Skills Bank Interview – Jill Thomas, Future Life Wealth Management

Tell us about your journey – how long have you been involved with Skills Bank and what’s your story so far?

I set up Future Life Wealth Management in 2009, in the middle of a financial crisis. People said I was crazy because of the recession, but I just said: ‘I am not going to take part in any recession’!

Initially it was hard to recruit good people because we didn’t have an established presence or a brand. But I always recruited the absolute best I could, with the belief that training can add more.

Bringing young talented people into our industry is vital. The average financial planner is a 58 year-old man. So, in a few years we could end up with hardly any financial planners. Therefore, training people on-the-job is not just important for my business, but the wider profession and the wider economy.

Skills Bank has been really great in helping with that training over the last year or so. The training has really helped staff flourish and ultimately add to the bottom line by helping our business to grow.

What training have you done and what funding and other support did you receive?

We provide our employees with two very different types of learning for us. The first is tactical education, for example how a pension works and what life assurance is, and the second is how a business works, for example marketing and commercial acumen. By providing these two types of training we are helping our staff to grow and become more rounded employees.

We worked with Skills Bank to develop a package that looked at many things, including how you run a business, sales and marketing, and profit margins. We wanted a group arrangement with eleven of us interacting as a team, including me. We started with a full day group training session. The result of this dedicated day was that we identified our desired direction of travel, identified weaknesses and strengths, and this allowed us to develop a plan.

After this we identified four people who we wanted to grow and develop to help us take the business forwards. These people went on an advanced leadership programme, and they are both now shareholders in the business, are actively participating in our company’s growth and are benefitting from its expansion. The rewards for this business have been fantastic.

Can you share an example of the difference this support has made?

I’ve seen a marked improvement in staff performance and ability to take on more responsibility, which has freed me up as a business owner to find new, profit-generating opportunities.

A great example of this is just as we were going into lockdown and moving to working from home we were approaching financial year end, which is an incredibly pressured period for us with time-sensitive post going into the office. One of my staff, without me prompting, offered to go into the office up to three days every week to collect the post at 6:30am to turn everything around, and clean the office so the next person could enter safely.

We look after £400m of people’s investments and this was a critical time in a volatile global financial market. My staff taking care of day to day running of the business meant that I could focus on looking after client money without worrying about other things.

Before the training, my staff member wouldn’t have been so pro-active. It’s amazing to see people using their initiative and actively trying to improve the way they work; their confidence grows and they become stronger employees.

How long have you been involved with Skills Bank

I’ve worked with Skills Bank for just over a year. I saw an ad in the Sheffield Star, visited the Skills Bank website, then started looking for courses. I went through what I felt the weaknesses of the team were; which I identified as employee lack of knowledge and experience in supporting me as the pressure on the business was increasing. If I was going to expand in the city region and support the region economically, I needed my staff to support me.

I spoke to an advisor who gave me a good understanding of what I could do. I chose my own training provider, and they helped me with the application. I received 60% Skills Bank funding for the first round of training and 70% on the second round.

What would you say to businesses thinking about investing in training for their employees?

Don’t hesitate. The one thing I learned is don’t be afraid to employ and educate people that are better than you. People smarter than you give you better outcomes and opportunities.
I invested £30,000 of my own money when I started my business and it has grown to £3.5m in ten years. I wouldn’t have achieved this without investing in people.