20th September, 2023 - Webinar replay

Everything you need to know about VouchedFor’s 2024 Top Rated Guide

Phil Bray  00:00

Good morning, everybody and welcome to today’s webinar. I hope everybody’s well. We’re back after our summer break for our first Autumn webinar. It’s feeling particularly autumnal today in Nottingham. Who have we got on today? Hi Carolyn from York, hope you’re well. Claire, over in Belfast, Colin, down in East Anglia, Guy, down south, at least from Nottingham. Welcome everybody. I’m really looking forward to today’s session. As the screen says, we’re going to be talking about everything you need to know, about VouchedFor’s 2024 Top Rated Guide. I can’t believe we’re talking about 2024. Joining us today to help us talk about this is Alex. Alex is the MD of VouchedFor, and Dan is joining us as usual, to keep us on track. Dan’s going to do a quick housekeeping section in a second, but in the meantime, I can see that a few of you have not voted in the poll that we put up. So while Dan’s doing his housekeeping, can everyone who hasn’t voted in the poll, just go and click the poll and go and vote? Dan, over to you.

Dan Campbell  01:19

Sure thing. It’s good to be back, isn’t it? It’s not too good to have the lack of sunshine, but it’s good to be back doing these. So, as you may know, I’m Dan, the Head of Branding and Design here at Yardstick. My job as always, is to make sure we’re running smoothly and also on time, that’s the main thing, isn’t it? So I’ll be keeping an eye out for any technical issues and also any questions that you ask. And as always, we’ve got plenty of familiar faces in the crowd, so you’ll know that these sessions work well with tonnes of input. We’re going to be getting into the weeds today about VouchedFor’s Top Rated Guide. So if you want to ask questions, don’t be shy, let’s make the most of having Alex here with us. As usual, there are two ways that you can do that: the chat function at the bottom, or the Q&A box, I’m going to be monitoring both and reading them out at natural breaks along the way. And then time permitting, we’ll have a period at the end where we can sweep any final ones up. As usual, a follow up email with a recording of this session will be Landing in your inbox later on. So don’t worry, if you miss anything the first time around, you can absolutely watch it later on. So without further ado, Phil and Alex, tell us everything we need to know to make the cut this year.

Phil Bray  02:40

Thanks mate. Right. Let’s look at the poll results. Alex, it will be interesting to get your reaction on these. So, we asked, “Thinking about VouchedFor’s Top Rated Guide, how are you planning to try and qualify?” 71% said as a top-rated individual adviser, 11% said top-rated firm, 24% said both, and 6% said neither. So I’d be interested to see whether those 6% have changed their mind later on, and also it will be interesting if you want to put your head above the parapet and are one of those 6%, just put a note in the chat as to why. What’s the reason you aren’t going to try and qualify? I think that’d be quite useful to know wouldn’t it Alex?

Alex Whitson  03:28

Indeed, yeah. Really interesting results, broadly in line with what I would have expected to be honest. We typically see many more top-rated advisers than we do firms, we see a bit of crossover, so people going for both, and for the folk in the neither camp, as Phil says, it would be great to understand why and hopefully in the course of the session, we can give you some food for thought.

Phil Bray  03:51

Thanks, Alex. All right, let’s crack on, shall we? What are we going to talk about today? Well, in detail we’re going to talk about how VouchedFor has extended its promotion of the 2024 guide. We’re going to talk about some of the benefits of being included, and the meat of this is about the 2024 qualification criteria, which for firms has deviated a little bit from previous years. We’re going to talk about some top-tips, things we’ve seen work at Yardstick over the years to help both individual advisers and firms qualify, and then we’re going to talk a bit about how to promote your inclusion in the guide. We’ll be doing another webinar early next year, in January or February, to talk in more detail about how firms can promote their inclusion. Hopefully we can invite Alex back, and Alex will agree to come back and talk for that webinar. As Dan says, do ask questions, I want today to be a really interactive session. I want to make sure that nobody leaves this webinar with their questions unanswered. So do stick your questions in the Q&A and in the chat, and Dan will curate those as we go through. It’s also useful if you could share your experiences of last year, what you plan to do this year; let’s get the conversation going. So, a little reminder: the top-rated guide is published annually and it allows advisers, planners and mortgage brokers to qualify as an individual, or as a firm. The guide, is a beautiful piece of work, it’s fantastic, and it includes a list of all the qualifiers, advisers, mortgage brokers, and firms. There are some lovely case studies in there, you might have featured one or two Yardstick clients in the past Alex, and there are some cracking articles about the value of financial advice, financial planning, mortgage advice, etc. I think it’s worth just pausing here for a second and Alex, just getting you to talk about what the aims of the guide are, and how they might have changed over the years.

Alex Whitson  06:17

Yeah, great question. The main aim of the guide has always been the same, which is to build public understanding and trust around advice. It sets out to do that in a couple of ways; as you mentioned, there are editorial articles and case studies within the guide that help people understand what it is and how it can help them. And then the second section of the guide calls out those advisers and firms who are qualified as top-rated on the strength of their client feedback. I’d argue that the aim is more important than it has been for a long time, that aim to build public understanding and trust around advice. Blast stock markets, increasingly attractive cash savings accounts, rising costs, they’re all leading to some rash decisions, and added to that, there have been three recent reports from the FCA, Boring Money and The Lang Cat, which highlight that lack of public trust and advice remains the number one reason why people who need it, don’t engage. So, more needs to be done to help the public understand the value of advice, and that’s what the guide sets out to do.

Phil Bray  07:27

Thanks, Alex. One of the big differences for 2024 is how the guide will be promoted. So in 2023, it was published in March, in the Times; distributed in The Times, I think, is the correct terminology, Alex?

Alex Whitson  07:48


Phil Bray  07:49

And that distribution is being extended significantly next year. I think this is fantastic; it’s going into The Times in March, The Mail on Sunday in June, and The Telegraph three months later in September. So, three bites at the cherry instead of one. There’s also going to be some promotion in FT Adviser, as I understand it, and The Times, The Mail and The Telegraph combined, will reach about 3 million consumers. If that’s not enough, it’s going to 50,000 accountants and solicitors. So, you could argue that qualification for 2024 is more important than it’s ever been. Alex, I’m not arguing it, I love it, but why did you decide to extend the promotion of the guide?

