6 financial apps I use all the time

Every summer I give one of these articles over to the subject of apps that I use all the time. This year, I’m taking a slightly different slant on it, and am looking only at apps that I use in my financial life. These cross over both my business and personal lives, as some of the apps are used in both.

I’ve excluded my online banking app from the list below as everyone has different banking relationships. As it happens I bank with Ulster Bank and I think their online banking app is excellent – it is extremely easy to use and has a number of really clever services within it such as accessing cash from an ATM when you don’t have a card with you etc.

So here goes on the big 6 apps that I use regularly.


1. Curve

I started using Curve about 12 months ago. It is effectively a bank card, linked to an app on your phone. What is clever about it is that it becomes an umbrella card for all of your other cards, both debit and credit cards, giving you access to all these cards using your single Curve card. I hate a bulky wallet and as a result of Curve, I only now need to carry one card – my Curve card. Using the app, you choose the account / card that you want your transaction to apply to (e.g. personal debit card, personal credit card, company credit card) and you can change this in seconds between transactions. It also has a natty feature that if you forget to apply a transaction to the correct credit / debit card, when using your Curve card, you can “go back in time” and reapply a transaction to the right account later.

Details of all of your cards are not stored on your Curve card which is important if it falls into the wrong hands. Also you get immediate notifications (if you want) every time the card is used (which is a great security feature), and you can block your card yourself via the app too.


2. Xero

I was introduced to Xero, an online accounting system a couple of years ago. It has had a transformational effect on the financial management side of my business. I now have real-time profit & loss statements, balance sheet and a host of other useful reports that are available at the press of a button. All my invoicing and bank reconciliations are done through Xero, as is management of expenses. My accountant and I can both view the up to the minute real time information about my business, I’m saving hours every month with this software and have much better information available to me.

Specifically with the app, a great overview of business bank accounts, invoices and purchases is provided. I’ve full view of my outstanding invoices in the App and other important information. I now have all the information I need, and the time spent on “the books” is now a fraction of what it once was.


3. Expenses

I use this app to manage my expenses. When I pay for something in cash and want to be refunded by my business, I simply photograph the receipt and let the app get to work. It extracts the information from the receipt (supplier name, amount, date etc.) and updates Xero, so that everything is accounted for. It’s not always 100% correct so needs to be monitored, but it does the lion’s share of the work. It also recognises similar payments and “learns” how similar bills should be treated.

The days of filling out expenses sheets are long gone. The app is also very effective where there are multiple team members submitting expenses and makes the whole process of authorising expenses much easier.


4. Stripe

I’m a relatively recent user of Stripe and this came about when an adviser recently asked me could he pay me for a service by credit card. This prompted me to go looking for solutions. Literally an hour later I had a Stripe account set up (which receives credit card payments) that was fully integrated into Xero. So now I can receive payment on any invoice by credit card, and my accounting system knows about it. The Stripe app is great, providing notifications when money is received and giving me all of the information I need to manage this new form of payment.


5. Revenue

Am I serious? Yes I am! I think the Revenue app (RevApp) is great, allowing you to log a whole range of expenses throughout the year (health expenses etc.) which makes completing your tax return very easy. You can also log a whole range of other tax relievable expenses (e.g. the home improvement tax relief scheme) and you can get lots of useful information about your tax records.


6. Bloomberg

Completely different to all of the others as this is one I use for information only. It provides great information on the markets when I’m simply looking for a snapshot over a particular time period. I find their business news notifications to be really good – they tend to be very interesting and are not so frequent that they become annoying. I’m particularly enjoying their daily Brexit Bulletin – but this is turning out like a movie car crash in slow motion…


These are my “go to” apps. Why not try one or two of them out and see if they can make your life a little easier too.

Is Future Cashflow Planning optional?

I’m a huge fanboy of Future Cashflow Planning in general (and Voyant specifically) for 2 main reasons. Firstly when my own financial planner started using Voyant, it transformed our financial planning discussions. And I have also seen the hugely positive impact that Voyant has had on so many businesses around the country. I believe that it is a key factor in increasing the value of these businesses. Voyant is available to every adviser, so can any advisers really ignore it anymore? At this stage, I think it is no longer optional for advisers…

Most advisers are investing significant time and energy in improving your business. One of the rewards that you hope to reap from this investment is a more valuable business when you finally decide to exit. So how can future cashflow planning (FCP) help you to build value in your business?


It adds so much value to clients

Financial planners in Ireland, the UK and further afield have spoken to me at length of how FCP has enabled them to unlock new conversations with their clients, and to completely change the relationship. FCP enables them to really wrap their arms around their clients’ financial lives and build a financial picture of every year into the client’s future, right up to death.

This is very different to the traditional financial plan of simply identifying needs and plugging those needs with products…. And at the end of the day, a firm with higher value client propositions is a more valuable business than a firm of a similar size with a less developed client proposition. More value to clients = higher remuneration = higher firm value.


