December 2020 

We’re aware that a lot of the time, the person whom you as a client come into regular contact with at Emery Little is your financial planner; the personal face of your investment plans and aspirations. But behind this knowledgeable face is a whole team of other specialists, applying their expertise and experience to inform, manage and support your financial plans.

Last month we introduced you to this team as a whole, giving you an overview of the vast pool of talent you are accessing in your dealings with Emery Little. Now we want to zoom in and introduce you to some of the individual experts; this month starting at the top by asking Joanna (or Jo) Little, our Chief Executive, to take you behind the scenes of her role, her career, her approach, what drives her in financial planning and a bit about life outside the office (yes, even financial experts have other interests).

Over to Jo… 

My career path towards working at Emery Little is a bit different to most of our experts, as I have been working here pretty much my whole life! From the age of seven I would come in and help stamp literature, before moving onto filing – back in the day when everything was on paper and kept in floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets! I went on to study Industrial Economics at Nottingham University, and graduated in 2010, whereupon my Dad called and asked if I had any plans post-graduating, and whether I’d like to join Emery Little. I immediately accepted, and joined as a Junior Paraplanner in September 2010.  

Even though my Dad and my Grandad were financial advisors, I actually had very little idea what they did! So when I joined the firm, I found it much more interesting than I anticipated. I found the work centres far more around client relationships than figures. It’s about having an impact on peoples’ lives rather than just the technical bits and super-dry spreadsheets (though obviously there’s some of that too). I had to learn a lot, quickly, by working hard at exams (I qualified as a Chartered Planner in 2016), and shadowing Dad through client meetings. I also trained to become a Registered Life Planner at the Kinder Institute of Life Planning.

In 2014 I decided I loved the work so much I would make a commitment to Emery Little long-term, and was officially made a Director, enabling Dad to see the company not as an entity to sell on but a legacy to pass on within the family. There’s a real element of family pride in continuing the work of my Dad and Grandad – I know my Grandad is very proud. But it’s not an obligation – my Dad has always been very clear on that. I definitely don’t feel obliged, but my pride in the family enterprise is a part of what drives me every day.

I believe financial planning is fundamentally life planning. The client, their life, and what’s important to them has to drive the technical side of things and any investment decisions. When working with clients, to me, it is their life that always come first, not their money, and you need to listen to them properly to understand what matters to them - one of the things my training has taught me is how to truly listen, and how to be genuinely comfortable in silence. It’s also important to realise you’re not there to fix everything, but to start things off and plant ideas. As well as obviously giving advice on investments and tax– but that’s usually the last piece of the puzzle. 

In taking over from my Dad, one thing I’ve definitely learned is that there is no one ‘right’ way to lead. In my mind, growing up, I thought being a leader meant you had to be super-outgoing, authoritative, outspoken and bold. I’m not like that naturally, so when I’ve tried being that way in different guises it’s been disastrous – because that’s not who I actually am, so I can’t pull it off. I’ve learned that there are lots of ways to lead, lots of different types of effective leader. As long as you are being authentic, you have the greatest chance of success, because that feeds into the culture of the business.

I’ve always been blown away by the tremendous support from everyone around me. People who have seen me enter the business and grow in the business, and always had belief in me. Especially at times when I haven’t believed in myself. I have had to get used to the title of ‘CEO’ which feels very odd – I used to get almost apologetic about it! I’ve realised the importance of focusing on myself and doing the best I can; not getting too hung up on things going a certain way, as long as I do things congruent with my values. The only thing you can really control in life is yourself and how you perceive the world.

Of Emery Little’s values, the two most important ones for me are trust and connection. As a company, I feel, we should act in a way that consistently builds trust – with clients but also amongst our team. That is fundamental to running an efficient, successful business in the way that we want to. Not to mention the fact that trust in a necessity when we are dealing with people’s entire life savings - we take that responsibility very seriously.

Connection, meanwhile, I think is a fundamental human need. We all need to be able to connect meaningfully with one another, and we spend so much time at work it’s really important not just to like the people you work with, but to respect them, support them and want to see them succeed. And it’s the same with clients; you spend a lot of time talking to them, it’s important to enjoy that interaction.

I’ve always enjoyed challenging and developing myself in areas outside my direct role. I’ve been very involved in the activities of the organisation NextGen Planners, which supports younger Financial Planners with training and career development. I became non-exec director earlier this year, and thoroughly enjoy being involved in their progressive community with their refreshing aims of shaking things up and challenging the status quo in our industry.

In contrast, I’m also a member of the Ideas Exchange, which provides a forum for long-established, successful businesses to share their vast wealth of experience; a very different organisation which I’ve found a great source of advice.

Outside of work entirely, I love to travel and have missed being able to take off and explore this year. This year has also been a year of reflection, bringing in to focus the things that matter – health (physical and mental), loved ones, the value of life experiences and not taking time for granted. Besides that, I’m the proud parent of two Indian Star tortoises, and I’ve recently purchased a new home that is a labour of love – it’s a listed property and we are learning a lot, sometimes the hard way! I’ve also recently taken delivery of a Peloton indoor exercise bike which I’m very excited to start using!