Alex Whitson  08:49

Well, there’s been loads of great activity recently, highlighting how far the advice profession has come since RDR (Retail Distribution Review), and the great work that most advisers do for their clients, but so much of this activity takes place within what I describe as the industry echo chamber, and what’s clear from those reports I mentioned is that consumers haven’t got the memo. So, bluntly, we need to do more. Anyone with a consumer-facing channel needs to do more to address this huge problem and the guide is an effective way to do this, as is well illustrated by the story of a close relative of mine. I won’t disclose who, for fear that they’ll get hate mail. When I joined VouchedFor, an 80-year-old Scottish man who is very closely related to me, described financial advisers as a bunch of robbing bastards who are just looking to feather their own nest at the expense of yours. Apologies for the language, but it’s not an atypical view amongst the public. So, I was really delighted a couple of years ago when that same individual had read the guide, he called me up, and he said that he’d read some of the case studies, in fact, the case study he was referring to featured a Yardstick client and was about legacy planning. It changed his view, and he’d reached out to a local financial planner to help him put in place a more robust legacy plan, which, I found hugely heartening and validation of what we’re seeking to do with the guide.

Phil Bray  10:37

Is your relative going in next year as a case study Alex?

Alex Whitson  10:43


Phil Bray  10:44

Ambassador of financial adviser, changes mind of client. I quite like that. That is how the promotion is extended next year and it’s just fantastic news. It increases the longevity of the window, that we’ll be able to promote. Firms and advisers will be able to promote their inclusion in the guide, and The Yardstick Agency will be able to do it on behalf of firms. It extends the good news piece. Dan, I think there’s a question that has come in from Lindsey that we probably should deal with now in terms of good news, bad news.

Dan Campbell  11:24

Absolutely, yeah. We welcome challenges, and difficult question and this is absolutely one of those. Lindsey asks, “Hi all, this year, there was a huge amount of negativity from advisers on LinkedIn about the guide. I have not seen this before. What do you think caused this?”

Phil Bray  11:45

Who is going to answer that first Alex, you or me? You go first, I’ll go after you.

Alex Whitson  11:49

Okay, yeah. So thanks for raising this Lindsey. Over the years, one of the highlights of my year is the few days after the guide is published in The Times, and seeing all the incredibly positive posts from advisers across the UK, who are rightly delighted about the fact that they’re getting recognition in a national newspaper for doing a brilliant job for their clients. That said, there is always a minority, and it really is a minority, of posts that are cynical and they perhaps have an issue with feedback being used as a way to measure how good an adviser is, and I find it frustrating, to be honest. In almost every case, I’ve reached out to these advisers to try and explain what we’re seeking to do with the guide, and in almost every case, those conversations have helped soften their opinions and actually, they’ve got behind it, and many of those advisers have then gone on to qualify for the guide. But, we can’t bring everyone around. I think one thing that I really want to see moving forward and there’s been a few good movements from others to try and achieve this is just a spirit of more positivity within within the profession. If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard something along the lines of ‘the industry is terrible, but I’m different’ I’d be a very wealthy man. What it does is just exacerbate that problem of public trust and advice. I would never say that client feedback alone is enough. Ultimately, the more proof points you can collect and adopt as an adviser, the better to build public trust and advice. But without question, as that story I shared illustrates, it helps people understand what advice is, it helps people have the confidence to to engage and get the help that they need. Anyway, that’s my fairly waffley tuppence on the subject, but Phil I’m keen to hear your thoughts as well.

Phil Bray  14:05

Unsurprisingly, I agree with you. I wonder if I sense that maybe behind Lindsey’s question, and Lindsey I might be wrong, but I sense that behind the question might be the thought of well, if there is this negativity, should we be doing it should we be associated with it? Yes, for me is the short answer. The slightly longer answer is that actually I think the negativity is quite isolated. I think as people understand it, it gets less each year. I also think that often we live in a bit of an echo chamber on LinkedIn and other social platforms where we are following other members of the profession and therefore,  any negativity is amplified. For me, the best form of social proof is always what the people who experience the service say about the service. Your clients experience the service that you give and therefore, things such as Google reviews, VouchedFor reviews, client videos, client surveys, that sort of stuff, for me is the most important type of social proof. Other stuff, like PR awards, etc, is absolutely part of the mix, but the people who experience this, and your service are the most important people to listen to. So I hope that provides a bit of comfort Lindsey, perhaps you can put a note in the chat to say if Alex and I have answered the question.  So, I want to go on to talk about the benefits of being included and hopefully that might answer a question that Lloyd has put in as well. So, let’s talk about the benefits of being included, and then we’ll talk about the qualification criteria. So, what have we got on this list? The first is obviously the extended reach, it’s going in those three publications, The Times, The Telegraph, and The Mail on Sunday. I can absolutely see why Alex and VouchedFor have chosen those publications. Being included in the guide provides huge validation, and also celebration of the work that you do. Part of that is personal, that dopamine hit when a review comes in or when you’re included in the guide really can’t be underestimated. It provides validation to clients that they are working with the right planner, provides validation to clients that if they recommend people they care about to you, those people are going to get a benefit from the relationship and an outcome similar to what they’ve had. It provides validation to professional connections, as well, because professional connections probably only get feedback from the clients that they introduced to you. So that validation piece is incredibly important. It also provides validation for your team, if you’ve got people working in your team, whether it be other advisers, paraplanners, admin staff, technical staff, whoever it is, it provides validation for them, that they are delivering value to people that they work with, and also that they’re working in the right place. So for me providing validation and celebration, to clients, prospects, personal connections, your team, is a massive part of the part of the guide. Of course, it provides valuable social proof to all those groups of people, and that’s linked to the validation piece. We’ll talk about how that social proof only works if you promote your inclusion in the guide, and we’ll talk about how to promote it later. I think as the poll results show earlier, if you qualify as a top-rated firm, you are able to stand out more. There are more individual advisers qualifying than firms, and therefore if you qualify as a firm, you’re going to stand out more, and also you’ll get greater prominence on the VouchedFor platform because by dint of being in the guide, you’ll have got more reviews. The recency of reviews I think is part of the algorithm. But also you’ve got buttons on there showing top-rated, etc, etc. So for me, there are some huge benefits of being included in the guide. Is there anything I’ve missed off there Alex?

