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Finance: what does the profession want?

by
01 September 2014, at 1:00am

Ray Cox of Medifinace talks with Gareth Cross and Henry Hartley about the changing nature of the veterinary profession, highlighting areas where new financial products are needed.

IN the first article in this three-part series, I discuss with Gareth Cross and Henry Hartley of the Witten Lodge Practice in Bideford, Devon, the financial products available to the profession, looking at what new ones are not just needed but can be realistically developed and made available.

We review the key drivers within the profession, their implications and the inevitable changes they are bringing about. 

Ray Cox: The financial profession has always viewed the veterinary profession as “good risk”. Do you think anything has really changed to make us see things differently? 

Gareth Cross: Not really...but you have to appreciate that our profession itself is changing quite significantly and because the challenges have altered so too has the kind of support we need from potential providers of funding. 

RC: Can you be a little more specific about the support you need? 

Henry Hartley: I think the best way to understand that is to start at the beginning.

Most vets these days begin their careers saddled with a huge student loan debt they have to clear. Some, of course, are fortunate and are funded by their family, but by and large it takes years of hard work before a vet can begin to earn serious money. 

RC: Do you see anything happening that will alter this situation? 

HH: Not really. But what you do have to take into account is the fact that around 80% of newly qualified veterinary surgeons are female and this may mean that traditional patterns in relation to funding may change.

RC: Fair enough. I did read the latest RCVS report on recent graduates and took on board the fact that support needs in general vary between men and women. But other than noting that low pay was less of an issue than in previous years, there was no real guidance on longer term financial requirements. Can you give me a handle on where to start? 

GC: Please bear in mind that what Henry and I say are our own opinions and we cannot speak for the profession as a whole. My view is that you have to deal with things as they are, not as they were. If you are going to offer more than simply an alternative source of funding, you have to tailor your products – and the advice you give – to the market. I think that the financial profession needs to take on board that “one size ts all” funding solutions are no longer an answer. If indeed they have ever been!

RC: Ouch. Harsh but perhaps fair. So let’s throw the ball back into your court. Give me some ideas. 

GC: Personally I would like to see your profession showing that it understands the options that are open to a person who chooses a career in veterinary practice. Currently, with one or two notable exceptions, the so-called objective financial advice given to students is little more than a thinly disguised attempt to sell some kind of insurance scheme. 

RC: Again, perhaps rather harsh but are we talking here about long-term financial planning and strategies? Surely, really the only thing that is uppermost in a graduate’s mind is clearing that student loan? 

HH: Yes and no. Of course that weighs heavily, but by giving an indication of how the options and opportunities open to a young vet can then be exploited to best effect, you are providing an incentive to persevere even when times are tough in those early years. 

GC: What Henry is saying, and I absolutely agree with him, is that many young vets, struggling to earn decent money, need to have motivation to continue. If they have a clear understanding of the options open to them, and reassurance that, when the time comes to move up the ladder, funding will not be major issue, then you will be providing something worthwhile. 

RC: Understood. And all that can be addressed. But let’s move on to other issues. Tell me about other concerns that perhaps we can begin to help with. 

HH: I suppose the biggest problem is bad debts. People bring their pets in, we are duty bound to treat them, and then the customer can’t pay. We need a “customer financial scheme” that overcomes this – where the paperwork is done and dusted before we commence treatment. 

RC: Is this a common problem? 

GC: I can’t speak for the corporates but it certainly is for the smaller practice. I think too that there are other things that you could begin to look at that are not necessarily problems but would benefit from some creative thinking...

RC: Such as? 

GC: In no particular order, I would say: help for established independents looking to grow branch surgeries, loans for CPD and on-going training, preferential vehicle nance for veterinary staff. And good advice on pensions and investments. 

HH: To that list I would add the crucial provision of funding for those wishing smaller practice. I think too that there are other things that you could begin to look at that are not necessarily problems but would bene t from some creative thinking...

RC: Such as? 

GC: In no particular order, I would say: help for established independents looking to grow branch surgeries, loans for CPD and on-going training, preferential vehicle nance for veterinary staff. And good advice on pensions and investments. 

HH: To that list I would add the crucial provision of funding for those wishing to buy into a practice. They may want a career with one of the corporates... and there is a range of options open. Or they may prefer the independent route. And I anticipate that veterinary nurses may soon be looking to buy into practices.

RC: All good advice. I want to discuss these opportunities with my colleagues and then again with you in greater detail.

  • In part 2 of this series the funding problems and issues that face the veterinary profession will be considered in greater detail.