Financial planning expert Steven Sanders talks about ISAs, reviewing personal goals, pensions, the stockmarket and more

18th March

Personal finances are high on the agenda for many people following the year-long pandemic. Heathfield News talks to local Financial planning practice, Cranwell Wealth Solutions, who have a high street branch in Heathfield about the issues many face and the advice they would give to alleviate people’s concerns.

Steven Sanders has worked for Cranwell Wealth Solutions as one of their Financial Planners for many years, he has kindly answered a number of questions put to him by Heathfield News Founder Suzi Christie

Steven Sanders
Steven Sanders

What is the most common client queries you are receiving since the pandemic took hold – what seems to be keeping people up at night?

In March 2020 when the pandemic first unfolded for us in the UK; we immediately noticed clients becoming anxious. Some clients were concerned that they would lose everything with pensions being a particular worry. We fully understood their concerns, at that point the FTSE had lost around 30% in just a month and people were asking whether their money would ever return. Understandably as interest rates were so low; many of our experienced clients had invested in the markets instead of holding on to too much cash.

With these issues facing our clients, as a team we worked exceptionally hard to draw on our extensive experience and help people get through what was a very difficult time. I had many phone discussions with clients and was able to reassure them as best I could, reminding them that short term hits were rarely a good indication and to take a longer view. We really saw our one to one offering come into play during this time, as many people had taken plans out with banks and they had no one they could to speak with. We found our clients benefited hugely from being able to talk through their concerns with a real, experienced person at the end of the phone.

What advice do you most commonly find yourself saying to clients who are concerned?

Reassurance is so important. Our more mature clients have been through negative equity in the past; so we saw a deeper understanding with them, but for others who hadn’t faced such challenging, I worked hard to remind them that you have never lost until you decide to sell.

The market had been down 9 times in 21 years in a similar way to the drop we saw last year, albeit never as deep. Reviewing history proved to us yet again, that clients need to diversify and be in many different markets and hold a mixture of products as our experience stands strong knowing that somewhere, something will be going up. If clients had only owned UK shares as an example, they will probably still be down compared to before the pandemic unless they had overseas investments. Investments should viewed as long term – you will always have short-term volatility but you shouldn’t let it affect your long-term goals.

How would you say the markets are faring now versus when the pandemic first began? Are things improving yet?

History shows that the markets have always bounced back. It was just a question of how long it took. Many clients were surprised at how well their portfolios have performed over the last year. Most people with a diverse portfolio have ended up in profit. If they didn’t end up in profit, it’s has been worth looking under the bonnet to find out why. For instance, if their focus was on UK shares; they would have probably have included aviation and hospitality sectors which have been badly affected.

The market started this year up despite the US election worries and lockdown – it has been very buoyant and resilient since. Interestingly a trend towards the future has seen many clients ask to switch their investments to sustainable companies, so this will be an interesting one to watch.

Following the pandemic, there is of course a big switch to how companies are operating going forward and attitudes to things like working from home. Commercial property investments have previously done well. Whether that changes will be interesting to see.

Has there been anything that has surprised you with the markets since the pandemic began?

The resilience of the markets and how quick the bounce back has been has surprised me. The US and Asian markets certainly dragged the markets up. After all who had heard of Zoom 12 months ago, I hear they are doing quite well! I think as a result of all that has happened, people are gaining more experience with investing now.

How have you found the swtich to using video calls with your clients to hold meetings? Are clients responding well to them or have people preferred to chat via the phone / email?

It has been strange as I did a lot of driving to meet face to face with clients before the pandemic. In the early days last year we held meetings in people’s gardens when we were allowed to and this was very pleasant. Our clients have been wonderful and have shown incredibly how they have adapted to a new way of working.

Personally, I much prefer phone calls to emails, and I am finding clients have more time to speak which has been great. We’ve seen first-hand how some people haven’t had the opportunity to speak with others much over the last 12 months so it’s been a lonely time. I have known many of my clients for years, so it’s been good to catch up and find out what is going on in their lives.

What have you been able to do to keep the team spirit alive amongst the Cranwell team when you’ve often needed to work remotely?

Some of us have had to do home schooling alongside our work so it has been challenging. We’ve really missed our Christmas events and team meetings. I make sure I pick up the phone at least once a day and talk to someone in the team.

During the first lockdown everyone was working at home but during the last year some of us have been in the office and some of us have been working from home. It’s been tough but we have much to look forward to and hope to return full time to our high street branches in Uckfield and Heathfield very soon.

How have you seen businesses along the Heathfield high street affected?

When I look out on the High Street from the office I miss the bustle that the cafes bring and other shops. We opened our Heathfield branch on 16th February last year and shut down six weeks later so, to be honest, we haven’t been part of the vibrant High Street yet. It will be wonderful to go out for a coffee when we are able.

Have you seen any great success stories from local businesses since the pandemic began?

We joined the local Chamber of Commerce and that has been good. You can talk about issues with people and it’s sometimes good to talk to people who aren’t clients. We have a nice group of people around us in Heathfield and we are all trying to support each other. For instance we held a client competition to win some flowers recently and we used the Flower Workshop. It’s a very friendly High Street, we are proud to be part of it.

What are you most looking forward to doing when this is over? Either personally or work?

I am looking forward to just going out for tea and cake or lunch and just being able to speak with people and going to people’s houses. Or taking clients to lunch.

We still sponsor local bowls clubs and used to hold regular drop in events. I am looking forward to seeing all the players again.

I also can’t wait to just go and have a cup of tea with my parents. You don’t realise what you have until you lose it.

If you could give one piece of advice to anyone at home right now worrying about their finances, what would that be?

Talk to someone. Talk to someone about your plans. The pandemic has given quite a few clients time to go through their paperwork and look at their assets – for instance their pension plans. 

It’s a good idea to go through what you have and make a plan. Some people forget what they have been saving for! Seek advice and look at your personal goals. Step back and think where do I want to go and what do I want for me?

There’s a common misconception that financial advice is expensive. With Cranwell there is no obligation to our ideas or general queries or the initial conversation. Then we will look at whether there is a way we can help you and explain any costs involved.

Are there any benefits the Government has put in place that people could be taking advantage of but aren’t?

People are generally aware of the help available for the self-employed and bounce back loans. But there are some allowances that people may have lost sight of and it’s important to still make the most out of any pension contributions and ISA allowances that are still £20,000 per year per person.

Lots of people have benefitted from the stamp duty allowances and some have managed to top up their ISAs as they have managed to save some money as a result of not being able to go on holiday. Do make sure you use any allowances before 5th April.  Trying to beat inflation is hard but if you are willing to take some risks there are some options. Performance can go up or down of course so nothing is guaranteed. But there is a saying that “Time in the market is better than trying to time the market!”

The value of an investment with St James’s Place will be directly linked to the performance of the funds you select and the value can therefore go down as well as up. You may get back less than you invested. An investment in equities does not provide the security of capital associated with a deposit account with a bank or building society.

The levels and bases of taxation can change at any time and are generally dependent on individual circumstances.

Left to right: Peter Morris, Stephen Palmer and Steven Sanders of Cranwell Wealth Solutions Ltd

Cranwell Wealth Solutions Limited is an Appointed Representative of and represents only St. James’s Place Wealth Management plc (which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority) for the purpose of advising solely on the Group’s wealth management products and services, more details of which are set out on the Group’s website