Alex Whitson  18:48

I think you’ve given a really good summary Phil. At a high level, it’s a way to stand out in a language that clients understand. As we’ve touched on, there are lots of really important trust signals within the profession, but not all of them make sense to consumers; certain qualifications and awards don’t make a tonne of sense to to everyone. However, people understand client feedback, they understand ratings and so, leveraged effectively, top-rated is a really good way to strengthen your online presence and to help generate more of what will always be the best kind of enquiries, which is client referrals, professional referrals, and also to help increase conversion. One thing worth adding, though, is that a lot of our members, and those who qualify as top-rated are actually not that interested in new clients, they’re at capacity. So, there are a couple of other objectives that come into play for them, two of the main ones being: they may be eyeing up an exit in a few years and so collecting this regular feedback, gives them confidence they’ll be able to command the best possible exit when the time comes because they can reassure any acquirer that they put clients at their heart and also that the risk is at an acceptable level; and the other main reason is, is simply pride. A lot of our members work incredibly hard for their clients and arguably, particularly so right now, and they’re sick of the portrayal of their profession. They’re sick of the look, they get at drinks parties, when they say they’re a financial adviser, and rightly so. So they like to support the the overall mission of what we’re doing and, you know, publish their feedback, publicly.

Phil Bray  20:38

A really good point about eyeing up an exit, Alex. I think you’ve probably made the same point you did an interview for the exit partnership in their newsletter in September. It’s probably a point you made but being able to use things like elevation to show lower than average risk markers, is absolutely a positive when it comes to exit and a sale. Good point.

Alex Whitson  21:02

I think it’s becoming a more important point now, as, in the last two to three years we have seen a flurry of merger and acquisition (m&a) activity. We work closely with a number of acquirers and they’ve told us off the record that they’ve had to do deals where they’re taking on, for instance, a greater degree of risk than they’re comfortable with given the competitiveness in the m&a space, but we are seeing that start to change. We’re starting to see acquirers collect more data and demand more from the firms that they’re looking to acquire to get them comfortable and ensure that the deal progresses.

Phil Bray  21:43

I see Dan that we’ve had a reply from Lindsey, I’m intrigued to know whether Alex and I have provided enough comfort.

Dan Campbell  21:49

You will be thrilled to know that you have, Yes. Lindsey says “It does thank you, for us, we’d never not do this, we’re hugely supportive of this guide and it has been a huge speaking point among our clients and our friends. I’m very happy to see the longevity of the campaign this year. Well done all.”

Phil Bray  22:07

Well done, Alex. Thank you, Lindsay.

Alex Whitson  22:09

Thanks, Lindsay. That’s great to hear.

Phil Bray  22:11

So, we’ve established it’s going in a far greater amount of publications this year. We’ve talked about some of the benefits of being included. Let’s have a look at how you can be included. So the first thing: deadlines. The reviews received from the 1st January to the 31st December 2023, count towards qualification, and therefore the deadline is on the 31st December 2023. Alex, that’s pretty simple. Anything you would add to that?

Alex Whitson  22:46


Phil Bray  22:47

No we’re good with that? Right. To qualify as an individual adviser, or planner, and mortgage broker, I guess I should say, it’s a minimum of ten reviews, with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5. I think we’re right in saying Alex, all reviews count, whether it’s a first impression, a kind of full fat review the first time a client’s left one, or a top review?

Alex Whitson  23:15


Phil Bray  23:17

And then to be included in the guide. If the adviser, planner, or mortgage broker gets those ten reviews and meets the minimum score, they need to have a verified membership, which is £54 per month plus VAT and pass your checks. Is that a fair summary Alex?

Alex Whitson  23:34

Yeah, spot on.

Phil Bray  23:36

Anything I’ve missed off there?

Alex Whitson  23:37

Nope. This one is more simple I’m pleased to say. Top-rated firm is a little more complex as we’ll come on to.

Phil Bray  23:46

Let’s have a crack at Top-rated firm then shall we? That was a great segue, thanks Alex. So you need to have asked 100% of your clients for a review, minus any exceptions. Alex, is it a review in the last 12 months or this year?

Alex Whitson  24:11

It is this year, so it’s since 1st January.

Phil Bray  24:15

Got it. So, in the calendar year of 2023. The exceptions include: new clients who have been with you for fewer than three months. I would argue that new clients actually make up a really good group of people to leave reviews, but that’s probably a separate conversation; clients whose original firm was acquired by or merged with yours in the past 12 months; clients without an email address for obvious reasons, and celebrity clients. Celbrity clients intrigued me Alex, some Z-listed from Love Island five years ago. I’d be interested to learn the definition of celebrity clients, but celebrity clients are on the excluded list.


Alex Whitson  24:53

The reason for that, if it’s helpful to share, because I was very reluctant to add this to the list, but it’s because we worked closely with a couple of firms who’ve raised it to get a better understanding, and basically, their communication with their celebrity clients is enormously restricted. So, it’s very difficult for them to send something like a feedback request through to their celebrity clients. I don’t think in the case of these particular firms they were talking about, Z lister, Love Island, contestants from a few years ago, more like pop stars, footballers and the like. But after much consideration we thought it fair to add it to the list, given the points that they raised.

Phil Bray  25:35

Also on the exceptions list: Clients who are unwell, clients of advisers who are under notice and potentially leaving, clients who have previously left a review in the last 12 months, no need to double up, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t give you an extra review though, corporate clients, and clients who have not paid you for a service within the last 12 months. So apart from the definition of the Love Island celebrities is anything that you would add to the exclusion list Alex?

