Stepping out, to step up!


This month Paul and Andy have shared their motivation and vision behind Sound!


Siân: What inspired you to create Sound?


Andy: Both Paul and I were working as tired agents for a large insurance company whom we felt didn’t have the right ethos a financial planning model that suited the client’s interest, it was aimed at selling products, and proper cashflow financial planning was what really motivated us.


This was really frustrating and for me it was the catalyst to starting Sound with Paul. I also liked the idea of being in controller of my own destiny.


Paul: I think for me it was more to do with sailing my own ship. As Andy said we were in a commission driven business and we wanted to be independent so we could offer clients products from the whole market, but more importantly than that is was about doing financial planning properly and tying that in with working for ourselves.  Although we knew that this was going to be a challenge it was going to be rewarding as well.


Siân: Do you still feel the same way?


Andy: Yes, absolutely, I think things have moved on a lot, however the principals are still the same, if anything they are more aligned with our vision.


If you take a look at the direction the industry has taken, the regulators are looking for a fee based model where firms are open about what they are charging clients, clients understand these fees and feel happy to pay them as they are getting value for money, the service they need and the right advice.


I believe ultimately that hasn’t changed anything for us, the rest of the industry has just caught up, but I think it’s still a long way from where it needs to be.


Paul: From my point of view I still feel the same in terms of working within our own business rather than working for another company, that hasn’t changed but looking back over 20 years financial services has become more of a profession than an industry and whilst it has a long way to go there have been major strides.


Looking back there has been some enormous changes over that period which has presented some challenges, but to answer the question I still feel as optimistic about where things are heading and I certainly haven’t got any regrets about making the decision we made 23 years ago.


Siân: What or who inspires you personally?


Paul: Hmm.. good question.


It is very difficult to name one person, I like reading and personal development and there has been lots of well known people over the years that have become personal development gurus, for example: Jim Rowan and an obvious one Anthony Robbins.


I like the idea of people from relatively humble backgrounds and beginnings doing very well for themselves and learning about how those people got to where they are. If someone has come from that background, I will always give them a lot more respect.


Andy: I suppose for me a person I still look up to and resonate with from a business point of view is Paul Etheridge, who is the founder of Prestwood Software and cashflow modelling. He was a pioneer of his time, but it wasn’t marketed well enough, so people didn’t take it up on mass like they have now. Still to this date I look back at his work 20 years ago and it’s still relevant today, which I think shows his amazing insight.


On a personal side I relate a lot to sport, I like people like Daley Thompson who was out there on his own performing across multiple events, I just admire someone that can be so good and disciplined in so many different areas. I guess I like anything or anyone that changes the way things are done, which is probably one of my downsides I like to tinker. I like exploring to see if something can be improved, I like new ideas and new processes and I think if we are always looking for new ways then naturally we’re going to find improvements, I find that exciting and frustrating at the same time, but I enjoy it immensely.


Siân:: If you could speak to your younger self, just starting out, what advice would you give?


Andy: Mine would be follow your heart, take bigger risks, and have confidence that you will find a way.


Paul: I think I agree with Andy in terms of taking bigger risks, we have taken risks over the years, but when you look back they were fairly calculated risks.  I’m not talking about being reckless, but I would have probably taken more risks.  I would have also done what I wanted to do and not necessarily what people expected of me, rather than this is the norm, this is how you conform, and this is what everyone does.


Coming back to your question about people who inspire you I quite like Mavericks, I like individuals   that are a little different to the norm, so I suppose I would have been a bit more inclined to not have followed a certain path and done what people expect you to do or expected of you, which I think ties in with taking a bit more risks.


However, looking at our business now, how we’re running it, the clients we are dealing with and more importantly the clients that we are no longer dealing with, I think I would have also said ‘no’ to a lot of things over the years because it’s easy to end up being pulled in different directions. I always want to help people and sometimes trying to do too much can be a distraction, so I think I would say to myself be careful what you say ‘yes’ to.


Siân:: Has there been a time you both wanted to quit?


Paul: Yes.


