Fulfilment, flexibility, financial reward…you can have all three 

Rachel Stewart

NOT all routes into a career in finance are the same. Graduates of St. James’s Place Financial Adviser Academy are proving that diverse backgrounds are helping to move the dial and in effect, will make financial advice accessible to even more people.  

Family and work life collide 

Rachel, 40 from East Lothian, had a 15-year career in law before pursuing her own business as a financial adviser. Working within both law practices and in-house, Rachel was dedicated to the career that she studied for at university, but after a time, she realised that she lacked fulfilment.

Rachel commented: “Working in law I found myself sitting behind a desk often doing work for other people which I felt didn’t deliver a huge amount of purpose. I couldn’t always see the benefits of the work I was doing. It was easy to feel that I’d been put in a box and unable to spread my wings in this career. Whilst I was ambitious and career driven, I knew that this career wasn’t going to hold me for another 15 years. Having my two children gave me the impetus to change direction.” 

Rachel’s experience is similar to that of many women who are the main carers of their children. When her request to reduce her hours at work to four days a week was declined by her employer, she knew it was time to make a change. She decided to set off down a new path, to look for a career that offered more flexibility and one which she hoped would also provide the sense of fulfilment that she had lacked in law.  

Choosing financial advice 

Rachel’s career in law crossed over with the financial services sector multiple times. Working within the legal and financial services industries, Rachel was able to build up a strong base of contacts – and it was one of those connections that led her to consider financial advice as a career.  

Rachel explained: “A contact and friend of mine had a large financial advice practice under the St James’s Place Financial partnership. He offered me the chance to shadow him for the day to get a flavour for what the day to day of financial advice involved. During the day, I witnessed some difficult conversations between him and his clients but rather than be put off, I found myself further drawn to the profession. While I was listening, my head was whirring with ideas of how I would handle the conversations, what I’d do differently and what value I could add. It was an exciting prospect to be able to help another person, perhaps even somebody not too dissimilar from myself, that just wants to make the best of what they’ve got. After shadowing for the day, I was hooked.” 

Rachel signed up to the St James’s Place Financial Advisor Academy in June 2019. She graduated after six months, qualified and with the necessary skills and ongoing support to launch her own financial advice business.  

She recalls that the experience was both rewarding and challenging. She explained: “Within the St James’s Place Financial Advisor Academy curriculum, you’re given all of the tools needed to do the job, with access to support, mentoring and some valuable contacts. But to be successful in setting up your own business, you need to be incredibly driven and committed.  I’m not afraid to admit, there were a few ‘rabbit in headlights’ moments, but I just needed to pick myself up and get on with it – after all your own success is down to you. For me, it was an unnerving, yet exhilarating place to be.” 

Launching a business in a pandemic 

One of Rachel’s first challenges, which at the time of graduating she couldn’t have foreseen, was operating a brand new business during a pandemic, complete with national lockdowns. Many of the skills that Rachel honed at the Academy were delivering advice in-person, yet she suddenly needed to master running meetings virtually. Of course, all in-person networking events were also cancelled and so Rachel needed to launch her business via online groups which she researched diligently.  

Rachel’s first port of call was to expand her network of contacts. She quickly devised a plan, developing a powerpoint presentation to present via webinars which she’d host free-of-charge. She contacted multiple social media groups as well as established groups such as Women in Banking and Finance, and offered to run the webinars to their members. The initiative was successful and resulted in many referrals and direct clients that sought her advice on a 1:1 basis.  

Making the pandemic work for a new business 

Rachel became an expert in making the conditions of the pandemic work for her. She commened: “In a lot of ways, the pandemic actually did me a favour. I knew that I wanted my business style to be less about pinstripe suits and briefcases – something that the industry is traditionally known for – and more approachable. So rather than venturing into corporate offices to deliver advice, my clients like me to either meet them at their house, or online via a video call. This means that I can be more readily available to my clients with the added bonus that it affords me the flexibility that I need in my family life. I often find myself joining video calls with clients at 9pm after I have put the children to bed. It suits both parties perfectly.”  

Another way that Rachel responded to the pandemic was the decision to start the process of becoming chartered in January 2021 whilst at home in a national lockdown, home-schooling and looking after her children. She saw this as a time to be proactive and plan for the future. Rachel’s background working in law within the financial services industry did benefit her in this endeavour as there is a requirement to have at least five years’ sector experience. This was taken into consideration and after studying and taking numerous exams over a period of 14 months, Rachel received the good news that she was chartered in April 2022.  

Plans for the future 

Rachel has become used to working from home, however she has access to SJP’s offices and meeting rooms across the UK, so buying a bricks and mortar office isn’t high on Rachel’s agenda, although it is something that she may consider one day.  

However, she quickly realised that she would need additional support in running her business so that she could keep her focus on finding new clients and servicing existing ones. St James’s Place Financial Advisor Academy has a list of recommended suppliers that helped Rachel to appoint virtual paraplanners and admin support that all contribute to the efficient running of Rachel’s business. 

Taking stock of the last two years, Rachel – who has a tendency to be her own worst critic – is really pleased with how far she has come and how well it has all come together. Most importantly, she feels that she has a successful business doing something that she truly enjoys.  

She explaied: “Success to me is to have a good balance of clients that I am able to service effectively without spreading myself too thinly. Having a reputation for offering an exemplary service is what I would deem as a success, rather than rapid or vast business growth. I am fortunate that soon I may have too many clients, in which case I’ll look to either take on another financial advisor, or merge with another practice.”  

“Most of all I get a great deal of satisfaction, fulfilment and enjoyment in what I do. The added bonus is I get to take my children to school every single day. Graduating from the St James’s Place Financial Advisor Academy and starting my own business has completely changed my life. I am now content in all areas of my work and family life – it’s a great place to be.” 

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