Career flex

How one woman brought together a background in wellness with a new business in financial advice to offer a holistic financial wellbeing service.

Retraining in financial advice was the missing piece of the puzzle for Leicestershire-based Stephanie Smith, 54.  An accomplished business development and communications professional, Stephanie was forced to rethink her career after a serious riding accident and set up a business as a Pilates practitioner and wellness coach.  But with financial ill health at the heart of so many of her clients’ challenges, Stephanie took the move to retrain as a financial adviser. Now self-employed under the St. James’s Place Partner practice, Stephanie offers holistic financial wellbeing services in the corporate market. 

A diverse skillset 

Stephanie started her early career in IT, writing back-office systems for the financial futures and options market in the City of London. With a talent for ‘interpreting geek’ Stephanie possessed a broad mix of technical and communication skills. 

Stephanie comments, “I had a knack for communicating complex ideas in simple language.  As a result, I was able to develop in my role from one which was quite dry, to a position where I was more client facing.”  

Experience of dealing with clients directly led Stephanie to work in Business Development in the IT sector. This, in turn, opened up an opportunity to get involved in marketing communications and live events, incentive travel, internal communications and employee engagement. 

Taking stock 

In 2003, Stephanie had a serious riding accident.  A cathartic moment in many ways, Stephanie had the time to step back and reassess her priorities in life. She was hoping to start a family and was thinking about what this might mean for her career. 

Part of Stephanie’s rehabilitation involved practising Pilates. It was a practice which she became increasingly involved and interested in. So much so that she took the decision to retrain as a Pilates practitioner and set up a business.   

She comments, “During my recovery I learned so much about my own body – not just physically but how physical and mental health work together. I felt passionately that I wanted to help people to understand their bodies better, in all senses. I went on to train as an NLP coach and did a stress management course which would help me better advise clients.” 

What struck Stephanie was that the root of many of her clients’ challenges was worries about their finances. She could see an increasingly common thread between physical and mental health, and financial health. 

She says, “I met people who stayed in a job they hated because they needed the pension, I met self-employed people who were worried about how they would cope financially if they had an accident or chronic illness. I could see the real-life impacts of financial ill health.” 

A change in direction 

Stephanie became frustrated that she couldn’t help her clients with this aspect of their lives. 

She says, “I was ready for a new challenge. I wanted to help people make a difference for themselves in a practical way.  

“It was a friend of mine who planted the seed of taking up financial advice as a career choice.  I thought about it and it all made complete sense – by training as a financial adviser, I would be able to offer a much more holistic service for clients.” 

Options to retrain  

Stephanie began researching options to retrain. She spoke to another friend who was a Partner at St. James’s Place who recommended the St. James’s Place Financial Adviser Academy, which is backed by the brand. After meeting the team at an open day, she decided to apply. 

Stephanie continues, “I had initially signed up for the April 2020 intake just as we hit lockdown.  By October 2020 I was fully enrolled and studying with the SJP Academy during the COVID 19 pandemic. 

“I was a little nervous retraining remotely. But I received great support from my Academy mentor and continued to keep in touch with my peers from the course. There are some  whom I still haven’t met face-to-face but we keep in touch and it’s a valuable network. We have that common experience of learning at that time and under those conditions.   

“But the appeal of the Academy is that you are supported by an organisation which will enable you to complete your entire learning journey with end-to-end support and through workshops or peer group events.  I knew how to run a business and I had also studied while working, but this was a different experience.” 

From coach to adviser 

Stephanie describes the skills which she believes have transferred well from her coaching business through to giving financial advice. She comments,  

“There is a lot of jargon involved and so many of my clients haven’t encountered many of the terms used in financial planning before.  I think the ability to make the complex simple is really important.  My coaching skills often come into play to support people in making important decisions.  And my experience of training and educating others – standing up in a room and teaching courses - has also played a part.” 

A focus on financial wellbeing for the corporate market 

Stephanie Smith Financial Planning was launched in April 2021.  Stephanie is currently self-employed under the St. James’s Place partner practice, with support from a paraplanner. 

She provides financial wellbeing to corporates and also teams up with companies who offer wellbeing packages to their staff. 

Stephanie explained: “I want to grow the business, with a focus on wellbeing, supporting women in particular. My aim is to build truly holistic financial planning service encompassing some of my previous experience.   

“I feel that with this new role I can have greater impact than I have done before.  And the sense of belonging to something which the SJP umbrella offers means I’m not entirely on my own. This vision I have for my business feels achievable.” 

When asked what advice she might offer others considering a career change to financial advice, Stephanie comments, “I would say, relish the challenge, but be prepared to work hard. It’s a steep learning curve but ultimately, it’s a people business. We all bring something new, we can all offer a different perspective and make a difference.”