Northern networking

The 1997 series of Solicitors for Independent Financial Advice (Sifa) financial services roadshows reached its climax in Scotland in March, with events in Dundee and Glasgow drawing large and enthusiastic audiences.

In Dundee there were 90 delegates and in Glasgow 110, with firms travelling the length and breadth of Scotland for the events, from Tain, Inverness, Macduff and Peterhead in the north to Fort William in the west and Newton Stewart in the south west.

There were striking differences between England and Scotland in the profile of roadshow delegates. In England, most were non-solicitor financial advisers or investment managers, who in some cases had persuaded a legal fee earner to accompany them. In Scotland, on the other hand, most were solicitors, often with more than one coming from the same firm.

The firms' business mix was also different. In England, on average, more than 60 per cent of the business undertaken was lump-sum investment, arising from trust, tax and probate work. In Scotland a similarly high proportion was mortgage work, reflecting the fact that most Scottish law firms are also estate agents.

Interestingly, both English and Scots were keen to know more about each other's approach to financial services. The English envied the Scots their better integrated business approach and their commercial thrust, while the Scots were respectful of the more comprehensive range of financial services expertise possessed by most of the English firms which have obtained authorisation.

What firms on both sides of the border have in common is that they are conscious of a demanding regulator in their respective law societies (though most agree that compliance is not a major problem).

Employed financial advisers in both countries expressed similar concerns about the difficulty of obtaining business referrals from legal fee earners. The problem is partly cultural and partly a matter of education.

It is hard for solicitors to establish credibility with clients if the specialist is classed as a permanent second-grade citizen, unable to aspire to partnership status. This was a point made to Sifa recently by the senior partner in a successful English firm. He said that he looked forward to being able to welcome his head of financial services as a partner as and when the rules were relaxed, perhaps at the instigation of a new government, to permit multi-disciplinary partnerships.

The education of fee earners was one of the main objectives of the roadshows. Based on the feedback from firms that are members of the 143-strong Sifa network, presentations addressed the common ground between legal and financial work. These included:

Long-term care, which is likely to become of increasing concern to clients, many of whom fall within the expanding second and third age group. Those involved in the drafting of wills and the administration of estates will frequently encounter clients who are concerned about providing for the cost of long-term care.

Trust investment is often neglected, to the detriment of beneficiaries and their advisers. NatWest v Nestle provided a recent reminder of trustees' responsibilities, and the proposed relaxation of the Trustee Investments Act may cause beneficiaries to reconsider their expectations. In many cases their interests are likely to be best served by switching out of small packets of miscellaneous securities into more broadly based and perhaps more tax-efficient collective investments.

Matrimonial work is another field in which financial services advice is essential. Notable areas include the treatment of joint life policies, the protection of maintenance payments and the division of pension benefits.

Other subjects covered at the roadshows included the Pensions Act 1995, the proposed changes in life policy taxation, the principles of asset allocation and the marketing of law firms' financial services.

Apart from the educational element, firms cited the opportunity to network and learn from one another as strong reasons for attending. There were widespread reports of buoyant business levels and a growing confidence in the marketability of solicitors' financial services.

The 800 telephone calls received by Sifa, following its new year public relations campaign, from members of the public requesting the names of firms offering financial advice, is impressive testimony to the potential demand.