The ever-changing world of intermediary sales

WRITTEN SEPT 2020
intermediary sales - COVID

Until COVD hit, the intermediary sales channel was booming, jobs were plentiful, and it was strategically important to many firms. Clearly COVID has slowed this, but I would liken it to a pause rather than a stop. Will sales processes change in this field? I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Will the channel be less important long term? No.

Change and agility

The intermediary channel has evolved so much since the financial crisis that it already has an adaptable group of business leaders. Having overcome many of challenges instigated by 2008/09, COVID has now brought new challenges and accelerated change and increased uncertainty, but it could throw up opportunity too. Nathan Rothschild was believed to have commented on uncertain times that “great fortunes are made when cannonballs fall in the harbour, not when violins play in the ballroom.” Well for some firms it will have felt that the cannon balls were raining down fast at times, but of course this will present the most agile of sales leaders with opportunity.

Headhunters, business coaches, and management consultants talk about agility a lot and what does this mean? Well I think this video from Columbia Business School captures the concept well. Agile leaders in my view process information quickly, map out the future landscape, and mobilise their team to adapt at speed. As mentioned though, whether a firm is selling DFM, retail funds, or tax efficient products to the intermediary channel, they’ve already seen a great deal of change.

I first started recruiting for intermediary sales roles in 2007, just before the financial crisis, and it was very much a people business. It still is in many ways, a BDM’s network and knowledge will always be invaluable, as will their ability to articulate an investment proposition, but the days of late nights drinking with clients seem to have largely disappeared. The industry has had to adapt. Since the financial crisis, firms have had to cope with margin compression, consolidation, and a centralisation of buying decisions.

Intermediary sales - COVIDAt the same time wealth creation in the UK has been weak and so BDMs have had to make more noise and to be more sophisticated in how they sell to an ever concentrated audience. Their audience is also increasingly dealing with more complex issues. Fram’s Wealth Management Practice recruits for financial advisers and we’ve seen first-hand the qualification arms race and professionalisation of the adviser industry (both very good things for the industry). However, this has resulted in more advisers advising on a wider range of issues – all of which the BDM needs to understand. Nowadays, providers try to put on informative and strategic events - helping advisers to understand their products and to develop their practice. There’s very much a focus on value add rather than just product push.

Lessons from marketing

We think the above also needs to be looked at in the context of what’s also happening in the marketing world, which is influencing sales to a greater extent than ever (please read our article on this). Marketing is more digital than analogue, it’s personalised with far greater levels of client segmentation than before. Is this giving a clue as to where sales to going? Historically, most firms have segmented advisers by geography, but is a greater level of segmentation to come? Will accounts need to be divided by their client size? Main type of advice? Buying habits? Effectively BDM’s being mapped closer to marketing strategies?

Field- or office-based?

Another area we feel may change due to COVID is the role of the internal/office based BDM. Often this is used as a training ground for less experienced colleagues, who are mainly phone based. However, whilst many firms want to be on the road again, they are also enjoying seeing their travel bills decline and their productivity increase. They’ve realised too many first meetings were speculative and advisers too have enjoyed the time savings that video calls offer. Will telephone BDMs become video BDMs? Will these teams be a blend of “rookies” and more experienced colleagues who excel at video calls?

Perhaps it makes more sense to have some very experienced BDMs in the office, who can carry out more fact find meetings from the desk before introducing the most appropriate colleague? Either way, video conferencing should increase amount of events, client contact, and learning opportunities for advisers.

Without a doubt the world of intermediary sales will evolve again, and the role of the BDM (both field and internal) is about to undergo significant change.

About Fram Search’s Sales & Marketing Practice

Fram Search is a specialist financial services recruitment firm, which works with clients across the UK. Our experience includes DFM, retail funds, and tax efficient sales recruitment for both internal and field based positions. Fram charges on a contingent or retained basis, depending on the client’s requirements. In addition to contingent recruitment and executive search, where required we can screen candidates using personality profiling and all of our consultants have undertaken “unconscious bias” training to ensure we shortlist the best possible candidates.

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