Alex Whitson  26:06

No, that’s it. But the one thing I would say actually is, these are exemptions as far as the criteria is concerned, but my strong steer is always to invite all your clients for feedback unless there’s an exceptionally good reason not to. That would include any celebrity clients where you’re comfortable and able to invite them to give feedback.

Phil Bray  26:32

I would completely agree with that. I occasionally hear advisers and planners say, oh, we’ll ask our clients, our new clients for a review in X amount of time when they’ve experienced the service and it’s almost as if there is some magical point after two years, three months, six days, ten hours to ask for a review, and there absolutely isn’t. One of the key times a financial planner will positively impact their clients’ lives is in those early stages when they experience the benefits of financial planning. So, why wouldn’t you ask for a review at that point? I’m completely with you, Alex. Whilst a lot of these, on the exception list make sense, I would be asking as many people as possible.

Alex Whitson  27:22

Yeah, absolutely right. I mean, there are three trigger points that we recommend. So the first time is at your first impression feedback form that’s sent out after an initial meeting, the second is after a new client has been through that initial advice process, and then it’s after every annual review thereafter. And I totally get why some people are nervous about collecting feedback at those different points, the bit that we tend to get the most resistance on is around that first impression review form after the initial meeting. But it’s so powerful, you know, particularly if it’s positioned correctly with the prospect, it shows that you really care about delivering a great service right from the outset. The story I sometimes share here is, in the summer, after much persuasion from my family, we went to this all-inclusive hotel that has just got the most phenomenal word of mouth. I’ve heard around any hotel that we’ve ever been to, everyone at our life stage raved about this place. At the end of day one of staying at this hotel, we got a feedback request and it asked how things were going and whether there was anything that they could do to improve our stay. So, I duly completed it and sure enough, everything I mentioned was rectified. Now, I imagine if you went into most hotels and said to invite feedback after the first day of someone’s trip, you’d get huge pushback, but in the case of this hotel, I think it’s central to the reputation they have built. It showed me as a client from the outset that they really cared about me having a great experience. There were a couple of tiny niggles I mentioned in the form that were sorted straightaway, and really set us up for a great trip.

Phil Bray  29:09

It’s a good point about asking when you should ask for reviews. Dan, Claire has asked a question that pertains exactly to that.

Dan Campbell  29:18

Yeah, they certainly have. So Claire asks, “Is it best practice to ask every ongoing client every year at their annual review?”

Phil Bray  29:28

Yeah, both Alex and I are nodding. Yeah, I absolutely believe it is. We talk a lot about online reviews here at Yardstick, there is the definitive guide to online reviews that we published only last week, and in my mind, after every annual review meeting, there should be an email or a message going out to clients saying “We collect reviews on Google and VouchedFor, please leave us a review.” It’s such an important time to be asking clients for a review, they are so positive about their financial future, they feel more confident, reassured, and they’ve got more peace of mind. It is the perfect time to swoop in and strike with a review request. Alex, anything you’d add there?

Alex Whitson  30:20

I couldn’t agree more. Adding to that, particularly when you’re asking a few more questions, which our review form involves, asking them at that point means that they’re more likely to have a fresh memory of the experience and give you more valuable feedback. The key is really how you position it, and sometimes advisers will make the mistake of not talking about feedback with their clients, they just ping out a request and their response rate suffers a bit, or maybe they talk about it, but they position feedback very much as a huge favour that the client is doing for them, the adviser. but the advisers that get the best response rate are those that say something like ‘I really care about great service, Your feedback helps me do that. So I’d be grateful if you could take a moment to leave me some feedback.’ And what that does, is position the benefit of feedback in the client’s camp, which makes them much more likely to respond and engage.

Phil Bray  31:16

Thank you, Alex. So we’ve established who we need to ask, now let’s look at the response rates we need to get. This is where we’re going to get into the weeds, as Dan called it earlier, about the qualification. So, we’ll take this slowly because it has changed a bit from last year, hasn’t it Alex?

Alex Whitson  31:35


Phil Bray  31:36

So, first thing, feedback needs to be collected for all advisers in the firm, we can’t leave any out. Which is pretty sensible,  seeing as we’ve got to ask 100% of clients minus the exceptions. So that’s pretty straightforward. We then need a minimum response rate of 20%, with at least 20 of those responses, answering the elevation question set; and that’s 20 answering the elevation question set per firm, not per individual adviser. Are we good so far Alex?

Alex Whitson  32:18


Phil Bray  32:18

Good. Your average firm rating needs to be slightly higher than the individual adviser rating does; it needs to be 4.7 out of 5, and we’ve got two new benchmarks added in and two more hurdles to get past for 2024’s qualification. The first of those is passionate advocacy. So for financial advice, 20% of your clients need to say that they are passionate advocates for the business, 50% for mortgage protection, and risk markers need to be at 75% or above. So there are two key new benchmarks, two requirements that have been added this year. Alex, can you just explain to everyone here today, the reason for adding those in if that’s okay?

Alex Whitson  33:29

Absolutely. So after the guide was published last year, we undertook a really in-depth research process, we spoke to a lot of the advisers and firms that we work closely with to understand what they felt went well about the guide in 2023, and how we could improve it. There were a few things that came out of our research around top-rated firms specifically, a couple of the most common themes were that we needed to make the process a bit easier for advisers. So in previous years, you would have to apply and then you’d need to tell us when you thought you’d qualified so we could be sure that you’d invited all your clients and achieved the requisite response rate and so on. We also got feedback that we should make it more robust. Added to that, was the need to simplify the process for us. We received several hundreds of applications for top-rated firm last year, with only about 100 of them making the cut, and it just sucked up a huge amount of our team’s time going back and forwards understanding whether they’ve invited all clients and whether they’ve achieved response rates etc. The answer to all those above points is to use elevation. The elevation system is our best read on how good of a job a firm is doing. When a firm sets up on elevation, we work closely with them to ensure that they’ve invited all their clients, that’s baked into the process. The system also shows them how they compare against industry averages in areas like advocacy and risk; firms need to be above those benchmarks for both areas. One thing we were keen to do, I know some of you listening are set up on the elevation system, is create a standing target. We didn’t want to create a moving target, so rather than just enabling or requiring you to exceed the benchmark shown within the system, we took a fixed benchmark, which are those that you can see on screen for 2023 year to date, so that you know exactly what you’re aiming for.

