Professional Squash to Professional Services: My Career Change to Financial Planning

I became a professional squash player at 18 straight after finishing my A levels. It was my childhood dream and, although I knew my career would have a limited shelf life (mid-thirties if I was lucky), for many years I didn’t seriously consider what I would do when my playing days came to an end.

As I approached my 30’s I sustained a career threatening injury just as my wife and I were expecting our first child.  The injury forced me to take stock of my situation and, although I recovered to compete for a further two years, preparing for “life after squash” became a priority.

I had no idea what career path I might take or what options I had. As my only career experience to date had been “hitting a ball against a wall”, I was concerned I was unemployable!

Bolstering my options

I started an accountancy qualification with the Association of Accounting Technicians. The rationale behind choosing accountancy was fairly basic – the qualification was flexible so I could fit it in around my tournament and training schedule and, as I was interested in business in general, I thought that as an accountant I would be of value to a broad range of businesses. I could tread my own path from there.

A family friend first introduced the idea of Financial Planning to me as I was working towards the final accountancy exams, suggesting I would be well suited to the role of Financial Planner. He explained that the role involved many of the technical skills I had enjoyed throughout my studies, but also needed “soft skills” to build effective client relationships. My squash career had taken me all around the world, building relationships with people from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. I felt I had developed good inter-personal skills and I enjoy figuring out what makes people tick.

The mix of technical and soft skills was exactly what I was looking for

I started the Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning with the CII not long after. I had decided it would be my last year competing, so set myself a goal to be Diploma qualified within the year.

Studying outside of the profession didn’t pose any problems and I would encourage anyone wanting to get into financial services to do it. I found lots of great resources online to develop learning and give context to the exam texts, and became a big fan of podcasts by Andy Hart and Pete Matthews who are great at simplifying the concepts of Financial Planning.

In late 2019 I was ready to make the jump and was excited to gain a place on the trainee financial planner scheme at Mazars Financial Planning. I wasn’t sure how my skillset would be viewed when interviewing for roles and felt relieved when Mazars were willing to take a chance on me.

The trainee scheme takes a holistic approach to developing planners; exams and technical excellence is a necessity but we also receive training to develop our soft skills. I am mentored by a planner who I will assist for two years, attending client meetings and gradually becoming more involved in the client facing role. 

I am now a year into my career in financial services and I can see that the transferrable skillset I developed as a squash player stands me in good stead. In fact, I’m not sure I would be in the position I am, had I entered financial services as a school leaver or graduate. A younger version of myself wouldn’t have had the confidence for a planning role nor the maturity or empathy to understand a clients financial worries and fears.

I believe many potential career changers will be in the same position as I was, with broad experiences and skillsets that would be valued within Financial Planning.

Why Financial Planning is a great option for career switchers

Approaching a career switch in my thirties was very different to approaching a first career. There are added pressures brought through having a mortgage and family, and making a switch at this stage leaves little room for error.

In this respect, the following aspects attracted me to financial planning, and should act to make financial planning a career of choice for others seeking a career change in their thirties:

The Examination pathway

It wouldn’t be a Financial Planning article without referencing the need to visit your own financial plan!

Like many career changers, starting afresh in a new career meant my earnings would initially take a hit at a time when I had children and a mortgage, I needed to know that career progression was achievable and approximate time-frames.

In this respect, the CII exam pathway offered peace of mind. I mapped the route to Chartered status, setting myself a goal of four years which I felt was realistic.

Starting the exams before entering the profession showed potential employers I was driven and capable – I would encourage anyone thinking of Financial Planning as a career to do this.  

Job satisfaction

I wanted to do something that I felt was meaningful, which had a positive impact.

I hadn’t previously considered financial services as my understanding of it was the sale of financial products. Understanding Financial Planning and the way it can enrich clients lives was a game changer.

Most of the experienced planners I meet say they have “fallen into” financial services, but the career they fell into is very different to the one I have chosen.

The planning centred approach is not just giving better outcomes to clients, but making the profession more aspirational – speaking to my peers in the Mazars graduate scheme it is clear that the next generation of planners are consciously choosing the profession for what it offers.

The opportunity

There are just circa 27,500 regulated Financial Advisers in the UK. I believe this leaves a massive untapped need for financial advice and planning, and that’s without considering the large proportion of the adviser community that expect to retire within the next decade.

The average adviser is in their mid 50s

This presents a huge opportunity for the next generation of advisers.

I feel particularly passionate to remain involved in the world of professional sport in my new capacity, helping professional athletes negotiate the difficulties that come with the short lifespan of sporting careers and financial planning allows me to do that.