When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, it was difficult for many experienced advisors not to flash back to the global financial crisis of more than a decade before. That’s especially true in Ireland, one of the countries severely impacted by the economic downturn of 2008 (ultimately leading to an 85 billion euro bailout in 2010). But MDRT members there are committed to ensuring that Ireland emerges from the current crisis stronger than ever before — without even needing any of that legendary Irish luck.
“Having survived the financial crash, we know we can survive anything,” said Gabriel McCarthy, QFA, a four-year MDRT member from Cork. “While there were painful lessons for all of us then, we also learned that our clients need our help and need us in their corner wherever we are in the economic cycle. Good financial advice is timeless.”
Anthony Matthews Jones, BSc (Hons), QFA, a 13-year MDRT member from Wexford, also sees the opportunities that come about due to a crisis like the pandemic or an economic crash.
“People still need to plan for retirement, protect their families and, of course, fund education or realize better returns on their savings. These things do not change,” he said. “I think that there is a shift toward the utilization of technology. Change can be scary, but it needs to be embraced.”
Some of the changes brought on by COVID-19 may prove to be permanent, 11-year MDRT member David Naramore believes.
“The pandemic has drastically changed our methods of client contact and services,” Naramore, of Naas, said. “I believe these changes will apply and further develop from now on, even after the pandemic has subsided. Virtual client contact now seems to be the order of the day, which is good in some ways and sad in others.”
As client interactions become more virtual, advisors are more devoted than ever to helping their clients meet their key needs.
“We’ve managed to build our practice by building a deep understanding of the needs of our clients, providing excellent and innovative financial solutions to meet those needs and by enjoying long-term, collaborative relationships with those clients, guiding them through all aspects of their financial lives,” McCarthy said.
Small and medium business enterprises, as well as farming and agriculture, are a niche market for Gabriel McCarthy in Ireland.
To that end, his practice primarily caters to two sectors: farming/agriculture and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). For anyone who’s ever seen a photograph of the Irish countryside dotted with fluffy sheep, the first category should be obvious. But McCarthy says the SME sector is equally valuable because it’s often neglected.
“We realized a number of years ago that good personal advice can have a dramatic impact on SME business owners,” he said. “If they simply drift through their working lives without advice, they almost inevitably end up paying quite a price when exiting their businesses. We believe that good advice, delivered on time, can have a transformational impact on the financial fortunes of business owners.”
McCarthy also pays attention to his clients’ needs by offering a range of service packages at different price points, allowing the clients to decide which level is the best match.
“One size cannot fit all,” McCarthy said. “We see a lot of movement ‘up’ through our service packages as clients recognize that significantly greater value can be achieved for a relatively modest fee increase.”
This level of transparency has gone a long way to improving the reputation of advisors in Ireland. When Jones first joined the profession, he said there was a “poor impression of advisors,” but that has changed due to an emphasis on education and professionalism, assisted by regulatory changes.
Orla McEvoy, QFA, an 11-year MDRT member from Drogheda, agrees. “Regulatory changes are ongoing in Ireland,” she said. “This is something that we have become accustomed to and adapt as needed.”
Financial services in Ireland are regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland through the Consumer Protection Code. In March 2020, an amendment to that code that requires greater transparency related to commissions was adopted. Many Irish advisors were relieved since there had been speculation the country would completely ban commissions, as the U.K. did.
McCarthy believes the amendment was a much-needed development that will benefit the profession in the long-run.
“The days of opaqueness of remuneration structures simply don’t cut it in today’s information age,” he said. “We are confident that the value we deliver always far outweighs the cost to the client.”
He also says a shift toward flatter charging structures in investment and protection products will result in higher levels of advisor engagement with clients “to justify their ongoing remuneration.” Rather than constantly prospecting, advisors can focus on serving their existing clients to the best of their ability.
For Naramore, that was a big part of what drew him to the profession in the first place. He had recently sold his interest in a business and was “at loose ends,” when he ran into a golf buddy at the grocery store who worked in the industry.
“The thought of helping others achieve financial security appealed to me,” he said. “Ireland is but a small dot on the globe, yet our hearts are as big as the universe in relation to our clients.”
And no matter what challenges or changes may come, that famous Irish loyalty — to friends, family and clients alike — will remain.