Bruce Wilson, a vegetarian, participates in Ironman triathlons, rides his bike from London to India, studies acupuncture, yoga and meditation. Wilson, 62, is also the next president of the Institute of Financial Planning (IFP), the organization for Certified Financial Planners in the United Kingdom. And he is a registered life planner who intends to make life planning a priority for advisors in England.
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Of course, I’m not surprised that a financial planner is such a fascinating person. I’ve met many of them. But Wilson is cut from a different cloth; he is a true individual. When given a task, he always takes the longest and most thrilling route to complete it. I think of myself as a big risk taker and he is one of the few financial advisors I’ve met who is way, way ahead of me.
He became a financial planner quite by accident. His girlfriend worked as a financial planner while he practiced acupuncture. One day, she had a cold and he took a look at her books and began helping her out. He was already a chartered accountant. When he needed to get additional credentials if he were to continue his acupuncture practice, he switched to financial planning.
Wilson is managing director of Helm Godfrey, a 65-person financial planning firm in London. He values freedom above all things and that’s what he wants to deliver to clients. For example, when he was hired by Peat Marwick for an auditing job in Australia, he headed west from London and traveled overland through Europe and Asia. It took six months and he arrived late to start the new job. When the auditing client tried to hire him for 60 percent more in compensation than he made at Peat Marwick, he didn't want the job and he didn't see any point of continuing at Peat Marwick for less money, so he quit working and travel around Australia and New Zealand for five years.
When I met him at the Hotel Russell in London last month, Wilson was returning from a hang gliding holiday with his son in France. Not surprisingly given the extreme sports he enjoys, Wilson is ultra-fit, this day wearing a lavender shirt over a purple T-shirt, his chiseled face topped by bushy grey and white streaked hair. He exudes energy, inspiration and wellness. He and his partner go to Rome regularly to train with a yoga teacher who practices a form of yoga they admire.
Perhaps the reason Wilson’s personality surprised me is because I wouldn’t have expected a financial planning association to elect such an outlier as vice president. But perhaps in the U.K., he is more typical? Two years from now, he becomes president of the IFP. His mission is to bring life planning front and center of the financial advisory profession in the U.K. I wouldn’t bet against him. All ten members of the IFP board have completed George Kinder’s two-day workshop for life planners. Several have completed the five-day workshop.
The IFP has a rapidly growing membership in the U.K. with 2,000 members, double the number five years ago. Wilson says the IFP is made up of “one man bands, all boutique and independent and proud of it.” About 400 members attended the conference last month as well as a year ago. That makes a sell out crowd.
Wilson, who will step down as managing director at his firm at the end of the year, hopes to spend more time doing life planning. He also wants to spend time as co-leader of the life planning movement in Europe. He and his partner plan to move to Spain next year where they will “start doing the fun stuff.” His goal for his life? “To be perfectly happy with everything that happens.”
As I said in an earlier column, the U.K. appears to be ahead of U.S. planners if you consider doing holistic life planning for each client to be “ahead.” I do, although I know that many advisors in the U.S. don’t see it that way.
I’ve been mulling what is different about financial planning here and in the UK. I’ve met plenty of registered life planners in this country who are equally enthusiastic about using life planning. But I wouldn’t say they are the leaders of the profession here in the U.S. Certainly England is a far smaller canvas. Still, I’m not sure why the movement is growing so much more quickly there.
Any ideas? I’d love to hear them.