*Paused for laughter *


Andy: I think there are always times where you feel like quitting, but you never do.  You reach points where you think I can’t do anymore, I’ve had enough and things aren’t going in the right direction, I think you just get periods of being disheartened.  That’s life in general everything goes up and down it’s a roller-coaster at times and sometimes the more aggressive you are the bigger the roller-coaster.


I think in reality you may have those feelings, but you never followed through on them, hence why we’re still here, which shows you might have the feeling but you don’t act on them as deep down you know its just a feeling and a frustration rather than a real desire to just pack up.


Paul: I think looking back particularly in the early days, it is true in many businesses the early years can be the hardest and most challenging getting a company off the ground, certainly there were times I would ask myself if it was all worth it, particularly from a financial point of view. We weren’t really earning much money in the earlier years to put it mildly, and there were times where you thought “hang on a minute, it’s nice doing all this stuff, but ultimately we have to make a living”.


There were times when we thought it is really all worth it, but like a lot of things you get this compound effect and things gradually build and build like a snowball and it rolls up, things get bigger and better.


The only other thing I would add is that there are times from the regulatory point of view where you think is it all worth it because you are having to jump through hoops and hurdles just to run a business. I appreciate that there has to be compliance and regulations, but given we have run a business for 22 years with a completely clean record it does make you wonder sometimes whether you can carry on, it’s just a necessary evil.


Siân:: What is your favourite thing about Sound?


Anna: Me!


Andy: I think the ethos and the way that everyone looks after our clients. Ultimately everybody is trying to do their best by the clients, and I believe that this ripples through the firm.  If everyone is on the same path it then becomes a lot more enjoyable and fun, because you’re not having to battle to try and convince people that this is the right thing to do because everyone gets it and agrees.


Paul: The business is at a stage now and it has taken a long time to get it where it is, but you feel like you are part of something bigger and better. Even though there are still challenges ahead, we are definitely heading in the right direction and as Andy said, ultimately it’s about the service we provide to clients. That’s how we’re judged and that’s the success of the business in terms referrals and the reputation that we are building and have built up within the market place and that’s hard because reputations can take years to build up and minutes to lose it or to have something negatively impact upon it.


So I am very proud that we have got to the stage where we are now, although as we know there is always work to do, it is by no means the finished product and there are still challenges ahead, but it’s a business that is going places I would say.


Siân: Who came up with the name Sound Financial Planning and why?


Andy: I can’t remember I know it was from your family side, Paul has the more creative side. *laugh*


Paul: Well “you need sound financial planning” is a phase, I remember one day thinking I quite like the idea of that, and I remember checking to see whether that name had been taken which it hadn’t. So yeah it was because the of the phrase sound financial planning I thought it just made sense because a lot of the firms around tend to be people’s surnames and so on, it sort of did not mean anything.


I mean it could have easily been Hall & Spires and people would have thought “what are they, removals?” It was just one of those things I can’t remember exactly how it come about, but I still have the little plaque that I had when we opened the doors to my back bedroom and started Sound on 22nd September 1998, that was the birth of the business.


Siân: What are a few things that make you proud of Sound?


Andy: I think the way we do everything, we go about things the right way, there is never any compromise or diversion from us trying to do the right thing and I think that shows within the company. We may not always get it right, but we always try and if we do get it wrong, we are honest, put our hands up and try to rectify it.


I think over the years we have made more difference to people’s lives than we realise and we take a lot of things for granted, but every now and again clients will say something in conversation and you get that feedback and at that moment its make you very proud of everyone involved because it’s not just down to me and Paul, it’s about the whole team.


Paul: Yes, I think its exactly that, the life changing decisions that you can help people make without that sounding too dramatic, but that is definitely the case. I am very proud of the fact that we have that reputation and that we do help people make those life changing decisions. Backstage I believe we have a team of people that work very well together and like a well-oiled machine all the cogs work well together, and everybody pulls in the same direction.


We have a great culture; good team ethos and I think we have that model right now especially when you look at a lot of other financial services companies. As I said there is still work to do and by no means is this the finished article, but frontstage / backstage we’ve got it right at the moment.


