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Tom Skinner: Advisers must decide who they want to serve

Co-founder of bespoke financial planning firm, Barnaby Cecil, talks to Unbiased about his path into advice, the increasing role of social media, and the importance of challenging long-held beliefs

Published on 26.01.2023
If it wasn’t for a serious injury some two decades ago, Tom Skinner’s future might have panned out differently.

With a career in professional rugby curtailed, Tom, a winner at Unbiased’s Trusted Professional Awards 2020, had to change course. Shortly after completing his studies at Birmingham University, he interviewed at a German financial services company. His interest in financial advice piqued immediately.
“The interviewer said within the first six months I’d have to pass four exams. This resonated with me - I really liked the academic pressure to get going from day one.”
The early days of Barnaby Cecil
After working in various advice roles both in the UK and abroad since in the early-2000s, in 2019 Tom set up his own practice, Barnaby Cecil. The firm specialises in bespoke financial planning services for digital executives and creative leaders, with particular expertise helping doctors navigate the minefield that is the NHS pension scheme.

He says: “Doctors are massively reducing their workload, and are either working in the private sector or taking the time off to avoid payments and tax charges.”

Starting a company six months before the pandemic emerged brought obvious challenges. But Tom says the decision to outsource several services enabled his business to thrive.
“We use two paraplanning firms, a PR firm, a marketing firm, and a business consultancy, all of which were already operating remotely. When the pandemic arrived, it looked like we were the perfect company, designed specifically for Covid.”
Challenging long-held beliefs
Tom pulls few punches when sharing his dislike of suits; a view shared by many of his clients.

How a financial planner chooses to dress may seem trivial, but in Tom’s experience it can often prove an obstacle to attracting certain customers.
“There’s a complete disconnect financial services, with the industry wedded to the idea that to be professional you have to put a tie on. There are some very wealthy young people who are turned off by this.”
Harnessing social media
The importance of the profession speaking the same language as its customers is something Tom is acutely aware of.

Recently, Barnaby Cecil has started to test the waters with social media sites such as Tik Tok and YouTube due to their growing appeal, particularly with younger investors.
“The marketing person we work with is really pushing me to do much more video, but it’s time consuming. And you have to find time to see your clients rather than just creating videos that might not reach people.”
Social media presents both an opportunity and a challenge according to Tom. On one hand, advisers can market themselves to a wider audience, but on the other, with so much good information now available online, advisers have a harder job convincing people to pay for a bespoke one-to-one service.
“We're now at a point where clients are expecting so much more from us. We want to feel that we’ve taken care of every aspect of their finances, and that can be quite challenging. Because you've now got to make sure that you can bring in specialist advice in so many areas such as accountancy, protection, and legal.”
Tom Skinner
Tom Skinner, Co-founder of Barnaby Cecil
Finding new clients
Using the right marketing strategies is becoming increasingly crucial to attracting new clients. Tom embraces several channels, one of which is Unbiased, which he says proved particularly helpful during Barnaby Cecil’s early stages.
“We’ve had some fantastic clients right in the heart of the sector we work in”
With the firm’s organic content marketing now hitting the mark, Tom has scaled back on the lead generation side. Barnaby Cecil does, however, continue to use other services on Unbiased’s platform.

“We still pay for the profile, which means we have more of a digital footprint,” he says.
Future of the profession
Tom speaks about the importance of financial advisers adapting; they must see themselves as the “gatekeeper” to accessing good advice. He feels that those trying to be a “jack of all trades” will struggle as advisers must decide who to serve, and how to serve them.

“For your mediocre, middle-of-the-range adviser, who perhaps 10 years ago was the only option for somebody to get advice, clients can probably get similar information by watching four or five YouTube videos,” he says.

The key here is having a proposition that adds true value. Clients typically seek financial advice to achieve a simple goal: striking the balance between living for today and planning for tomorrow - something they often struggle to achieve on their own.

“Some people have saved and invested really hard but seem reluctant to take time off, while others are living life slightly outside of their means.”

This is why Barnaby Cecil built and launched its award-winning Wealthmap tool. The ability to visualise, design and build the specific future that each client wants is something you won’t find on YouTube anytime soon.  
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