Adapting to change
As Deborah Kent celebrates the 20th anniversary of her practice, Integra Financial Services, she tells ifa about the importance of adaptation
In 1996, Deborah Kent – future president of the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) – founded Integra Financial Services.
Recently, reflecting on the 20 years that have passed since she established the practice, Ms Kent cited Integra’s willingness to constantly adapt to change as one of the main reasons for its longevity.
“We’ve constantly gone through a process of reviewing how we do our advice, how we give our advice and how we engage consumers so that the business can continue to survive,” she says.
“That’s probably one of the reasons why we’ve survived for 20 years, and why we’ll survive for another 20 years.”
Currently, Ms Kent juggles her role as founder and director of Integra with her role as AFA president.
She notes the importance – in both positions – of having a strong, supportive team behind her.
“With the staff I’ve had, I’ve been able to build a solid business that runs really well when I want to go off and do the things that I do to contribute back to the industry,” Ms Kent says.
Re-evaulating the business
Around two years ago, Ms Kent decided to take a fresh look at the way Integra was utilising its technology. She knew it was a successfully run business, but wanted to plan for the many changes that lay ahead.
“Technology is taking over a lot, and we’ve just gone through a process of evaluating our business,” she says. “Clients are changing how they want to deal with you.”
In particular, Ms Kent focused on the ways in which technological change has altered the way the practice communicates with its clients.
She wanted to work out how to integrate mobile technology into her practice – for example, using text messaging and blogging as well as social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Since the re-evaluation, she says, the practice’s client engagement has gone through the roof.
“It’s a team effort,” she says. “It’s not just myself, but every member of this business that gets involved with blogging and putting pieces on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
“Every staff member engages in the processes around our social media strategy and our client interaction.”
With this in mind, Ms Kent wanted to make sure that the technology was integrated into the practice’s larger plan, rather than its being done in a piecemeal fashion.
“That was a big turnaround for us to do that,” she says. “When we did it we decided that we would look at it from the basis of, ‘Let’s actually really learn about it – let’s get an expert in to actually show us how to do this and design the sort of way we are using this technology so we get it right’.”
While for all financial planning practices, technological change will continue to be the main challenge, Ms Kent notes that a major part of that challenge will lie in making advice cheaper and more cost-effective.
Integra is looking at how it can integrate fintech options, such as robo-advice, into the practice – as something that can be used for smaller clients and to provide more advice in an efficient and cost-effective way to a wider community.
However, Ms Kent concludes that the financial advice industry as a whole can embrace technology in improving efficiency and driving costs down in a range of areas, including managed fund costs, platform costs, delivery of advice through to how advisers interact with clients.
“One thing I’m always asked is why is it that we can’t give advice to younger people?” she says. “Sometimes the cost of advice is prohibitive. As an overall industry we need to be working on that.
“If we can work as an industry to get costs down to a level where it’s cost-effective for advisers who give the advice along with consumers who receive it, then our future is very bright,” Ms Kent says.
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