Profile: Kevin Forbes of Strategic Solutions

Strategic Solutions principal Kevin Forbes says financial advisers need to spend less time moaning about the regulator and more time working harder for the community they serve

When Kevin Forbes became chair of the Personal Finance Society’s (PFS) Hampshire and Dorset region in 2014, he was assured by former chair Phil Carroll it would only be for a year.

More than five years later, Bournemouth-based Forbes, principal of Strategic Solutions, is still in the post.

We sit down in the main conference suite at the town’s Vitality Stadium, home to Premier League football club AFC Bournemouth and, today, host to the PFS’s quarterly conference. Around 200 IFAs are in attendance. Forbes, who is chairing, is concerned about the room being too small in future. That was not always so.

‘When we first started we would get 30 or 40 people along, but it’s ramped up,’ Forbes says.

The quality of the event has improved. Forbes now has a PFS regional development co-ordinator, Dave Octave, who acts as a right-hand man at the events and is a quiet but busy background presence.

The event itself features five keynote presentations on everything from longevity to the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) product governance regulations, all set against a flashy backdrop with professional lighting and sound. But it was not always this way.

‘In the early days you received a box with a laptop in it at the hotel, you plugged it into the screen and just prayed it worked,’ Forbes says.

When Kevin Forbes became chair of the Personal Finance Society’s (PFS) Hampshire and Dorset region in 2014, he was assured by former chair Phil Carroll it would only be for a year.

More than five years later, Bournemouth-based Forbes, principal of Strategic Solutions, is still in the post.

We sit down in the main conference suite at the town’s Vitality Stadium, home to Premier League football club AFC Bournemouth and, today, host to the PFS’s quarterly conference. Around 200 IFAs are in attendance. Forbes, who is chairing, is concerned about the room being too small in future. That was not always so.

‘When we first started we would get 30 or 40 people along, but it’s ramped up,’ Forbes says.

The quality of the event has improved. Forbes now has a PFS regional development co-ordinator, Dave Octave, who acts as a right-hand man at the events and is a quiet but busy background presence.

The event itself features five keynote presentations on everything from longevity to the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) product governance regulations, all set against a flashy backdrop with professional lighting and sound. But it was not always this way.

‘In the early days you received a box with a laptop in it at the hotel, you plugged it into the screen and just prayed it worked,’ Forbes says.

Leading the way

Forbes has a long list of achievements in the region. He has grown regional membership, with events attendance now regularly in the high 200s compared with 40 or so delegates in the recent past. He has grown the society’s professional connections in the area and, in his own words, ‘infiltrated’ the local council to obtain ‘thousands of pounds’ in funding grants to assist PFS members with their training.

‘We had no money on day one in those regions, which was our fault as much as theirs because nobody was there to ask them for anything,’ says Forbes. ‘But we’ve been given thousands of pounds this year from the two councils to subsidise all the training and the chartered exams.’

Forbes is pleased to be able to help his IFA peers on their journey to chartered status. But anyone who knows him will be familiar with his soapbox issue, which is the challenge of filling financial services firms with a new generation of young, bright employees.

To that end he believes the profession may have to shift its focus.

‘For too long everyone’s been focused on getting people to chartered, and we’ve missed the boat on getting people into financial services in the first place,’ he says.

‘Working with the people who are already here is great, but we need to get more young people up to diploma level. That’s why we’ve started a “future advice” initiative as a region.’

The aim is to get 10 students per year from local universities into year-long placements at financial advice and financial services firms in the local area. The work is fully paid, at a salary of around £15,000 per year, and should introduce entrants to the world of financial advice. His own business, Strategic Solutions, has already led the way, taking on two such individuals already.

Before he ends his tenure as chair of the region, Forbes says he wants to see his pet project come to fruition. Forbes’ explanation of the scheme was detailed in an email to the New Model Adviser® news desk last year, written with characteristic colour.

‘To fool ourselves into thinking everything is great today and therefore will be tomorrow will lead us down the paths of Blockbuster Video, Kodak, and all those other giants who didn’t have any future vision,’ he wrote.

Local firms are clearly convinced of the case. FP Wealth Management, based in nearby Wimbourne, has signed up, along with Bournemouth-based financial services consultancy firm Simplify Consulting.

New Milton-based Station Financial could also be a huge contributor, Forbes says. It has offices both there, in London and in Bridgend. Forbes has already spoken to chief executive Mike Cahill. Insurer LV=, which has a local presence, is also interested.

