How Brand Began
Here, we have an interview with Brand Financial Training’s Founder and Director, Catriona Standingford. Catriona is going to tell us more about why she started Brand Financial Training, and what is in store in future.
Question: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background before you started Brand Financial Training?
Answer: To go back many years (to the olden days, as my kids would say), I was an IT Consultant. I went to University and studied for a degree in IT and then was a Consultant for a few years. I got to travel around the world, it was awesome. But it got to the point where I felt like I’d had enough, and I decided to retrain as a financial adviser because I had always been interested in finance. I later went to work for a bank as a Financial Planning Manager which was a very eye-opening experience! At that point, I saw a gap in the market for help with financial services exams like I had been sitting myself and decided that I would try and fill it. So my experience is a mixture of IT and financial services, which has ended up where I am today, 14 years later, at Brand Financial Training!
Question: What was it that made you think that starting a business like this would be so helpful and supportive to the wider industry when it comes to financial qualifications?
Answer: When I changed career from IT to financial services, I was working amongst people taking exams at different levels, and at that time there was only one company who provided some support, although not a lot. This was a godsend at the time, but I thought so much more could be done. I knew from conversations with colleagues that it wasn’t just me. We had to study for what was the equivalent of R01 at the time and I remember thinking, “surely there’s got to be a way to make this a bit more interesting!”. So I knew it wasn’t just me that needed more support, and wasn’t just the people I worked with, so I extrapolated that and imagined how many people elsewhere in the UK might need that kind of support. So I jumped, and it was great timing because there was huge demand for exam support and now after 14 years we’re extremely well-known and highly regarded.
Question: What is your goal when helping Brand Financial Training’s customers?
Answer: Well, when it comes to exams, I know that there are some people who are amazing at exams, it’s like they do nothing all year and then the night before the exam they have a quick glance at the textbook and then pass the exam with flying colours. But then some people, who may have an absolutely solid knowledge and understanding of the subject, get into the exam room and they freak out because of the stress. I think that for this reason, exams can be unfair because some people are just better at taking exams than others. It doesn’t mean that if you passed with flying colours that you are fantastic at your job, and it doesn’t mean you’re not. But it also doesn’t mean that people who have struggled through their exams are not intelligent, have many years of experience, are good and genuinely know what they are doing. For example, for R02 you have to memorise so many complex calculations and equations, and you could question how much an adviser actually needs to know of these day-to-day, outside of the exam environment. I can’t wave a magic wand and make the system fairer, but we can do what we can to help people through their exams. This is why we provide a wide range of resources to suit people’s preferences and learning styles because my goal is to make it as easy as possible to get through the various exams that there are.
Question: What do you think makes Brand Financial Training different?
Answer: Well, there has been significantly more resource providers ‘pop up’ in the last couple of years, and I think what makes us different is the fact that we have been doing this now for 14 years. We were one of the first in this space. Now of course that doesn’t automatically make us the best (although we are, but of course I would say that!), but it does mean we have 14 years of experience, mistakes, improvements, and customer feedback. We started with just mock papers, and we’ve built on that ever since. We have people working with us who have been here for years who have the experience but also new colleagues who bring fresh ideas. I think sometimes there is a belief that you can just throw something together, price it cheaply and people will buy it. Unfortunately, we have seen that happen and it really is unacceptable. People might buy it, but that doesn’t make for a good resource and is often money down the drain. Developing resources that genuinely help exam candidates takes experience, a considerable amount of research, planning, time, and money. There is huge variety in the quality of the available resources out there. For us, our focus is the highest quality of resources. We are always listening to what our customers say, and we are always asking for feedback so that we are doing and providing what our customers need. I know everyone says it, but it’s also about genuinely caring about the customer. Hopefully, the past 14 years have shown that at Brand Financial Training, we actually do!
Question: What are your future plans for Brand Financial Training?
Answer: Well, because we are a small team, we are able to move quite quickly. By listening to customers and asking for feedback, we can make plans to provide what our customers want and need. At the moment, there is a move towards more digital learning so we are developing resources that meet that need. Right now we are working on e-mocks (mock exams taken online) and the initial feedback on these has been excellent. We are always looking at trying some new things, and we have had some really interesting suggestions from some customers as to what would work best for them, so we’re going to try those things out as well. We keep focusing on what we as a business focus on, which is providing high-quality learning resources for exam candidates.
Question: What is your favourite thing about being Brand Financial Training’s Director and Founder?
Answer: Firstly, I can’t believe it’s been 14 years! I started the business in 2007 from nothing, on my own, and I’ve seen it grow into what it is today. We’re a small business with a fantastic team of people who work together, and the business has grown. I’ve been careful to keep the business in a way that I think best serves the team and our customers, because I think both of those things are really important. I have no plans of suddenly expanding or world domination, because that isn’t what I am about and it’s not what I’m interested in.
This business also gives me opportunities to do other things. For just over a year now, I’ve been a Non-Executive Director at a subsidiary of a Housing Association, focusing on local construction development and property maintenance. This is great for me because I love to learn things, and this is giving me the opportunity to learn a whole new area whilst also putting into practice some of the things I’ve learnt from running my own business, such as strategy and that kind of thing.
I am also on the Management Committee of a Pupil Referral Unit, helping children who are unable to attend mainstream school. For me, this is all about ‘giving back’.
Of course, it’s also the simple things in life such as having the flexibility to go to my kids’ sports days and watch their school plays. Having my own business is awesome but having said that, sometimes it’s also really hard!