‘net promoter score’ which is always very high.

When it comes to meeting with our clients face-to-face, we think about the end-to-end client experience from having a car parking space right by the front door, to greeting them with Paradigm Norton branded umbrellas if it’s raining, to nice coffee and drinks etc

I think it would be great if we had technology that worked like an Apple iphone, but unfortunately we are subject to what’s available — and frankly, in our space, it isn’t always great.

There’s not a lot of connectivity, so there’s a huge amount of manual processing that goes on behind the scenes, of spreadsheet analysis and that sort of thing. But we try and make it invisible to clients so they don’t see the heavy lifting.

The reports that are sent to clients look great, but actually behind the scenes, there has been a huge amount of manual intervention to get there.

How do you think the effects of Covid have changed the market and expectations?

I think the biggest overwhelming thing that’s changed with the last 12 months is that we will never go back to doing all of our client meetings as we did before. I had a client meeting the other day and there’s myself, one of our Chartered Financial Planners, an executive assistant who helpfully takes the notes and a senior member from our tax team. Then the client themselves is quite often overseas. So getting everyone in the same place to meet had been a real problem.

We had a situation recently, there were four of us all dialling into a video call and working in different locations around the country, with the client’s wife in one location and he was somewhere else. And he just said “this is brilliant, why haven’t we done this before?”

Even our older clients have embraced technology incredibly well because they have got used to the tech using FaceTime with their grandchildren, and all of that. A few are asking if we can do this permanently. And naturally all of this comes with a cost saving to us — and an environmental saving from less travel which is perfect as we are a B Corp and we are very planet conscious.

Download our free report for more information on the first impressions leading UK financial advisors make on their prospects.