Changing perceptions

The crucial partner, however, is Bournemouth University. Bournemouth is a thriving university town, and Forbes is keen to convey the town’s reputation as a sunny place by the sea for old people to retire is becoming less and less relevant as its academic infrastructure expands. Consequently, he has been working with the university’s placement co-ordinator, Jackie Darke, to harness what he sees as a mutual opportunity for students and advice firms alike.

‘We spoke to her and she helped us write job descriptions for the university’s jobs portal. She’s helped us create standardised employment contracts and job adverts for firms that maybe haven’t employed many people in the past.

‘If that could happen in 10 regions and we get 100 students into financial services firms in the UK in a year or two, I’d be amazed. I’d be so happy with that.’ To the naysayers who are concerned the young people they train would move on to other firms having got their start in the profession, Forbes says: ‘Let them. That’s what I did.’

Forbes is a huge believer in young people and has done everything he can to contribute to young people’s lives in the local area, both as chairman of the Dorset Deaf Children’s Society, and in other endeavours too. Whatever he does, though, financial education is never far from the equation.

Strategic Solutions donates money to charities that help young people with life skills, and Forbes has done several financial coaching sessions at AFC Bournemouth to help the under-16s and under-18s teams understand money better. Personal finance should be an examined GCSE subject, he says. He even wrote to local Conservative MP Conor Burns about the issue.

‘I wrote to [Burns] saying: “why do my children come out of school – and they’re both very bright girls – knowing how an oxbow lake is formed and the names of all Henry VIII’s wives, but they wouldn’t know the difference between a debit card and a credit card, or a personal pension?”’ Burns has not replied.

Call to arms

Speaking candidly of his own flaws, Forbes describes himself as ‘a bit irritating’ and frustrated when he does not see others doing as much as they can. His message to IFA peers is that everyone needs to be doing more.

‘I’m a nice person but my biggest fault is that I’m quite intolerant. I’m quite hard to be around at times because I always think people should be doing better than they’re doing,’ he says.

‘I do think IFAs should be doing a lot more, I don’t know why they don’t. It doesn’t have to involve tangible reward, just the fact people will think advisers are better people means we all do better out of it.’

He is similarly impatient with IFAs who moan, either about regulation or their standard of living. Being an adviser is a privilege, he says, adding he ‘is paid more than the prime minister, but [does] not have to deal with Brexit.’ The cars in the car park for his event range from Jaguars to BMWs and all manner of 4x4s. Forbes drives a Skoda Octavia. 

‘We’ve got a brilliant life, and every penny we are paid comes from the community we work in,’ he says. ‘We charge a fee to our clients who are part of the community, and we all do well out of that.

‘I’d love to see two or three times as many advisers out there to make everyone work harder and smarter for clients.’

The same goes for IFAs who moan about the FCA, he says. The correct approach is to engage with the FCA, rather than shut it out, he says.

‘Just engage with it, just be honest. The FCA is not looking to knacker us up. Its job isn’t to get rid of every financial adviser on the planet.

‘If you’re doing it wrong, it’s far better to know at that point, rather than wait 25 years and be in trouble,’ he says.

As we chat, a clock on the home screen of Forbes’ phone is ticking away. He tells me it is a countdown to his 55th birthday, when he will retire. He notes there are 55 months, 15 days, seven hours, 35 minutes and 52 seconds left to go.

In an attempt to practice what he is preaching, he has prepared a succession plan derived from next-gen talent. Jon Hickson and Paul Roberts, both young advisers at the firm, will take over when he steps back. This avoids what Forbes sees as the grim spectre of consolidation, through which IFAs sell up when they retire. He has had offers, he says, but he is ‘really anti-consolidator’.

‘They know it’s the last thing I’m ever going to do. I’m not flogging my clients down the road,’ says Forbes.

‘Those people have paid for my children’s education and my holidays over the years. So I’m not just going to sell them to the highest bidder when I want to walk out the door. I want to make sure I look after them the way I promised I’d look after them.’

Kevin Forbes' CV

2016–present: Casterbridge Wealth, chairman and compliance director

2014–present: Personal Finance Society (Hants and Dorset region), chair

2010–present: Strategic Solutions, principal

2001–2010: Positive Solutions, IFA

2000–2001: Sun Life Financial of Canada, sales manager

1995–2000: Abbey Life, adviser/sales manager/branch manager

1990–1994: Liverpool Victoria, adviser/ sales manager

1986–1990: Lloyds Bank, branch banking

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