Describe a typical day for you and your role?
My main role is the running of the business on a day to day basis and ensuring that we are all following the vision, objectives and strategy set by the board. My days are very different, as it is for a lot of my colleagues, because we’re a small company and we perform a lot of different roles.
I regularly engage with our support team, the pre and post sales teams and the development team to review current workloads, developments, plus any issues.
The main event is switch week – the bread and butter of Clever – and I ensure, with the help of the rest of the team, that it runs smoothly each month.
The focus is always on making sure our IFA Partner firms are all happy.
How have things changed since you’ve been at Clever?
Well, the switch process has changed completely since I joined in 2007.
My first switch week was literally a month after I started. Back then the entire process was all done on Visual Basics – there were a lot of spreadsheets and lots of manual intervention. We used to press the button for the switches to run and they used to run overnight. It would take 24 hours and then if there was an issue, we would have to set it running again. So, the whole process took a long time.
We had to send disks to each firm to update their software, but this was difficult to maintain for different, sometimes incompatible systems and there could be delays.
We knew we needed a more robust, secure and accessible system and this led us to move to a web-based solution where everybody logs into one place and for their switches. I would say that when we moved the website to cloud technology that has been the most positive change in terms of the speed and the scalability of the business generally.
Now the switch run takes just 30 minutes.
Had you always been in financial services?
No, not at all. It was completely new to me.
I started at Helm Godfrey Chester, Colum’s IFA business, as 12 months’ cover for Heather Anstey who was going on maternity leave. Colum was developing Clever at the time (called Performance Protector then) and one part of the role was to help with this process, which already had a few interested IFAs.
As interest grew, Colum asked me if I’d like to move over to help him set up what is now Clever Adviser Technology.
What were you doing before that?
I was a qualified family therapist. I’d recently returned from Cyprus, where I’d been working as a therapist. My husband was in the armed forces at the time and when we came back I assumed I’d get a job as a therapist, but the recession had just hit so no one was employing any sort of counselling services at the time. I thought I’ll just get an admin job for now and wait until things picked up.
Not even for one minute did I think I’d be involved in anything technology-based or mathematical, let alone in financial services.
But I soon realised that it’s a people business and I really love working with IFAs and helping them to do their best for their clients.
Do you think those skills help you now?
It’s interesting because when you set out to become a counsellor you have to go into 12 months of counselling yourself because you need to understand your own issues so that you can’t project them onto others. It’s important to have a clear mind, so you don’t let your own emotions come into work. You learn an awful lot about yourself – the blinkers come off and you realise that you are responsible for your own actions and the impact you might have on others.
In my current role, those skills have definitely helped me with interacting with individuals and teams. I think it’s given me a good grounding and understanding of how I operate and how I could impact other people, either in a good or bad way. Once you have a better understanding of that, you’re better able to interact with other people and recognise things that they do and why. Not that I’m analysing people, because I don’t, but you just have a greater understanding of what makes a person who they are and some of the emotional triggers they have.
And when you’re managing teams, you have to be secure in your own abilities, because otherwise you let your own insecurities interfere. As a leader, you have to be able to allow other people to be better than you, to be better at a job and you are there to help them be empowered. You have to ensure that every decision you make for the company is in the interest of the company, not what makes you look good. It is all about humility.
So, it’s just about knowing those things and being comfortable enough in your own skin to let others shine, really.
Also, a manager and a leader I think are slightly different things because as a manager you are managing people on a day to day basis. You are trying to get everyone to do what you need them to do to achieve your team’s objectives.
As a leader you’re slightly one step removed from that. You’re trusting your managers to do that, and you’re trusting people to do their roles without really being involved all the time.
I really value the people we have in the company; I am very proud of them as they are our greatest asset. So, if I feel that they are the right people for the role, then I give them the freedom to grow and develop, to take on responsibility and to make a difference.
What were your first impressions of the financial services industry?
It was actually like walking into a parallel universe when I started.
I knew nothing about financial services, apart from the fact that Invesco Perpetual sponsored the rugby, and only because of the advertising. But I didn’t know what they did or how they fitted into financial services? And I knew even less about financial advisers.
I’d grown up in the 1980s, part of an ordinary working-class family who would never have come across financial advisers. But learning about it opened my eyes to a world that is usually hidden.
When I was at Helm Godfery, I liked dealing with the clients because my opinion of them changed. I thought they’d all be very posh with lots of money. But they were hardworking, decent people who had businesses and made a success of themselves and they just wanted to protect their money. And I liked the interaction and the relationship we had with them.
The opportunity to work on Clever was an exciting one because we were going to build a business – it was exciting, interesting, varied and it was a one-off. Colum was making something that was really different, something that could actually change financial services and shake things up, so it was really exciting day by day.
That’s not to say it was easy. It was very difficult in the early days getting things off the ground and getting in front of IFAs. And there was just Colum and me, so we were doing everything. We’ll always be grateful to the early adopters who saw the potential that we saw. Regulation has changed so dramatically since then, I’m not sure it would get off the ground now.
Then at some point, something happens and you are making a success of things, it’s hard to explain really. I think it had something to do with trust, something financial advisers and their clients know a lot about.
How do you see Clever and your role developing over time?
I think we’ll be much more mainstream in the market. We’re getting there in terms of people knowing who we are but we’ve still got a way to go.
We’re a technology company ultimately and where we can build in processes and new technology to deliver things, then we will.
We will always remain streamlined and maintain that feel of a small team as opposed to a large business.
Technology moves so quickly and trends change very quickly so one of our strengths is working with IFAs, understanding where the problems are in terms of their journey and how technology can solve it.
And there are lots of other technology firms – back-office systems etc – out there, so maybe new collaborations with them could open up the market more.