We speak to Alfie Mullan, Co-Founder of Eelah, the millennial focused financial advice firm. Find out why it’s so important to engage with millennials’ emotions in financial advice and how the industry could serve millennials better.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the work you do?
My name is Alfie Mullan, I am a normal bloke from Hertfordshire, recently engaged, enjoying life, have a bunch of good friends and family and so on. I am Chartered Financial Planner, which is a posh way of saying I am a financial adviser. But we are the best in London at helping young business owners.
How do you think millennials and other age groups differ when it comes to managing their finances?
Fundamentally, money is a very emotional concept and managing one’s finances can expose us to all sorts of different emotions, positive and negative. What I find with millennials – myself being one – is that we are more engaged with our emotions and so this allows us to better understand the concept of looking inside to understand what you really want in life, then making a plan for your finances to support that.
I don’t know whether it’s because previous generations have dealt with stigmas around talking about what’s most important or ‘opening up’ not being something you do, especially not around a strange financial guy sitting in front you. But, millennials seem to be the opposite, we almost want our emotions and feelings to get going so that it will spring us into action and change.
Scientifically, you need energy to move anything, right? Humans are no different. We generate energy from our emotions and thus we move forward.
As an adviser, how do you adapt your approach when working with millennial clients?
I wouldn’t say I adapt; I would say I am just more who I really am. Being authentic and relatable is super important when someone is trusting you to help them navigate the overly complicated world of UK financial regulation. So, we just be ourselves and this seems to generate real affinity. I wear casual clothes, we’ll talk about interests and passions, we try and treat a meeting with a client like you’re with your mates in the pub.
What are you and your firm Eelah doing to reach out to millennials?
Well, Eelah is branded specifically to benefit ‘young’ business owners and leaders in their fields. So we have decided as a company that serving millennials is not something we are going to try to implement where we can, it is basically the only thing that we do.
As millennial business owners ourselves, we are being as relevant as we can so that we understand millennials, their needs, their wants, their painful problems and their desired outcomes.
When working with millennials, do you see any patterns of behaviour that do or don’t work well when it comes to managing personal finances?
Millennials definitely want engagement with technology and general day to day ease.
They want to WhatsApp and email more, not be scheduling calls all day. They want information, quickly and accurately. Millennials also want better presentation of things like ‘actions’ and accountability. But, despite the reliance – for want of a better word – on tech and access to information, they still want the human they trust driving it all. We’ve yet to meet any millennial who doesn’t value the relationship side of managing their finances – it is still very much about the ‘could you be my mate and would I go for a drink with you’, which is totally right.
What definitely doesn’t work with millennials is the whole being dictated to way of delivering financial planning. It isn’t about how much knowledge you have or how many finance exams I have under my belt – it is about empathy, listening and using our expertise when needed in the right areas, not being a teacher who dictates my breadth of knowledge to anyone who will listen.
How well served do you think millennials are by the financial services sector?
Nowhere near as well as they should be. With the amount of regulation that has been brought in, it makes it nigh on impossible for most financial advice firms to serve millennials well and remain profitable. A lot of people come to us and say things like ‘I need some help, but I don’t have £100,000 to invest’… I mean, who does right? That’s why we offer a fixed monthly subscription fee to pay for our services – otherwise the advice gap will just get huge. It’s not perfect, but we try not to put people off by not having to have a lump sum and make the service more like a gym membership.
There is a lot of free content out there that you can get by on, but when it comes to real, valuable and bespoke financial advice, you usually want to sit across the room with a human you like, who has your best interests at heart and is going to support you for decades to come.
To what extent do you think external events like Brexit and last year’s general election have changed the financial and political landscape for millennials?
Honestly – this might seem controversial, but I don’t see Brexit or any other political goings on as having a direct impact on an individual’s finances.
To me, Brexit is noise along with anything else external. The way we look at things is two part: ‘Is this really important to me?’ and ‘Is there anything I can do about it?’. Unless the answer to both of those questions is yes, we tend to try and drive our clients away from the noise and instead discover what it really is that you want in life and how can we utilise your finances to make damn sure you get there.
I am not saying Brexit or anything else won’t be painful or won’t have a negative impact on many situations, all I am saying is that no one knows the future, no one. When you look back in history, there is always something in the news at the time that causes concern. If you follow basic financial planning principles, including ‘ignore the noise’ you’ll be better off for it. Brexit will come and go and in 20 years’ time, when something else is plastered all over the news, we won’t be thinking too much about it.
In my opinion, it’s about living in the moment and enjoying all the great things you do have, coupled with making some savvy financial decisions that will support your unknown future.
What do you see as the main barrier for millennials seeking financial advice?
The main barrier I think is as I have already alluded to. For most firms to provide a proper service to millennials, they have to prove suitability and meet all regulatory requirements and this is time consuming and expensive. Unless you have hundreds of thousands, they’re not likely to make money out of you.
The regulation has been bought in to kick out the cowboys of our profession, so it has merit, but it is definitely damaged the access we have to proper financial advice.
The other thing, which again I have just mentioned, is the lack of trust in relation to the profession. I think the one or two awful miss-selling stories you hear on the radio or in the news just makes the trade untrustworthy. This is a huge shame for me, because I have never met anyone even remotely questionable in our profession. There are loads of great people flying the flag and it hurts me that a few crooks have tarnished that.