For Paul Cullen of Amber River Chancery, good financial advice isn't just about portfolio construction and investment returns – it’s about helping people build the future they want for themselves.

Chancery Financial Planning joined Amber River in 2020 and rebranded to Amber River Chancery in August 2023. Based in the heart of London, they first opened their doors in 1993 and now advise more than 350 families and individuals across the UK.

"I realised the best part of the job was talking to people"

“I’ve always been sensible when it comes to managing money. At the ripe old age of 18, I already had a pension and a financial adviser. I think I got that practical ‘money sense’ very early on from my parents”.

Not everyone is as level-headed in their teenage years as Paul Cullen, but his grown-up approach to personal finances propelled him into his career as a financial planner. He got on very well with his financial adviser, who told him about job openings at his practice for what would now be called ‘paraplanners’. He applied for an interview and never looked back, although he quickly outgrew his paraplanner duties.

“I didn’t really have any interest in working face-to-face with clients back then. I thought I’d be much happier working in the background, writing up reports and carrying out the research.

“But over time, I realised the best part of the job was talking to people, which wasn’t quite as terrifying as I thought it would be! Things just blossomed from there”.

"Paul joined Chancery Financial Planning, a London-based firm that shared his passion for building client relationships that added value"

Paul instantly took to his new career, and within months, passed the Financial Planning Certificate (FPC) exams, qualifying as an Independent Financial Adviser (IFA). Paul continued with his studies and soon passed several more exams to obtain his Advanced Financial Planning Certificate (AFPC). But it wasn’t long before he realised his future lay elsewhere.

“I loved studying the way finance works, but financial advice was a different world back then. It was focused on selling products, rather than talking to people about their longer-term financial plans. In a strange way, the education I was given taught me there had to be a better way to help people. After being in that environment for two years, I was ready to make a change”.

Paul was headhunted by Chancery Financial Planning (now called Amber River Chancery), a London-based firm that shared his passion for building client relationships that added value. Joining Chancery was “a complete eye-opener” about what was possible through financial planning.

As he recalls: “I was brought in to take over from an adviser who was planning to retire. I got to know all of his clients, who became my clients, after he retired. That was 17 years ago. Many of those clients had young children when I first met them, and those toddlers are now preparing to go to university.

“That’s what makes my job so worthwhile, because I helped them plan for that to become possible. You become invested in the life journey of your clients.”

"If you want help with building a financial plan that will cover all the angles, that's something I can definitely help with"

Now a Chartered Financial Planner (CFP) – the gold standard within the profession – Paul is a passionate advocate of independent financial advice, and the value it brings to his clients.

“If a client is paying for advice, it’s important they choose an independent financial planner who can access the whole market rather than a restricted adviser who can only offer a limited range of products and services.

“Right from the beginning, we wanted to offer clients an exceptional service, while being completely transparent and up-front about how we were being paid.

“We were an early adopter of charging fees for our advice instead of taking a commission from the products we sold. We felt very strongly that financial planning should be an independent service just as you would expect from a firm of accountants or solicitors. We knew this was the right direction to take, and we’ve been proven right over the last few years”.

Understandably, Paul takes a sensible approach to financial planning. For him, it is not about taking short-term speculative risks in the hope of achieving high returns. Instead, he helps clients build a future, by taking important life planning steps when needed. Paul explains: “I start by getting an understanding of what you are trying to achieve, and then work out how far along you are along that overall journey.

“I often tell new clients that it’s not my job to just make you more money, and I don’t have any special funds that guarantee a return. That’s just not how I work. But if you want help with building a financial plan that will cover all the angles, that’s something I can definitely help with”.

"Of course, everyone's journey is different, but people all have similar concerns, or ideas of what they want from life"

While the internet has made it easier than ever for people to manage their own finances, Paul thinks there will always be a place for professional financial planning. He notes: “There is so much information available today. Too much, in fact. I really think my clients want me to cut through the noise and put all of the available information into context, so they don’t have to.

“Of course, everyone’s journey is different, but people all have similar concerns, or ideas of what they want from life. As financial planners, our experience and training means we know what should be done. That insight can really be quite powerful with clients, because who doesn’t want that reassurance?”.

When Paul’s not helping his clients achieve more than they thought possible, he’s taking a similar approach in his home life. Perhaps to defy his ‘sensible’ reputation, Paul was part of a team that climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, a challenge that included a seven-day trek. The team raised more than £100,000, which was used to build a school in Burkina Faso.

But it’s clear Paul is a family man at heart: “I spend most of my free time with my wife and two daughters aged 15 and 12. We love spending time together, especially outdoors – and we travel quite a lot. I really believe one of the best things you can do is to encourage children to explore and see as much of the world as they can”.

Continuing the ‘at home’ theme, Paul converted his garage into a home gym during COVID, which has dramatically improved his work/life balance. He’s seen how finding this balance has become more important to his clients recently, too.

“The last couple of years have given people more time to consider what’s most important to them. Lots of clients are telling me life is short – they are making adjustments to their existing plans, and looking at ways to achieve their revised goals.

“One of the great benefits of putting a financial plan in place is that nothing is set in stone. There’s always time to re-evaluate and make adjustments”.

You may be interested in Paul’s expert advice for new parents: Financial planning ideas for new parents

Life Landscaping® from Amber River

Paul is one of our professional independent financial planners who can help you create a plan for your personal or business 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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