An IFA Career

A couple of posts back, I wrote about my foray into sales and how I was seriously considering a career as an IFA (or independent financial advisor) representative. The first few days after making the decision were great — I felt that I had at long last settled on what I had wanted to do; but the days after were terrible, as self-doubt crept in and I wondered if it had perhaps made the wrong decision.

Becoming a financial planner

Becoming a financial planner is (relatively) easy. Take a few tests, find an IFA that will accept you (and most will with open arms; more reps = more sales) and you’re officially an IFA rep or financial planner (these terms are often loosely used and interchangeable). The hard part lies in becoming a successful financial planner. As Zig Ziglar, a self-taught superstar salesman says, “[t]he best-paying hard work in the world is selling, and the poorest-paying easy work in the world is selling!”

The hardest part of selling is often perceived by people to be rejection. Ziglar says that it is ‘call reluctance’ or the prospecting part of selling that is so hard, precisely because people hate the thought of being rejected. Successful selling — whether that of products, services, or ideas — requires that if you fail, you pick yourself up and try again. Most people get out of sales jobs precisely because of the high rejection rate — Can you steel yourself up enough to be prepared to be rejected day after day? Will you be able to pick yourself up after a rejection and push on? Can you take rejection impersonally and move on?

Handling rejection

I asked myself those questions, and I was a little worried at the answer I got: I don’t know. What’s worse was that my parents, who might possibly be the people besides myself who know me best, didn’t seem to think I had it in me — handling rejection, they say, is not my forte. Not the most auspicious of starts. Even in the affairs of the heart, where rejection’s rampant (this girl says “no” to your overtures while that girl asks you to go “fly a kite”), I have had it easy too (too easy, according to my girlfriend) — no rejections, no fuss. Am I right to be worried?

My suitability to be a financial planner

In my quest to assess the suitability of my role as an financial planner, I borrowed books from the library relating to the financial advising profession, as well as this book called The Elephant and the Flea by Charles Handy. Though the books on financial advising provided some insight into what doing this job entailed, it was The Elephant and the Flea that pushed me to believe that a person such as I could possibly make a successful living working independently — like me, he had no idea how he was going to make his career as an independent or portfolio worker work and had, in fact, wondered what he had gotten himself into when he quit his job.

In The Elephant and the Flea, Handy discussed the changes in organisational life from the old economies to the new; but perhaps most enlightening was his description of how he had himself evolved from being an employee of an “elephant” (big corporations) to becoming a flea (the self-employed, freelancers). His writings on his fumbling early days made for an exceptionally good read, especially since being in a similar position now as he was then I could relate to the fears he had faced. He also wrote about how becoming “a flea” influences much more than how you earn a paycheck but also practically every other aspect of your life; you will have to plan your time differently, find new networks, organise your time and life in ways you never thought about before.

The Elephant and the Flea

I leave you now with some passages from Hardy’s The Elephant and the Flea that I felt strongly about; these words have encouraged me, provided me hope, that perhaps this way is right — this way of the flea.

Alas, all is not sugar and honey. There is too, the odd insulting letter, the feedback from the conference that the organisers so considerately send on to you, in which someone has called your contribution ‘a load of rubbish’ or what one person eloquently called ‘a long paean of self-congratulation’. And, if you are brave enough to expose your thoughts by writing books, there are the reviews. Oh, those reviews! All authors, actors and other performers claim not to read them. They all do, with bated breath, ignoring the favourable phrases but committing to unforgiving memory ever piece of criticism, uneasily aware that it is possibly all too accurate. All reviews are good reviews, the publisher says, it all means that you have been noticed, but they don’t have to read them.


The hard fact is that those who live by their own swords lay themselves open to wounds as well as flattery. An independent’s life, the life of the so-called ‘freelance’ (originally a free lance in wars), has to be an exposed one. It does require self-belief, a willingness to learn from feedback even when it comes in the form of criticism or even abuse, and the acceptance that the sensitivity necessary to understand the client’s needs probably also means a thick skin, easily bruised and slow to heal. Nothing in life is without its costs, but, as I have experienced it, the freedom that comes from portfolio work more than compensates for the hurts.

For all that I celebrate its advantages, it can be a daunting prospect at the start. Not only do you need a saleable skill, you also need to be able to sell it and price it, or to have someone to do that for you. Much of portfolio working is indeed lonely, although my version of it is more a succession of short-term close relationships, like shipboard friendships, intense while they last, soon forgotten when the next ship comes along.


After a difficult start it has worked wonderfully, in the sense that my life really became exciting as I approached the age of sixty. It was a long time to wait, but worth it. I can only encourage others to try it and to persevere, to find their own formula and their own mix, to move away from what they are not, until they discover what it is that they can uniquely do, to be content with influence and its special delights, and to make do with enough in order to be free.

To all the fleas out there, may you make the Earth itch.

2 thoughts on “An IFA Career

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  1. This is a challenging time to join the industry. With recession and other bad news all around, it’s already going against the wind. However if you pull through this period, you’ll do just fine. (1) Your investor’s funds would have grown 30-40% at least from the current crisis and you’ll be a hero (2) Amidst the trying times, you’ll have build a good base, while others are leaving the industry. Stay focused, stick with the strategic plan.

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