Phil Bray  35:37

That’s a good point because I’ve got a screenshot of an elevation dashboard here, and what you can see on the elevation dashboard is that for this particular firm, they are at 84% in terms of risk, and 4% ahead, therefore, the average is 80% here, and in terms of client advocacy, it will be 24%. I think it’s important that we just re-emphasise, Alex, that the hurdle rates are either 20% 50% or 75%.

Alex Whitson  36:15

Yeah, absolutely right and what you can do, because ultimately, we’re looking at your average across the year, you’re able to filter your scores over a certain time period within elevation. So, you can set the filters for your goal scores to 2023, to see exactly how you’re doing, and as Phil says, you just need to exceed those fixed benchmarks that are shown on screen. The ones that are currently showing within the elevation platform are slightly higher than those, and the reason for that is that with consumer duty taking effect from the end of July, we’ve seen a lot of firms collecting and acting on their data, which has ultimately raised the industry standard from where it was at the start of the year.

Phil Bray  37:02

Just finishing off a couple more slides on the qualification. One of the requirements is that firms and advisers publicly display all feedback on VouchedFor and that the reviews, as Alex said earlier, are subject to analysis by the elevation system. Alex, just explain a bit more about what you mean by publicly display all feedback on VouchedFor.

Alex Whitson  37:32

Yeah, so a key part of the top-rated campaign from the very start has been transparency, so didn’t feel right to enable firms to collect feedback on elevation privately, exceed the benchmarks, and then be able to qualify as top-rated without any of that feedback being in the public domain. The most valuable way to put that feedback in the public domain is through one of our verified profiles. You can go on to VouchedFor, search for an adviser by name, and you see a verified profile with all their checks and reviews, that’s the most valuable way to put it public. However, to the greatest extent possible, I’m keen to ensure that cost isn’t a barrier to people engaging with top-rated, it is to a point but I’m keen to keep that to a minimum. Therefore, if any firm does qualify as top-rated based on all the criteria that you’ve just been through, wants to put it public on VouchedFor, but doesn’t want to take out a verified profile for each of their advisers, we’re building a basic solution to enable them to do that. It won’t be as valuable as verified, but they’ll be able to do that without any additional charge.

Phil Bray  38:43

Thanks, Alex. This is again, another nice segue into the elevation part of this. This will certainly answer your question Mark, and maybe a couple of others. So in terms of qualification as a top-rated firm, and I think it’s worth emphasising this is for top-rated firm, not for individual advisers who want to go into the guide. If you qualified for the guide as a top-rated firm in 2023 you’ve got two choices, I think I’m right in saying. The first is you apply for top-rated firm status without cost and VouchedFor will run your feedback through the elevation system and compare it to benchmarks in the background. If you choose that route with no cost, as I say this assumes you qualified for 2023, you’ll have no access to the elevation dashboards and there will be a call with VouchedFor to review your data. The second option, if you qualified as a top-rated firm in 2023 is to sign up at a firm level for elevation at a 75% discount; that’s £10 per adviser, per month plus VAT, so, £12 per adviser per month. That gives the firm central access to firm-level dashboards. So you’ll be able to see whether you are above or below those metrics we spoke about earlier. So those are two choices. If you qualified as a top-rated firm last year. If you didn’t qualify as a top-rated firm last year (2023), then the elevation product is £40 per adviser, per month plus VAT, but if you combine it with verified membership, the total cost is £85 per adviser, per month plus VAT instead of £94. Alex, I need a little sip of water after that, could you just talk us through anything that I got wrong there, or anything that you want to add?

Alex Whitson  40:57

You got it exactly right, Phil. The reason for having a different way of accessing elevation for firms that have previously qualified as top-rated versus those that haven’t is that we recognise that many of those firms that have previously qualified as top-rated have already put in a huge amount of work this year to become top-rated again. So, it didn’t feel right to require them to pay for full access to elevation if they didn’t want to. For everyone else, this was something we spent a huge amount of time agonising over within the business, to be honest. We explored every option from giving elevation for free through to charging for it; we ultimately settled on this course of action, because what we want to ensure with top-rated firm is that, per the feedback that we received, it is as robust as possible. And where a firm is set up on elevation, we know they’re collecting regular data from their clients, we can see exactly how they’re doing against industry benchmarks on an ongoing basis, and crucially, we can see what they’re doing to act on the data. That’s such a key requirement within the consumer duty of course, it’s not just about collecting the right data, but it’s it’s about acting upon it. There are various email alerts and action lists, which aren’t live yet, but will be soon, that show advisers the most powerful things that they can do to improve client experience and it will ultimately log whether they’ve taken those actions. So it is without question, our best data source, our best method of assessing how good of a job firms are doing, which is why it’s a central part of the criteria this year.

Phil Bray  42:45

Thanks, Alex. Right, we’ve got some questions about qualification. So let’s spend five minutes doing those and then we’re going to talk about some top tips to help firms and advisers qualify, and a little bit about promotion.

Dan Campbell  42:58

Wonderful. Right. So my first question is from Rob. Rob, fantastic question. “If we hit the criteria, do we automatically appear in the guide? Or do we need to apply? How do we get in this guide Alex?”

