Mark O'Neill of Amber River True Bearing enjoys creating financial plans that let his clients get the very best out of life, whatever life throws at them.

Established in 2003, True Bearing became part of the Amber River group in 2021 and rebranded as Amber River True Bearing in September 2023. A chartered financial planning firm with an impressive track record, it provides an independent financial planning services to more than 7,000 individuals and businesses.

"Having a financial planner you can trust and is there when you need them feels like a very important service for us to provide"

For Mark O’Neill of Chartered IFA firm, Amber River True Bearing, the best part of his job is creating retirement scenarios that help his clients consider a world of possibilities they might not have believed are open to them. We met him recently to find out more.

In a world of impersonal business transactions, it’s still refreshing when someone treats you like a human being. While chatting, Mark O’Neill regularly drops your name into conversation, going out of his way to establish a meaningful connection and making you feel that he’s fully invested in you personally. It makes you feel ready to share almost anything with him, which is probably why he’s so good at getting clients to open up about their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

Mark was one of the original ‘Magnificent Seven’ who set up True Bearing (now Amber River True Bearing) in 2003. But his financial career path started more than a decade earlier when he joined Abbey National as a branch trainee. “What I most enjoyed was interacting with other people. I progressed to branch manager in about three years, but realised I liked the advice part of the job much more than the management side. Friends kept telling me problem solving was what I was best at, so I took a financial adviser role at the Prudential”.

"Even if you think you've left it too late, it’s never too late to have a conversation"

With a second child on the way, Mark and his wife moved north. He recalls: “We moved up to Lytham St Annes in the northwest of England, close to Blackpool where my wife is from. But unfortunately, I was made redundant shortly afterward. That was a formative experience, but I didn’t panic. I used my gardening leave to line up about ten different job offers. In the end, I was drawn towards working with George Critchley, (Chairman of Amber River True Bearing), who has become a mentor to me throughout my career. He asked me to come and work as a self-employed adviser for his advice firm, and I didn’t hesitate. It just felt right. Later, George invited me along with five others to help him to set up True Bearing, and here we are nearly 20 years on.”

Building long-lasting relationships is a recurring theme with Mark. He wants to get to know you so that he can deliver the best possible service. He explains: “We’re not an ‘execution-only’ financial advice company. In other words, we’re not here just to sell products. Our job is to create a plan that lets you get the very best out of life, whatever life throws at you. We create lifetime cashflow projections for our clients – also known as cashflow modelling – that show them where they are headed right now and different scenarios that show what else is possible. This allows us to really add value to the relationship with our clients, and it’s a core part of what Amber River True Bearing does.”

"People tell us what they want their retirement to look like, and we get to paint them a picture"

Cashflow modelling shouldn’t be a one-off exercise, as Mark puts it: “The assumptions we start with should be reviewed regularly – year in, year out – to make sure the overall plan is still on track. This way, we can help clients make adjustments if life becomes more complicated, such as working for a while longer or increasing pension contributions. But it could also mean you are able to retire sooner than previously planned, book that holiday, or leave more than you had expected to your grandchildren”.

Mark continues: “Having that information to hand means there’s a lot of power in what we do. People tell us what they want their retirement to look like, and we get to paint them a picture.”

As a financial planner who specialises in later life planning, we ask what it’s like working with clients who are elderly or considered vulnerable in some way. It’s hard to ignore the rising number of financial scams preying on people’s insecurities and fears that have multiplied since the pandemic. Has Mark seen instances where his clients have been affected, and does it worry him?

“Yes, absolutely. Last week, one of my elderly clients received a text purporting to be from HMRC. Fortunately, she didn’t do anything with it, thank goodness. Instead, she waited till our meeting and showed it to me. I told her to delete it and reassured her that if HMRC wanted to talk to her, they wouldn’t send a text; they would write a letter instead. But it can be very easy for people to be duped or tricked like this, particularly the elderly, vulnerable, or isolated.

Mark continues: “At times like these, having a financial planner you can trust and is there when you need them feels like a very important service for us to provide. Something we’ve introduced for all of our clients is a new client welfare questionnaire, which helps clients to discuss their needs and allows us to identify any issues or concerns we should be aware of and make the necessary adjustments. It could be something as simple as showing the client a report in a larger font size because they have poor vision. Or it could mean having someone else with them in the room during a client meeting. We want to be able to provide good advice and good service. That’s part of our mission statement.”

"We get to see the positive ways our financial plans impact their lives - it really doesn't feel like work"

The interactions Mark has with his clients are very much two-way. By talking to him, people gain control over more than just their finances – he helps them uncover new life opportunities they hadn’t considered or imagined possible. It’s a far cry from the traditional stereotypes of people retiring and not knowing what to do with themselves. Mark agrees: “Yes, I think that’s true – the conversations I have, give people the chance to really think about what’s important to them. We had a member of our management team here who asked me to go through some retirement planning and cash flow modelling with her. It must have got her thinking because she retired 12 months later! She’s enjoying a very active retirement, travelling, and doing all the things she wanted to do. So, the work I do can be really life-changing for people. And because we keep in touch with our clients, we get to see the positive ways our financial plans impact their lives. Some days, it really doesn’t feel like work.”

You may be interested in reading Mark’s expert insights about retirement: Top five tips for later life planning

Top five tips for later life planning

Life Landscaping® from Amber River

Mark is one of our professional independent financial planners who can help you create a personal financial life landscape. We know an individual’s journey is unique and very personal; that’s why we start by understanding your dreams and aspirations. Then, together, we formulate a plan to give you the best chance of making them happen.

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