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Neil and Helen Bailey – a Fortitude case study in moving into retirement

Posted: 25/09/20 by Fortitude Financial Planning

At Fortitude they spend a lot of time discussing the future with you. They listen to your plans and your goals, and tell you what they believe will be the most beneficial and rewarding course of action. It’s all based on years of knowledge and experience of course, but as a client you’re in the position of listening to recommendations and hoping they know what they’re talking about (they do)!

Still, being able to show, rather than tell, is a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of proper planning, and in recent months such an opportunity came up. Two key members of Fortitude, who were instrumental in the formation of the company as we know it today, were transitioning into retirement, or to put it another way, they were carrying out their own life plan in real time.

As these events unfolded – two esteemed colleagues going through a process that they go through so often with clients – what better opportunity to show a clear example of how it’s done?

Documenting the experience:

Neil Bailey, a long-time financial planner and one of Fortitude’s directors founded The Sensible Financial Planning Company with his wife Helen, back in 1997. Over the years they ran the firm together, as the story goes, Neil handled the ‘financial’ part of that moniker while Helen was responsible for the ‘sensible’ bit. In May this year, the couple featured on The Financial Life Coach Podcast – from the Financial Training Academy – run by Steve Martin and Damien Rylett, whom they’ve known for many years.

Really understanding what planning means

As business owners or key company members, planning is pretty much unavoidable, and yet there are things we ought to do that we’re sometimes in danger of not getting around to. To dust off an old chestnut from Warren Buffett, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”. Planning isn’t just about the results, it’s about the preparation and the process. To have a plan that comes to fruition in the way you want it to, at a time of your choosing, it must begin when that exit point is still years into the future.

Think of it like learning a language, let’s say Portuguese (because Portugal will come up again in this blog). If you decide in 2020 that you want to be fluent by 2025, then letting it slide until 2024 then trying to make up for lost time won’t work. Start learning in 2020, because planning begins at the beginning, it develops and takes shape in the years that follow, and only then does it arrive at the right result.

It’s essential to establish what you want to achieve at the start, while you still have the time and the means to do it. But it’s not just about you, it’s about the people you work with and the clients you serve too. When Neil and Helen began working alongside Fortitude in 2004, they found they had similar values. There was a shared approach, with similar ideas of best practice and good processes, and for that reason, even early in the relationship a more formal merger further down the line was mooted.

It would be four years away, but when talk of going in together became serious, Neil and Helen were upfront about their plans for the next few years. They set out what they would contribute, where they would fit in, how they could help to drive the company forward, and when the time came, how they would move on. It’s not an exercise in getting your own way or laying out demands, it’s taking the opportunity to make sure everyone in the business knows what to expect. It’s making certain that plans can be put in place so your company, your colleagues, and your clients are taken care of far into the future.

Preparing for change

We know that time is the one truly finite resource – we can’t make more of it, but with good planning, we can free up time to make better decisions and preparations. For more than a decade, Neil had worked alongside fellow directors, Chris Bowmer and Mark White as a very successful trio in which they fulfilled equivalent but different roles in the company. They had clients who were used to working with them and they’d developed an almost instinctive understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, how to use them and how to support one another.

Of course, when someone moves on, things inevitably change, which is why it’s so important to understand what’s next. Planning early enough and well enough means being able to build in a contingency that can keep any disruption to a minimum and can even help the company and its clients to benefit from that change. Fortitude’s hiring approach has always been very selective, carried out at a pace that lends itself to getting the right people. In 2016 we were delighted to be joined by Richard Peters, and towards the end of 2018 in another stroke of luck, Sam Colby Butcher. As Neil notes: “Luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation.”

In their time with the firm so far, both Richard and Sam have demonstrated their clear capabilities as exceptional financial planners, and as the natural successors to Neil’s function in the business. In fact, as Neil and Helen move into their retirement, Sam will become their Financial Planner – he’s not just a safe pair of hands for Neil’s clients, but for the couple’s own financial future too.

Helen gradually handed over the reins, stepping back from her role and distributing her responsibilities among the team, while Neil’s staggered departure began last year, with his official departure set for August 2020. But even though they’ve transferred most of their shares to Sam and Richard, they’ve kept some back. They admit it’s partly because of a genuine emotional attachment to Fortitude, but it’s also a mark of their continued belief in the firm, its mission and its future. They were instrumental in shaping Fortitude’s values – just because they’re moving on doesn’t mean they leave those values at the door.

Know your plan, know your number, know what you want to happen

Neil and Helen’s example really shows us two things – the responsibility that moving on entails, but also the opportunity it provides. To achieve a graceful dismount from your working life and transition into the next phase takes time and forethought, for how the business will function, how clients will be taken care of and how you’ll be remembered. All of that is your responsibility. But planning what you want from your own future, how your life should look – that’s your opportunity to think about the life you really want to lead. For that reason you need to know your plan, what you need to get you there, and what you’ll do when that day comes.

In Neil and Helen’s case, that plan has long been about travelling, which is tied to Neil’s keen interest in photography (he’s on Instagram as @papa_neil). They’re committed motorhome enthusiasts, along with Brian, their Toyota Hilux with a Bimobil demountable cabin (if you don’t know what that is, this should help). Why Brian? He’s named after the snail from The Magic Roundabout since both Brians carry around a home on their backs.

The immediate future holds free camping, National Trust properties and tours of licensed premises (pub crawls), but the longer-term goal involves extensive touring around Europe. Hopefully, Portugal (we got there in the end) will be one of the first to re-open its doors to travelers. Naturally, the lockdown period has seen Brian having a bit of downtime, as have Neil and Helen, but in the meantime, they’re both avid readers and music fans, and while concerts and festivals are temporarily off the cards, there are plenty of live-streams and opportunities to discover new music.

While their plans have understandably been slightly reordered, doing the things best suited to home first, and keeping the travel for later, they’ve been able to achieve the life they wanted. They also have the peace of mind that their clients are taken care of and that the business is in great hands. Moving onto the next phase of life with a clean slate, a clean conscience and a clean bill of health financially is down to proper planning, begun as early as possible.

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