Alex Whitson  43:14

So if you are, if you’re an adviser, with verified membership at VouchedFor and you hit the criteria, there’s absolutely nothing that you need to do. You’ll get regular emails from us in the lead up to qualifying telling you how many reviews are needed to enable you to hit the criteria, and then once you’ve qualified, you will be notified of that. And what we do in the lead-up to the campaign is we’ll tag you on LinkedIn telling you and your network that you’ve qualified as a top-rated adviser and will feature in the guide. At a firm level it’s similar. So, unlike the way that it worked previously, whereby you needed to tell us when you thought you’d qualify, there was no other way of doing it but it was a bit of a pain for firms, as long as you’re set up on elevation, we’re going to be constantly reviewing the data, you’ll be assigned one of our success team who will be working closely with you. A big part of their job is to help you get maximum value from the platform, including qualifying as a top-rated firm if you’d like to, so they will tell you how you’re doing and when you meet the criteria if that’s something that you’re aiming for.

Dan Campbell  44:24

Brilliant. Thanks, Alex. Next question from Guy. This is a wonderfully niche question “Regarding reviews for all advisers in the firm, what if we have an adviser who has come off of VouchedFor because they are retiring in the next year?”

Alex Whitson  44:44

Typically the requirement is that all advisers need to be included. However, there are a couple of circumstances in which I’d be willing to waive that. So one would be that you’ve got a brand new adviser who has got no clients. It would be impossible to invite client feedback for them so they needn’t be included. The other would be if the adviser in question is going to be retiring before the guide is published, then I think it’s reasonable that they don’t have to be included within the process.

Dan Campbell  45:20

Brilliant, thanks. The next question I’m going to choose is from Claire who asks, “Can I ask why mortgage and protection has a higher passionate advocacy rate?”

Alex Whitson  45:32

It’s a really great question and it’s one that we’ve debated at length within the business and we’ve reached out to clients to try and better understand it. What passionate advocacy is essentially measuring is client delight, and the theory that we’ve landed on, though I welcome others from the audience and from you Phil, is that there’s a lot more to the financial planning process. It’s a longer process, there’s a lot more to it and therefore, absolutely smashing every component of it out the park is arguably a bit harder than when you’ve got a more transactional relationship. If someone’s just looking for a mortgage, and you get them onto a mortgage that they’re confident is the very best mortgage for them, it’s arguably a quicker route to delight for them than is possible within the financial planning relationship where the job is never completely done. In financial planning, you’re working towards ever-changing goals over a very long period of time and there are other factors at play including things like market performance. That’s our best shot, our hypothesis based on the data and conversation with clients. But Phil, do you have any anything to add on that? Any thoughts?

Phil Bray  46:55

I would agree, I think it’s that immediate versus delayed gratification. Dan, you just moved house and I’m sure you believe in your mortgage adviser, a VouchedFor review because they’ve helped you get into the house of your dreams.

Dan Campbell  47:15

Yeah, I was having a conversation with a mortgage broker yesterday and it was interesting that they’re often the person you pay the least to during the house buying process, but offer the greatest value. So, why wouldn’t you leave a review if that’s the case?

Phil Bray  47:30

Whereas financial planning, yes, there were absolutely benefits immediately, but often, it takes longer to achieve aspirations, goals, and objectives. So yeah, I completely agree with that Alex. Dan, back to you for more questions.

Dan Campbell  47:46

Yeah, I’m conscious of time so I’m just gonna choose one more, and then we’ll sweep some up at the end. I’m gonna choose Andy’s question. Andy asks, “Is it too late to qualify this year, if we don’t have a VouchedFor profile? Or can we still qualify as long as we meet the volume criteria by the end of December?”

Alex Whitson  48:07

It’s not too late Andy, but you probably want to get cracking fairly soon. If you email guide@VouchedFor.co.uk, one of the team will reach out to understand what you’re looking to achieve and help you get set up. It’s very easy to invite feedback through the system, it takes a matter of minutes to upload a client list and tailor the invite message. I think Phil’s going to share a template that you can add to the system if you prefer. The average response rate we see through the system at the moment is around 45%, so depending on how big your client bank is, it’s certainly achievable to hit the criteria by the qualification deadline, which is December 31st 2023.

Phil Bray  48:51

Thank you, Alex and Dan. We’ll do the next couple of sections and then we’ll hang around and answer any questions for as long as necessary. So, we’ve talked about promotion, we’ve talked about how to qualify as an individual adviser and as a firm, now lets have a think about some top tips. Andy, these are things that maybe you could start start using, if you want to qualify by the end of the year and I would say that these tips are all based on experience. Every year at Yardstick we put a big board up on the wall of all the firms that we’re trying to help qualify, and we mark them off, we tick them off as we go and we’ve got a pretty good success rate. So these tips are based on what we do and our experience. The first thing to do is calculate your targets and what your targets need to be, whether it’s around your score, the number of reviews that you need, and those two additional benchmarks for firm qualification. You need to understand what you’re aiming for. I would then run a one-off project, we sometimes talk about this as a booster project, asking all clients to leave a review. I know you’ve got some exceptions and Alex and I spoke about them earlier, but I would be asking pretty much all clients to leave you a review. I’d also be making it clear that those reviews can be brand new reviews if they’ve not done one before, or a top-up review if they’ve previously done one because some clients might think ‘I’ve already left a review, I don’t need to do this again.’ But of course, they’re reviewing an ongoing service. The other thing I’d say is some advisers and planners have a bit of a limiting belief that people won’t leave multiple reviews; they absolutely will. To prove that point, we’ve got a few firms that we work with that in 2024, will be the third year that they’ve qualified as a top-rated firm. So, run that one-off project asking all clients to leave a review, whether it’s a top-up review, or a brand new review. I would be explaining why the review is particularly important at this time of year, I’d be talking about the top-rated guide, I’d be talking about the fact that for the first time in 2024, it’s published in three national newspapers and I would be adding in Alex’s very valid point earlier that by getting these reviews, and getting the feedback on each question, you as a business and as an individual adviser or planner can improve the service that you deliver. So calculate your targets, one-off project, when you message them using the VouchedFor system, explain those three things then check back and see whether you have qualified or not remembering the new criteria. If you are short, in our experience, you would probably only be short by a relatively small number. So then, pick up the phone and just chat to your clients saying “I’ve sent you the email, would you mind? It’s really important” Get their verbal agreement on the phone, and ask them how they’d like to receive the link? Do you want me to send it again via the VouchedFor system? Do you want me to email it? Do you want me to send it via WhatsApp, we’ve seen some firms do really good things with WhatsApp recently. And then strike while the iron is hot and immediately send the link over. Don’t do it later on that day or the next day or next week, do it immediately. In my experience, when firms follow that process, calculate targets, initial project with the right wording, checking back, and then topping up, that is generally enough to get the firms who are providing a good enough service to qualify as a top rated firm and individual advisers and planners as well. To help you guys, in the follow up, which we will send out later on today, we’re going to give you some text that we would use. It’s our start at the ten, if you want to edit it, use your own language and style you can, but it’s our start at the ten for asking clients for these reviews. There’ll be a link to that in our follow up email alongside a link to the email address that Alex gave out earlier. Alex, before we go on to talk briefly about promoting inclusion, is there anything you would add to getting qualified?