Future cashflow planning drives higher ongoing fees / trail commissions

Many financial planning firms are now offering different levels of ongoing service to different groups of clients. When examining these different service packages, access for the client to FCP is the key difference between the high value and low value service packages. So apart from FCP justifying significantly higher fees at the initial development of the financial plan, the ongoing updating of the future cashflow plan as a result of changes in client circumstances, investment markets etc. will enable advisers to charge higher ongoing fees. The beauty of Voyant is that the original plan is retained so the client’s growth story can be viewed year after year.

The main model still used today in valuing financial advice firms is the multiple of annual income model. So if FCP drives up your annual income, your firm is worth more.


Future cashflow planning drives stickier client relationships

One of the main benefits of using an FCP approach is how much more interesting it is from the client’s point of view. Instead of simply reporting on what happened in the markets in the past year ,the focus is future orientated. In fact the past becomes less important as the client buys into the financial plan more and more. How they are now positioned to meet their future financial goals becomes the only concern. The longer term orientation injects patience in investment decisions. Short term buoyancy becomes less important in comparison to the longer term vision. The software automatically gives a new picture every year of the client’s future financial outlook and is completely dynamic, updating the client’s picture in line with those changes. New information can be handled on the go interactively.

  • Does that new job and increased income make retiring early a possibility?
  • Can you afford to buy that holiday home in 5 years’ time… or maybe next year?
  • Can you afford to start gifting the maximum amount to your children this year?

Clients will come back year after year to learn more. Client retention is another key determinant of business value. Future cashflow planning builds client loyalty. Client loyalty builds business value.


So, if you want to really increase the value of your financial planning business, I believe that FCP is no longer optional for advisers.


What can we learn in Ireland about adviser charges after RDR?

RDR, the Retail Distribution Review in the UK – do you remember how it was to herald the end of the world for advisers in the UK? So what has actually happened, and what can we learn in Ireland from it?

I came across reports about 2 pieces of research that were carried out in 2017. The first was research carried out by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which examined the different charging structures used by advisers. The second piece of research was carried out by New Model Advisor and looked at how much the Top 100 firms (as decided by them) actually charge their customers.

Interesting stuff, and I think there’s lots to learn for us in Ireland…


Fund based charging is alive and well

RDR was implemented in January 2013, and initially it was expected that commission as we know it would become a thing of the past in relation to pension and investment business. However trail commission has remained in place for legacy business written before RDR, and also the concept of “adviser charging” was introduced. This differs from traditional commission in that product providers, while being able to facilitate a payment of the adviser’s charge by deducting it from the investment, can only do so after obtaining and validating instructions directly from the client. So the adviser has to be able to articulate their proposition and justify their charge.

Now whether the adviser is paid by adviser charging or by fee, there is more focus on the quality of the adviser’s proposition and greater transparency of the charge amount.

So has this changed the structure of payments; whether advisers are being paid hourly rates, fixed fees or ad valorem (% of investment) fees?  Well not really according to the FCA research.


Type of charge

Number of firms

Initial charge Ongoing charge
Charge per hour 1,663 1,259
Percentage of investment 4,130 4,362
Fixed fee 1,971 1,215
Combined structure 905 799


So the majority (by some distance) still utilise the ad valorem fee basis, more than all of the other methods put together. Even more interesting, about 80% of the payments to advisers (by value) are actually collected via a provider / platform. This suggests that even when fixed fees / hourly charges are agreed, in many cases the clients prefer the fees to be taken from their investments rather than actually writing a cheque.

However there is also a sense that higher levels of one-off fees are being charged for one-off pieces of work, rather than the more blunt ad valorem basis. This makes sense – charging clients higher one-off fees for once-off complex pieces of work.


What level of advice fees are being charged?

The New Model Advisor research is very interesting in terms of the actual amount of fees being charged. Some of the highlights of this research include (based on a client aged 40 with a £250,000 portfolio),

  • The average ongoing adviser charge is 0.87% p.a.
  • The total average charge for clients, including the adviser charge, platform fee and fund charge is 1.78% p.a. – the advice fee represents just under half of the total fee charged to the client.
  • 38% of firms charge 1.0% p.a. of AUM
  • The range of ongoing fees is 0.41% to 1.25% p.a. Many advisers were shocked that some of their peers charge as little as 0.41%!
  • Only 7% of firms charge over 1.0% p.a.
  • Fees are increasing overall as advisers are doing more work for clients.


What can we learn in Ireland?

I think there are a couple of learnings for Irish advisers. In truth, each of these probably deserves a full article on their own! But here is a brief synopsis of what I take away from this research.

