“I wanted to use financial wizardry to help people.”

John Bell is technical director at Carbon Financial. He graduated with an MA in business and economics, is a Fellow of the Personal Finance Society and is a Chartered and Certified Financial Planner.

As a technical director, John has detailed understanding of most aspects of financial advice and planning. He also chairs Carbon’s Investment Team. As a massive film fan, John is a regular at Edinburgh International Film Festival, and once met Kevin Bacon.

John was recommended by IFW Board member and financial wellbeing coach Lorraine McFall, who commented: “John regularly comes along to the IFW’s online events and shares his experience of different tools and skills he has developed to help his clients achieve financial wellbeing.”

How would you summarise your passions, both in and out of work?

At work, I love helping people feel good about life and enjoying their money, which was what attracted me to the IFW. I am very fortunate to have worked with some clients and colleagues for over a decade which makes what I do feel more meaningful.

I’m a magpie when it comes to new ideas and understanding how things work. This has taken me down many avenues and I feel very lucky my employer, Carbon, has supported this.

Out of work, my interests can seem random, though a few things have stuck. I take any excuse to get out into the Scottish countryside including the occasional Munro. I will never run short of interesting places I want to visit to experience other cultures, customs and histories.

Ever since my nana showed me how to make pancakes as a boy, I have loved to cook which is a comforting daily ritual.

I probably watch too many films and have a soft spot for indie movies and festivals like the EIFF. I’ll stop there before you fall asleep…

What’s your happiest memory?

One memory! That’s a very tough question. It’s a bit hazy but I have to say the first night I met my wife, which was very happenstance and fortuitous. Twenty-one  years later I find it very hard to imagine life without Paula.

What one thing do you wish you’d been told about finance when you were 15?

That when you’re a student even if you have minimal income or savings, banks and credit companies will bend over backwards to lend you money. Resist!

What made you want to work in finance?

I stumbled into Economics in 6th year at high school and it seemed like magic to me at the time. From that point onwards I had a vague notion that I wanted to use financial wizardry to help people, though I had no idea how.

How did this lead to you becoming Technical Director at Carbon Financial?

My career path’s been circuitous. I won a sponsorship to study Investment Operations which eventually led to a role with HSBC Trustees. Fund Trustees do quiet but important work in the background to keep investments safe but I felt too far removed from the people actually investing the money. At Uni, I remembered a wording on my student loan application suggesting I should take advice from an “Independent Financial Adviser.”

I had no idea what an IFA was at the time but I liked the idea of someone impartial helping people make tricky financial decisions, so I gambled on a career change.

The first entry-level role I applied for happened to be at an ambitious innovative firm (Carbon) willing to support years of study and development as I moved from client support, to paraplanner and eventually Financial Planner. Here I am 18 years later at the same firm and very happy.

Please forgive my ignorance – what does a Technical Director do?

Carbon has a number of associate directors who are experienced financial planners with some extra responsibilities. I chair our Investment Team, report to our board on tax and legislative changes and generally support our team with anything our industry considers “technical” (which for various reasons is often related to pensions).

What prompted you to join the Institute for Financial Wellbeing?

Carbon’s MD, Gordon Wilson, told me he’d heard good things about the IFW a couple of years ago. As soon as I understood the goal was to help clients use their money to live happily, I couldn’t wait to sign up.

What drew you to financial wellbeing in the first place?

The best part of my job is seeing people live their best lives with their loved ones free from financial worry. We have a real opportunity to help and I’m lucky that it fits naturally with how Carbon supports clients.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt about financial wellbeing since joining?

It really is possible to be “richer” without having more money but it takes time and effort and is easily overlooked.

What is your top tip for someone wanting to improve their financial wellbeing?

Try to focus on the things you can control. You’ve heard this advice before and it seems really simple but it isn’t. If you manage it, it’s a complete game changer.

Who or what is your favourite wellbeing guru, podcast or book? 

I’ve been to hundreds of training events, but I’ll never forget the first time I heard Jan Bowen-Nielsen explain how to simply listen to clients. It was the most obvious thing in the world hiding in plain sight.

I’d also be remiss not to mention Chris Budd’s The Financial Wellbeing Book. I love the science of wellbeing and he does a great job of linking the research to the real world.

What are you doing to advance your own financial wellbeing?

I often remind myself to take my own advice and simply focus on the things I can control. I also try to notice how lucky I am and remember to be grateful.

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