Alex Whitson  53:51

Only that our team are tasked with helping in any way they can. So, if you get stuck, feel free to reach out to them, ask for assistance and they’ll be only too happy to provide it.

Phil Bray  54:06

And the same would apply to any Yardstick clients that are on this on this call. We’re having regular conversations with our clients on a monthly basis. Claire, for example, we got a call on Friday I think and we’ll be talking about this during our monthly marketing meeting calls. So that’s how you get qualified, let’s have a quick look to start you thinking about how to promote this next year. I think it was Lloyd earlier who talked about how do we make this more than just an ego boost. It is quite a nice ego boost, we all need our ego polishing from time to time don’t we? But how do we make it more than that? Here are a few things, and we’re going to do a separate webinar about this, these are the sorts of things you can start to think about. We can use VouchedFor’s promotional assets. There’s some really good stuff that VouchedFor does, for example, top-rated certificates, the digital badges are great, are you doing trophies next year, Alex?

Alex Whitson  55:09


Phil Bray  55:10

Yeah, trophies next year are really good. We’ve got a client that whenever he’s on a call, there’s a mantelpiece behind him, upon which you can see the VouchedFor trophies lined up. There are other assets that you could create but it’s most important that you build a plan for this promotion. And at our webinar in January or February, we will show you how to create that plan. That plan is essentially a list of things that need doing and updating over different months of the year, especially now that the promotion is going to be elongated over a six month period from March to September. So it’s really important that we don’t just have a plan for March, but we have a plan for the rest of the year too. That plan should include things like updating key pages on your website. We need to make sure that the key pages, the most popular pages, maybe the top 10, are updated. We should be emailing clients, prospects, and professional connections I would say on that first publication date, and maybe on the other publication dates in The Daily Mail, and The Telegraph as well, but certainly on that first publication date. You can get creative with that, I’ve seen advisers taking a video of themselves walking into the newsagent on a Saturday morning opening The Times pulling it out, finding their name, and that sort of stuff. You can get really creative there. Update your collateral, use the badges that VouchedFor provide to update things like stationery, brochures, email signatures, all that sort of stuff that’s in Dan’s domain. On social media, update your profiles, you’ve got the header at the top of your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter profiles, start using the VouchedFor badges on there. Then start posting on your social media accounts prior to the first guide being issued and published on the day, and then on those other subsequent publication days for The Daily Mail and The Telegraph. There is so much you can be doing, it’s probably not a point to be going into too much detail here we can do that after Christmas, but the key takeaway from this or maybe the two key takeaways in terms of promotion are number one, have a plan, and number two, I just can’t emphasise enough the importance of PR-ing the PR. If you’re in The Times as firms will be, or at least in the guide distributed in The Times, it’s really important that you promote your inclusion. If you don’t promote your inclusion, you’re going to get less benefit from it. So Lloyd glad those slides are in there and hopefully that’s given you a few ideas. Right before we get to the questions, a but of Yardstick news, our next webinar is at 10am on Wednesday, 18th October: 10 ways that guarantee your website is different and stands out from the crowd.  One of the things we’ve noticed is that firms come to us say we want a different type of website and they always focus on design, but there are so many other ways you can differentiate your website from your peers and competitors. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about on Wednesday 18th October. Dan, if you could just pop a link in?

Dan Campbell  58:42

Yeah, I already have done.

Phil Bray  58:44

So, I can hear Nottingham’s council house bells. We’ve just finished smack on 11 O’clock, which is pretty darn good, but let’s hang around and answer any questions that we’ve got left.

Dan Campbell  58:55

Brilliant. Let’s start with a question from Mark. Another great, challenging question, you guys have been excellent with your input today. So Mark asks, “I was advised last year that I could not be a top-rated firm as I was a sole adviser. Therefore, although we met the assessments, we did not qualify. So why should we have to pay more in 2024?”

Alex Whitson  59:23

Thanks for the question Mark, I’m keen to understand more and would love to follow up after this because one-person firms can indeed qualify as top-rated provided that they meet all the criteria. There are a couple of rules around that, so they need to be a firm in their own right and such like, but I’d be keen to catch up with you to better understand what was discussed and why you didn’t qualify, because the top-rated firm process is deliberately set up to not be sizeist and plenty of the people that qualified last year are one-person operations.

Phil Bray  1:00:00

Alex, could you just put your email address in the chat if you don’t mind so that Mark can follow up?

Alex Whitson  1:00:05

Yeah, of course.

Phil Bray  1:00:07

Back to you Dan.

Dan Campbell  1:00:09

While Alex is doing that, here’s another comment from Mark, following up your top tips, Phil. For Mark, the thing that’s worked for them is, “We found two in particular that helped us increase our reviews. The first was to move asking for the review on all mortgages to a week after purchase rather than on completion. As people are busy moving.” I can absolutely vouch for that. “and a follow-up 10 days after, so that seems to be the sweet spot.” And that seems to be the point where I left my review for my broker actually. “Secondly, we advise clients that we merged our review and customer service questionnaire into a single item to make it quicker and easier for them to complete.” So reducing that friction works for Mark. Now, the second question I’ll choose is from an anonymous attendee. It always sounds quite mysterious, doesn’t it when we get an anonymous question. They ask “How the firm ratings linked to adviser ratings? Are they just an average? Or are there different weightings given to first impression reviews / full reviews?”