  1. The ad valorem model as charged in Ireland by many advisers is consistent with practices in the UK. While it’s not perfect, and has some obviously conflicts, clients understand it and see it as an alignment of interests.
  2. Clients in Ireland generally prefer adviser fees to be deducted from their investments. Again this is consistent with our nearest neighbours. So what has RDR really achieved, beyond potentially greater transparency of fees?
  3. Irish advisors are often undercharging! I’m still amazed that many advisers still believe they can / will service a client properly for 0.25% p.a. What’s the reason for this?
    • I’m often told that our base AUM charges are usually higher. Is this actually true when we see the average non-adviser (platform and fund) charges at 0.91% in the UK? Does this stack up as a reason in Ireland, except possibly when some of the more esoteric funds are being used?
    • Or have some advisers in Ireland not developed enough clarity, confidence and capability to communicate their proposition, in a way that demonstrates the incredible value you provide to clients? 

Food for thought…

For me the overall takeaway for advisers is obvious. Develop crystal clarity around your proposition and the tools to communicate it effectively and relentlessly. The confidence to charge more will follow.


What makes some financial broker websites world class?

Creating a world class website is within the reach of financial brokers. The secret to it is to follow some simple guidelines, put a lot of work into creating excellent content and then pay a very high level of attention to the detail. If you’ve a fairly basic website or one that hasn’t been revisited in a while, here are some tips that can help you get there.


Keep it Simple

The days are long gone of auto-loading videos, animated graphics and the latest technical fads. The best websites today are ones that guide the user quickly to what they want and communicate in concise, engaging content.


Make it Easy to Navigate

Don’t make the user have to “work out” where to find the information they are seeking, make the navigation as simple as possible. The main navigation bar, which should always be at the top of the page and not down the side, is really critical. It is through this that most users will enter the site from the homepage, so think this through very carefully. Think very carefully of what to include on this, as it typically will only cover 5/6 site areas. And then consider very carefully what you are going to call each section. Use standard terminology that makes sense to people, such as About / Our Services / Contact Us / News or Blog.


Focus on Financial Planning

I look at a lot of financial brokers’ websites. Probably the biggest bugbear that I have is the lack of focus on financial planning. This is the extremely valuable skill that you bring to your clients, helping them identify their financial objectives and then finding and implementing the best solutions to help them achieve those objectives.

However many websites talk only about financial products. This makes you appear as a hard-edged salesman, selling the latest and greatest products, not doing justice to your skill at all. I strongly suggest that you develop a very prominent, specific section in your website about financial planning and explain the value that you will bring to clients.


Reduce your Content

Long explanations and technical details about every product available will just bore users. Explain in very brief, clear language the services that you provide. An alternative approach is to identify some client personas and set out (again in brief, clear language) how you meet the needs of these different personas.


Use Visuals

Using images is great. There are literally millions of stock images for sale that you can use. However if you really want to stand apart, spend a bit of money, hire a professional photographer and get some original imagery. This can be a real wow factor!


Commit to your News / Blog section

This section is for regular and relevant blog entries that educate users and demonstrate your expertise and these play a number of valuable roles. First of all, they draw people to your site after you share a link to a useful article you’ve written. This of course in turn opens up the possibility of the user finding out more about you and the services you offer.

Also search engines (like Google) love fresh, original content. In fact new, authentic content that engages users and in turn is endorsed by them through sharing it, liking it or commenting is one of the most important drivers of bumping you up the search results. This is of course on top of the value that clients and prospective clients will get from knowing that you are a financial broker with a finger on the pulse and demonstrating your expertise and ability to solve their problems.


Show Authenticity

Client testimonials, particularly where the name (and better still a photo) of the client is included, are a very valuable asset. These give you credibility, as do links to any reviews etc. Having a social media presence also adds credibility, so have clear links to your LinkedIn profile and other social media assets. Obviously then make sure your social media profiles are of the same high standard!


Have Clear Calls to Action

Users will come to your site for a range of different reasons. Some may be simply browsing around, others may be looking for specific information, some may want to buy and may be looking for your phone number. Try and appeal to all of them by having a range of Calls to Action. The last group are easiest – make sure they can easily see your phone number without having to go looking for it! For the others, have Calls to Action that will enable them to stay in touch with your business, even after they leave the site. Do you make it easy for people to connect with you on LinkedIn from your site? Make it easy for them to subscribe to your newsletter. Maybe offer an online Chat facility to answer their questions there and then.


Mobile is Key

More than half of searches happen now on mobile devices. Your site simply must be responsive, ensuring that it is easy to read on a phone or other device. People today have lost patience with having to “pinch” the screen to go looking for the information that they want – this results in a terrible viewing experience. Responsive sites alter the screen layout to suit the device on which it is being viewed – a “must have” today.

Also in relation to mobile, if someone is looking at your site while out and about, very often they are simply looking for contact details. So again make sure your phone number is very visible.


For some financial brokers, these changes will mean a few hours work. For others they might mean a new site. For everyone though they are worth it. Research of financial brokers is happening more and more online so you want to make sure you are demonstrating why you are the best choice for prospective customers!