How Being Chartered is Just the Beginning, Not the End

A list of ‘nevers’, achieving Chartered Financial Planner status, a year by myself, and why I created an online ‘village’ community. It’s coming up to a year that I’ve worked entirely alone, having started my own Financial Planning practice in October 2019.

It sounds a bit sad really, to be all by myself, but I’ve found it incredibly liberating.

Despite working for numerous companies over the years, I have only ever worked within one type of culture. Formal exams were the only learning of value; assets under management the only end goal; reducing costs a priority with websites, advertising, memberships, branding, software licenses, all perceived as unnecessary costs. Do and spend the minimum required to develop the business, but sell, sell … SELL.

Carving a career out of a list of ‘nevers’

For anyone on the cusp of a big career decision, I strongly recommend writing up a list of ‘nevers’. I know they say, ‘never say never’ but it has helped steer many of my biggest career decisions. Back in 2017, I was beginning to dislike the culture I was in. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted my career to look like going forward, but I did know what I didn’t want it to look like, ever again.

I felt an urge to brain-dump and ended up writing a list of ‘nevers’:
  • ‘Never again will I have no say over the direction of my work’
  • ‘Never again will I feel pressured to stand on a packed train platform for an hour’
  • ‘Never again will I lack flexibility over my work schedule’
  • ‘Never will I feel compelled to sit at a desk for the sake of facetime’
  • ‘Never will I feel guilty or be judged for prioritising my family needs’
  • ‘Never again will someone else make more money from my work than I do’.

Writing my ‘nevers’ list gave me some clarity, as did two other subsequent defining moments over the last eighteen months.

Achieving Chartered status and giving birth

Being a Chartered Financial Planner had been my end goal for so long. I kept thinking ‘once I’m a Chartered Financial Planner, I’ve learnt everything I need to know’. It’s what I had been told for years, “Get to Chartered Financial Planner and then stop. You’ve officially learnt everything you need to succeed.”

Predictably, when I finally received the certificate with calligraphy scroll, I felt an overwhelming feeling of, “But I still feel like I need to know more, I still feel I can be better.”

At the same time, I was having a crisis of confidence. I was expecting my first child and everyone in my life made comments about how work was about to become less important to me:

  • “Your priorities will change.”
  • “Is it really the time to focus on work?”
  • “You’ll probably be less career minded once you’ve held that baby.”

I always replied defiantly, “No I won’t, I’ve given this profession TEN YEARS, I’m not throwing it away.”

But the doubt still crept in. What if they were right, and I’ve spent all this time, effort and money to get to Chartered, just to suddenly switch off and disappear into mummy-land, never to resurface?

Talk to someone outside the profession

Thankfully I met a wonderful business advisor through some local networking. She had no experience in financial services at all, which I thought meant it would be a fruitless task trying to explain it, but actually talking to someone outside the profession gave me so much clarity. When I explained my fears, she said to me,

“Charlotte, motherhood will do one of two things for you. It will either make you realise your work really isn’t that important to you after all. Or, it will light a fire in you like nothing else ever will.”

I knew instinctively it was always going to be the latter.

This conversation is what made me realise I couldn’t continue to work in the same way I always had.

There had to be more to this job. I wanted:

  • To be a modern business, with an online presence.
  • To be able to invest properly in marketing strategies and software to help me offer more to clients.
  • To break away from assets under management and ‘sell sell sell’ culture.
  • To have complete autonomy.

The fire was lit

I started branding my own business almost immediately and assembled a team of avengers to help me get underway.

In the meantime, I had only just started to hear whispers about ‘lifestyle financial planning’ from the PFS Power conference invitation emails. It was something I had literally never heard of in an office before. I promptly joined Twitter, specifically to follow people I had seen in some of the Power literature, and I also signed up to the CII mentoring scheme where I was lucky enough to meet a fellow female adviser who had already adopted lifestyle financial planning.

I enrolled into training programme after training programme, it was a real challenge to overcome the ‘exams are all that hold value’ block I had so deeply ingrained in me.

My first year alone has been defined by investing in both myself and my business, in a way I never could have done previously.

Although working alone was liberating, it can also be quite isolating at times, so I also created a Facebook community to keep me company along the way.

Women in Financial Advice Community

Creatively named I know! I’d just entered motherhood and was finding that the expression ‘it takes a village’ was completely true. All of a sudden, I had a support network of women that I’d never before experienced in my life. Hands to hold the baby, lasagne being delivered to the front door, everyone was ready to lend a hand if I needed it. I found strength and compassion from other women and it was a revelation to me.

Yes, a revelation!

To put this in context for a Financial Planning community predominantly full of male readers:

I went to an all-girls school. No one ever says this directly, but it’s a fact that girls are raised with an implicit understanding that we are in direct competition with each other. For boys’ attentions, university places, jobs, promotion, husbands. We are taught to put other women down in a bid to make ourselves look better. We are encouraged to judge each other on everything; weight, appearance, relationship status, parenting abilities. It’s not our fault, it’s in the conditioning.

I won’t expand any further on that particular feminist issue, but it was amazing to me that motherhood shone female relationships in a completely new light. My ‘village’ of support with being a new mother saved my sanity many times over.

I decided to emulate the same village life at work. Working from home was indeed liberating but I no longer had any sense of a work community.

I turned to social media, to set up what is now a thriving community of 440 women in financial advice. We share ideas, ask silly questions without fear of judgement, lean on each other’s specialisms and collaborate on ideas.

The Women in Financial Advice Community is the most supportive environment I’ve ever worked in. It’s also probably one of the best business ideas I’ve had and it didn’t cost me a penny.

I’d really encourage any other woman in the Profession to come and join us:

In summary, I’ve learnt that we are so lucky to be in a profession with some incredible minds, writing books, providing podcasts, running virtual training courses. I never knew they existed until I made a conscious effort to look. Being free of the constraints of old-fashioned business ideals has allowed me the opportunity to stop, open my eyes and see what else is out there.

Having done no formal exams in the last 18 months, I think I have learnt more than I did the 10 years prior.