Alex Whitson  1:01:14

So firm ratings are an average all the reviews and all the ratings collected by advisers associated with that firms. Sp, that’s the first bit. In terms of weightings, the client reviews are given a slightly higher weighting than first impression reviews, a first impression review will count for half of the value that a full client review will.

Dan Campbell  1:01:39

Lovely stuff. So let’s go for Abdul’s question. Abdul says “Can we link VouchedFor reviews to Google reviews? or are the two things separate?”

Alex Whitson  1:01:53

So in terms of how you link them Abdul, currently they are separate, i.e. you can either invite reviews on on VouchedFor, or Google, we do at some point plan to get round to make it easiest to do both. It isn’t possible to do a direct integration whereby you could collect feedback and publish it both to both platforms; not because I wouldn’t want to do that, I’d love to do it but it would require Google to play ball. However, there is something planned at some point in our product roadmap, which will essentially at the end of the review journey, take the key qualitative part of the feedback you’ve received, which is usually the answer to the ‘how the adviser helps you’ question, and then the reviewer could copy and paste that onto Google using a link supplied through the feedback form. That’s not live yet, and probably won’t be for a few months I’m afraid, but the way that a lot of firms will do it is to invite both. I think you guys do both with your clients at the same time, don’t you Phil?

Phil Bray  1:03:02

Yeah, generally, it’s one email with two links. Here’s the link for VouchedFor. Here’s the link for Google. Really, interestingly, if you like this sort of thing, despite the fact that VouchedFor ask a lot more questions than Google. Google asks two, “What’s the score out of five, and leave a comment” In our experience, for every one Google review a firm gets, they’ll get between five and ten on VouchedFor. That’s why, for me, and there’s other reasons as well, but the pairing between the two platforms is absolutely essential. One of the things I would ask you Alex to chat to your dev team about, is the issue of duplication of reviews. Sometimes Google take reviews down that they see as duplicate content. But anything to make the process easier to get a Google review and a VouchedFor review at the same time would be welcome to everybody on this webinar.

Alex Whitson  1:04:01

Absolutely. Yeah I know it’s something you’ve written a lot about Phil, trying to better understand why they do or don’t publish certain bits of feedback, would certainly be helpful for that process.

Phil Bray  1:04:12

Yeah, one of things we’ve noticed is that Google reviews do disappear infrequently. But they’re so hard to get it’s a real pain. We’ve noticed, firms who are following our three steps to claim them back that we’ve developed, are getting them back on Google. It’s still a bit of a pain but they are coming back, whereas before they used to be lost in the ether and you would never hear back from Google.

Alex Whitson  1:04:34

Yeah, it’s a curious one actually, I find it a bit frustrating in that there was a personal issue that someone within our team had with someone in their personal life, and that individual decided to leave bad reviews for us on Google as a way to get to the member of the team. Those were published by Google, however, lots of valid bits of feedback left by consumers or advisers who have definitely used our platform didn’t. So it’s a bit of an ongoing challenge making sure that the right ones get published.

Phil Bray  1:05:13

Yeah I get that. Dan, a couple more questions before we end.

Dan Campbell  1:05:17

Sure thing. Yeah, this is where we hear that that disgruntled person works for Google, it’s an inside man. Let’s go for Miles’ question, and I’m imagining the answer is going to be just get them to leave a review for each of you. Miles asks, “We have a firm we always use for mortgages for our clients, will there ever be a collaborative rating?”

Alex Whitson  1:05:44

It’s a good question. My go-to on that would be as you suggested Dan, to collect different bits of feedback to measure satisfaction across the the full journey. A question we are starting to get a bit more is measuring the – within a firm, let’s say a paraplanner, has been very involved in the process alongside the financial planner, and maybe there’s a couple of other internal team members, a tax specialist or something, and trying to fairly capture the role that each of them have played in the process, and to help with that, though I think we’ve got a bit further to go, to be honest, is there are certain questions that are now included within the feedback form, which sort of capture sentiment across that broader journey, not just the interactions with the main point of contact, who is typically the financial planner, or the mortgage broker. In the incidents described, I’d 100% advocate for collecting two bits of feedback.

Dan Campbell  1:06:47

Thank you. Now, I believe this is our final question until anybody jumps in with another. This is a more broad VouchedFor question than the top-rated guide, but who better to answer it than the Managing Director of VouchedFor? So, this is from Steven, who says “We charge tiered fees, but our profile page does not seem to cater for this, am I correct?”

Alex Whitson  1:07:11

It should do Steve. When you log into your VouchedFor account, you should be able to add fees and how they change dependent on wealth level. Then on the front end of the site, that the consumer sees, they can go in and log their 250k of assets, or whatever it might be, and they’ll be able to see the appropriate fee that you would charge. But do reach out to one of the team, they’d be happy to chat you through it and ensure it’s all working as it should be.

Dan Campbell  1:07:44

Lovely stuff. Thanks so much. We are all out of questions, I believe.

Phil Bray  1:07:49

Thank you, Dan. So a huge thank you to Alex for taking the time to come and talk to us today. Alex, it’s been insightful and everyone has left with their questions answered, which is a good thing. If you’ve got any questions after the webinar, Alex’s email address is in the chat, and we’ll be following up and we’ll provide a link to an email where you can ask specific questions about the guide. We’ll get the recording out this afternoon, there’s some useful links in there and I look forward to seeing everybody’s name up in lights in March next year, qualified as either a top-rated adviser or a top-rated firm. Dan, thank you for being here as usual. Alex, thanks again. See everybody for next month’s Webinar. Cheers. Bye bye.

Dan Campbell  1:08:39

Take care guys. Bye

Alex Whitson  1:08:41

Thanks all.

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