Siân: What things do you do to relieve stress?


Paul: Am I allowed to say that Andy?


*Paused for laughter *


Paul: Apologises.


Andy: I have to be doing stuff, as I’m not a sit down and relax type of person, I really enjoy sport and competing whether its gym, golf, karting, I like being active and that’s how I relieve stress. There’s not one thing as I get bored of repetition, so I have to find different things to do and then ways to improve at them, I think that’s the tinkering coming back in.


Anna: What about running after your grandson at weekends?


Andy: Yeah, and that going to take up more time as he gets quicker.


Anna: He’s so speedy.


Paul: I think for me its similar with sports. I won’t say golf as its more stressful than a stress reliever, but I like cycling and living where I live in the countryside so nice walks. I also like travelling and getting away, discovering new places so they’re my main stress relievers I would say.


Siân: What achievements are you proud of? These can be personal or professional.


Andy: Its hard really because it’s like self..


Anna: Erm you’ve got one right here!


Paul: Your son Andrew obviously Andy…




Andy: From a family perspective I look back and there isn’t anything I would change, which I think isn’t always the case for everyone, so I’m lucky there.


I think I have achieved a good work life balance over the years, which has affected the acceleration of the business, but that was a choice myself and Paul made early on. We try to help clients achieve a better work life balance so practice what we preach. I am proud that we spotted that at such a young age and that’s what we strive for and have achieved, I believe we see the effects of that every day.


I am very proud of what Anna has achieved in the business because this wasn’t her intended career path. It makes me feel proud as a business owner and dad that she has come in and achieved what she has with original thought. I know there is a lot of pressure on her to achieve and families don’t always work well together. I feel I have a much stronger bond with her because she is working in the business.


Paul: I’m on similar lines, being able to raise the two boys and linking it in with the business. Working for yourself when they were growing up and off playing sport and doing different things, I had the opportunities to go and watch them. I know lots of parents who are working long hours and weekends and they don’t really get to see their kids grow up. I certainly look back with fond memories of being able to go and see their school productions or cricket and rugby matches so I don’t think I missed out there even though it seems to have flown by.


Also from a personal point of view as we have said running a business is not easy, starting up 22 years ago and looking back to where we are now we are a credited firm, I’ve gone through various qualifications and I am very proud of what we have achieved because the stats tell you that the vast majority don’t get there so we are a small minority and I think those are the main things both professionally and personally.


Siân: How do you feel when you look back over the period that Sound has been running?


Andy: I feel proud in what we have achieved and as Paul has said being different from the norm we followed a model that wasn’t mapped out and wasn’t already there and every step along the way we have had to constantly develop, change and adapt.


I feel like that is quite an achievement in itself. Neither one of us were really business minded at the start of the journey, we were just two guys doing a job and didn’t like the way that other people were telling us to do it. We never had any formal business training and had to learn everything along the way, which is not always the case, many people get trained within a business then break away. I feel proud of what we have achieved and where we are today.


Paul: I look back with a real sense of pride on what we have achieved over that period of time and a great deal of satisfaction, but also it has been a big learning curve – you learn a lot about business, about yourself and other people and I think where we find ourselves now looking back is in the past it’s what we do now and in the future and with the sort of person I am, I’m not saying I am never satisfied, but until we get to where we need to get to then I will always be striving for something else, but I do feel a lot of satisfaction and a lot of pride I also feel optimistic about where we are going in the future as well.

And to end…

Anna: We’re going to play a game of Mr and Mr. The next series of questions you will each vote for the individual that you believe the question relates to.

Siân: Who is the most stubborn?
Andy: MePaul: Andy

Siân: Who is the funniest?

Andy: BothPaul: Both

Siân:  Who has better taste in music?

Andy: PaulPaul: Me
Anna: That’s because Andy loves the Black Eyed Peas!!

Siân: Who is the worst influence?

Andy: PaulPaul: Me

Siân: Who is likely to become a race car driver?

Andy: MePaul: Andy

Siân:  Who is more likely to lock themselves out of their house?

Andy: PaulPaul: Me
Paul: Well I’ve done it so..