I started my PhD journey unconventionally, certainly because it commenced in late 2020, when we were all locked down due to the on-going chaos caused by the unknown virus of unspecified origin, we all know as Covid.

I went to York University at 18 to study maths, fell in with a bad crowd there and dropped out after my first year, then struggled a bit finding work and eventually happened upon a career in financial services. Cut to a few years ago I became a chartered financial planner and wanted to see what else I could do in terms of qualifications.

At the time Manchester Met ran an MSc. in financial planning and business management, so I did that in 10 months and got a distinction. Encouraged by this, and by my supervisor, Dr Werner-Masters, I enrolled for a PhD.

The research topic is one of trying to understand the trust deficit in financial services and to enquire as to whether my own occupation is a profession or not. In doing so, I would create a vector for the professionalisation of occupations. This matters to me as around 1 in 4 adults in the UK need, but do not receive, financial advice, compared with far less than 1 in 10 that need it and get it. This leads to people being poorer, living shorter lives, with a greater proportion of their life in ill health. These are not good outcomes, and trust is cited by the regulator as being the key problem as to why these people do not seek advice.

I started by examining the literature and it became quite clear that nobody had ever polled the public as to what this broad trust constitutes. I am using the concept of the public trust to define what a profession is – if people in society in general trust an occupational group, then we can, with confidence, say that it is a profession. In order to provide a solid foundation, I performed a systematic literature review and reviewed over one hundred peer-reviewed papers, selecting around half of them for thematic analysis, which itself resulted in thirty concepts.

These thirty concepts were expressed as a question, and then I needed to get around 1500 people to answer my questionnaire. Dr Werner-Masters put me onto prolific.co – which is an excellent resource, and I noticed I needed £1,323 to pay all the participants a small fee for their time, and so I started applying for funding.

I am incredibly grateful to both the Research Support Award and to the PGR Research Support Fund, who together supported me to the tune of £1,100 meaning I only had to fund the remainder myself.

After the monies had all been paid across, I pressed the go button on a Friday lunchtime and in around an hours’ time had all 1500 participants. Having spent around a week now analysing the data I have identified five components of the public trust that I am working on synthesising. I feel like they are Regulatory Virtues, Regulatory Vices, Personal Virtues and Personal Vices, and there is another that I am unsure where it fits, but this is still early days.

Luckily all the verification scales (KMO, Bartletts, Kurtosis, Skew, Cronbach’s Alpha) are good to excellent so I am confident the analysis I have performed is robust however I am not sure what it is telling me yet as some of the components are quite weak. For instance, regulatory virtues explain a substantial proportion of the data however are all weakly loaded onto the rotated component, which might be because these, in combination, have a weak but persistent effect on the public trust.

One thing I am fairly confident of is that some components have a negligible difference. One of these, which I am upset with, is that Evidence Based Practise makes trivial difference as it does not combine with other components. It might matter to some people, but it is not a factor that wider society values. Similarly with jargon and accessible information, in isolation some individuals care about these things, but they do not combine with other elements to explain a wider pattern in the data.

Prolific.co is a great resource. The one tip I would give is that SurveyMonkey and prolific do not play together very well. With hindsight I would have used a survey tool that integrates much better with Prolific as setting up the survey and doing the verification is an absolute faff. Another thing I found was you do get a really wide survey sample, the demographics are all over the country, and the wealth and income scores were very well balanced too. Some of the people answering were earning over £150K a year with estates worth £1m+, and the largest chunk earned next to nothing and had almost no assets.

I did notice that the sample is quite young, despite this I got enough data from the older generations that this should not matter to the quality of the results.

Now, I am really excited to get a meeting with my supervisors, the excellent trio of Drs Werner-Masters, Polovina, and Wynne, to go through my analysis and make sure I have done everything correctly and then get on with writing up, I guess.

Daniel received a Research Support Award to help fund his research. To find out more about Research Support Awards, visit the Funding section in Moodle. 

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