Alan Smith: The story so far

Octo Members
11 December 2020

A medium read.  

The story so far

It began at the end of October, when inspired by a blog post on the IFW website, I issued a call to action to fellow professionals in the financial planning community to start sharing their best client stories.

Frankly, I was frustrated that so much amazing and often life-changing work was being experienced by the best in our profession and their clients and yet almost no one outside of the community knew anything about it.

Every financial planner who had been working with real clients, real families for any length of time had a small catalogue of true stories. Stories about how the work they delivered at the intersection of money and life created a positive transformational change for clients. And yet, the media, the regulator, and many commentators chose to focus on the small number of bad news stories and the tiny percentage of bad actors that exist in our sector, as they do in all walks of life.

I knew that we needed to engage on an emotional level to help prospective clients, the media, and the world understand what this was about. For hundreds of thousands of years, it’s been shown that there is no better way of communicating an important message than through the visceral act of sharing stories of real-life experiences.

And it resonated, my original Twitter post was shared widely within the first few days with dozens of financial planners responding to the call. Under the banner ‘stories not spreadsheets’ many confirmed their belief that this was a cause worth getting behind and affirmed their commitment to share their own stories.

At that time, I wasn’t sure where this would go or how to progress it beyond the initial idea. However, over the next few weeks,  more people put their hand up, wanted to discuss the initiative and see where we could take it.

I was delighted that my friend Lee Robertson , a very successful former IFA and now running the digital community Octomembers  got in touch and offered to help in any way he could. So we posted some articles and Lee interviewed me and shared the video and invited more planners to enrol and commit to sharing their ideas and best stories.

Lee and his team agreed to provide the secretariat services, created the dedicated email address to receive and sort the stories that began to trickle in. The staff writers that work with Octo also offered their services to help shape and redraft some of the stories to ensure a consistently high standard – after all, we are financial planners not necessarily professional writers.

We have also had offers of help from organisation such as Nucleus and Portfolio Metrix, all keen to be a part of an initiative that can help spread a message of positivity. I was and remain keen to ensure that this project remains nonpartisan and independent – it’s ‘by the community for the community’ and we have politely declined offers of sponsorship in order to maintain the integrity of the project.

The Book of Stories

Although we live in the digital age and could have created a website and posted the stories online to be shared, I felt that we would create something more valuable, more permanent if we produced a physical book with the best 30 stories we could find.

I felt that a high quality, beautifully designed hardback book, almost ‘coffee table’ in format was the natural conclusion of the project. A book that planners could share with their own clients, their prospective clients, professional connections, friends, and family members.

A small work of art that didn’t talk about portfolios or performance but about people and their personal journeys. Packed full of short stories, bite-sized samples of what can happen when you work with a thoughtful and caring financial planning professional.

I saw the book as a souvenir of the toughest year many of us have ever had to endure and a symbol of hope for brighter days ahead.

Behavior Gap

The next milestone happened when Carl Richards, the NY Times bestselling author, and genius behind the Behavior Gap sketches got in touch with me. He shared his excitement about the idea and confirmed that he would love to get involved if we wanted him to.

In another act of incredible generosity, Carl offered to create an original sketch for every story included in the final book and then introduced me to his publisher.

Are you up for a challenge? Then prove it

So, next, I had a discussion with the publisher who, to my delight confirmed that they are interested in making this happen. However, they shared a concern about the commercial challenges of getting the book into publication.

They felt that the initial market would be the financial planning community itself. Advisers could buy the book in bulk and share it as part of their communication and marketing strategy. However, he explained that although they have done this very successfully before in the USA, he explained that ‘British financial planners don’t do this, they won’t buy the books’

As you can appreciate, I saw that as a rather large gauntlet being thrown at the feet of our community and I cheerfully accepted his challenge to work out how we can get this project to completion.

The bottom line

So, here’s the deal; the publisher would need to be satisfied that they could, sell 2,000 books in order to be able to commit and invest in the project to deliver the books. Based on my request for a high-quality hard book format, they confirmed that they could offer to sell them to us at £15 a copy, discounted from £20 standard price.

The bonus

As I explained to them, I wasn’t looking for any financial reward, and neither is Carl, Lee or anyone else involved and that any profit generated above the cost of producing the book should be reinvested. The publisher has therefore agreed that for every book sold they will provide an extra book that we can donate to colleges, libraries, or schools to share the message far and wide.

So, we buy 2,000 books, and 1,000 extra books are made available to be shared with as wide a community as possible. Who knows, a young student may pick it up, and be so inspired by what they read that they commit to joining our profession. Even that alone would make the project worthwhile.

Of course, the potential benefit for us all is far greater still. Every book represents the best marketing tool you could ever hope for. There are huge financial, planning firms in the US that have been built almost entirely through the process of publishing and sharing books. Books are wisdom, insight and sometimes transformative and we all have a one-off opportunity to be a part of this experience.

So, is the publisher, right? Will UK financial planners turn down the opportunity to put their money where their mouth and buy books? Or will we step up to the plate and make sure that this happens?

Well, to get us started, I was delighted that CEO of Murphy WealthAdrian Murphy  was the first to put his hand up and commit to buying 200 books (thanks Adrian!). So, we’re already 10% of our target and have only just begun.

Your Call To Action

If you’ve read this far, you’re committed in some way. So they very next thing I would ask you to do is send an email to with you provisional commitment to buy books in blocks of 25 (25/50/75/100).

This will be an honour pledge system. We just want to gauge the appetite for buying books to make the project wash its face financially. You won’t be asked for any money and if things change and you can no longer commit to buying the books when the time comes, that’s fine, that’s life.

Although we don’t want corporate sponsorship, we are very much open to larger companies, platforms, asset managers, trade bodies buying in bulk to share with their customers and members. So, if you have contacts and connections, please send this on and suggest they submit an order.

What will you do now? Have you sent in a story? Will you send one in? Even just an idea that you could explain over a phone call and have a professional writer pull it together into an engaging format? You do want to be part of a first edition bestseller, don’t you?

Will you commit to buying books? Even if you won one new client it as a result, your investment would be repaid many times over. And even if you didn’t you would have done a great thing; you would have given back to this wonderful profession and the clients who rely on us.

The book will be your contribution, your legacy. I look forward to hearing from you.

Alan Smith



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