In a world in lockdown, financial planning is more important than ever. We spoke to Ken Hart, co-owner of Hart Greaves LLP about the immediate challenges – and unexpected positives – that have come out of the pandemic for his financial advice and planning firm, based in Kelston Park in Bath.

What are some of the specific challenges your business has faced as a result of the pandemic?

Due to decisions made five years ago, one of the main challenges we could easily have faced was avoided. Having become paperless meant our core service of client care stayed intact. Our main challenge was how to communicate confidence and assurance to our clients. We did this via a simple and straightforward newsletter that we sent out at regular intervals and which received outstanding client reactions.

A challenge we now face is developing relationships with new clients. Video calls have worked amazingly well for client reviews with all ages and have also resulted in significant time and cost savings for the firm. However, we are a people business. People need to see the colour of our eyes when trusting their financial security to us.

Our staff are our greatest asset and working from home was met with initial enthusiasm followed by a desire to have a mixture of home and office-based working going forward. Staff morale has stayed high. We will now need less office space when our lease ends next April.

How have you adapted, what new measures or services have you put in place?

Our largest change was internal, with everyone working remotely. Clients saw little if any change in their experience with us and our service. As a result, our main focus has been on engaging with staff.

We set up a bursary fund which staff could access to support a need in their locality. We anticipate utilising technology far more going forward. Zoom meetings mean that we are regularly achieving as much in one day as we would have in three days before the pandemic. This means we can have more regular interaction with clients and with our professional connections. For us, the pandemic has allowed us to be more efficient and deliver better client outcomes.

To give an example; a property being bought by a self-invested personal pension (sipp) hit a series of problems. Historically, I would have liaised with each party separately. Instead, I organised a zoom meeting with all parties and within 45 minutes we had a solution that pleased everyone, most importantly the client.

What practical tips would you give other firms on how to approach business in this changed world?

We always keep our clients’ best interest at the core of our business model and are not afraid to try a new way or method.

Growth is the cornerstone of business. In our world, future success will be achieved by working closely with other professions and offering clients a joined-up solution. Inheritance Tax (IHT) planning, for example, covers accountancy, financial planning and legal expertise. Rather than three separate meetings that leave the client with the challenge of choosing what to mix and match, a “family office” approach leads to better client outcomes.

We are planning for growth. This will mean change and adaptation. As one man said, the Stone Age did not end because stone ran out.