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Adviser profile: Mark Insley of Ascot Wealth Management

Opening a South Africa office has been a gateway to new opportunities for Ascot Wealth Management. Never one to shy away from a challenge, managing director Mark Insley is looking to expand further.

Mark Insley's CV:

2011–present: Ascot Wealth Management, director

2010–2011: Orchard House IFAs, adviser

2006–2010: Northern Trust Global Investments, equity securities lending trader

2005–2006: JP Morgan, OTC derivative collateral analyst

Mark Insley's CV:

2011–present: Ascot Wealth Management, director

2010–2011: Orchard House IFAs, adviser

2006–2010: Northern Trust Global Investments, equity securities lending trader

2005–2006: JP Morgan, OTC derivative collateral analyst

Mark's top tips

Mark Insley provided us with these five 'top tips' for business:

1. Work hard. Nothing can be achieved without extreme commitment and dedication.

2. Make use of technology, such as application programming interfaces and multiple third-party software.

3. Understand your business.

4. Do not be afraid to waste money on things that may not work.

5. Keep your business young and energised.

A self-proclaimed risk taker

Mark Insley, managing director of Ascot Wealth Management, is a self-proclaimed risk taker. He is aiming for large-scale growth by re-investing nearly 100% of profits or more. In fact, he is so confident in growing that he refuses to pay himself more than the personal tax allowance as a salary.

Since he last featured as a New Model Adviser® cover star in 2014, Insley has focused on growing staff from 11 to 32, building an online training academy, and opening an office in South Africa to provide a wide range of back- and front-office functions for less cost.

Consequently, the firm’s income has grown from £177,000 in 2014 to a projected £1.3 million this financial year, ending in April. It has grown profit from £20,000 to a projected £200,000 this year.

Targeted training

The firm has hired some talented young staff. Jonty Rider, the first adviser from the academy, was New Model Adviser®’s youngest Top 35 Next Generation adviser in 2017.

The quality of the online academy also allows Insley to efficiently recruit and train staff and advisers in Cape Town, where he opened an office in June 2016 in a bid to scale income and profits. This office supports the UK business and Insley has no immediate plans to service clients in South Africa.

'Cape Town staff now do all our pension analysis and lead handling. Not to mention some paraplanning, client support, and business development,' he says. 'Half the investment team is there, as are two trainee advisers.'

Top quote:

'We now have the blueprint to find the right people, train and mould them. Last year, eight people became diploma qualified through our academy. This is a massive achievement and return on our investment.'

Worth the risk

Having an office in South Africa carries potential hazards, such as political and currency risk but it is worth it as costs are competitive.  He can also employ a graduate from the University of Cape Town, which ranks above Durham and other red brick universities in the UK.

Insley says his hardest task over the past three-and-a-half years has been setting up all the necessary processes in South Africa, and training raw South African graduates in UK culture and regulations.

It also carried a financial burden. According to Companies House statements, Ascot was still recovering from a £140,000 loss in 2014 when the South Africa investment created another loss in 2017 of £155,000.

'Cape Town is an opportune place to outsource. Perhaps so few other advisers have attempted [outsourcing or offshoring functions] because they see it as too risky; or aren’t as mobile or willing to make that effort. Maybe I’m more open to the idea of a 24-year-old Zimbabwean graduate advising UK clients. I had a meeting yesterday with a senior client in our office and our South African-based trainee adviser on the screen. The client accepts this is our model.'

'Some clients may still hesitate to do video only for a first meeting, so we can do hybrid face-to-face and video for them,' says Insley. 'But video works well for review meetings. Many clients want that as they find it more convenient.'

Top quote:

'Setting up in South Africa was a risk. It has been a challenge, but I love it, and the long-term benefits will be huge. The focus this year is to get back into profit. I know South Africa is profitable already in the way it contributes to the overall business.'

Graduate goals

Ascot has trained all its staff from scratch with 80% coming straight from university. The main recruitment model in the UK is to hire placement students on a sandwich year from universities. In Cape Town, recruits also come straight from university. Ascot trains placement students throughout that year with a goal for them to become full-time recruits after graduation.

'This year, training should be light touch by humans because the online AWM Academy, which I have also invested a huge amount in, will be finished,' says Insley. 'That encapsulates what I have built over the past six years. It aims to recruit an untrained person and turn them into someone that can lead a part of the business.'

Of the 25 UK participants that have been on placements with Ascot since 2012, 70% have returned to work in a full-time position. Of those, five have left.

Ascot has also had 10 interns of up to three months. But Insley prefers the placement scheme as it requires more commitment.

The academy features training modules for every aspect of the business from how to use investment research tool FE Analytics to customer relationship management (CRM) service Insightly; back-office software True Potential; workflow manager Asana; and time tracker Harvest. The firm also uses proprietary software, AWM Vision, which integrates information from the other systems.

Another development since 2014 has been setting up an estate-planning business that covers advice on wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.

Top quote:

'Early on in client relationships, we review their will. Also trusts apply to more people than what is commonly perceived. I separated it from the business as it is a specialist discipline and flourishes with its own way of doing things. That also helps us to work with other firms in that area.'

 

Dreaming big

Ascot has tried other growth strategies. For example, in May 2016, it bought a bank of clients from London-based Capital Asset Management.

'It was a lot of work [to contact clients],' says Insley. 'But it has been a huge success nonetheless, with a 100% retention rate and much value from the clients already on adviser fees. Others were on legacy commission and were a struggle to get hold of [but they were less expensive to acquire]. We have sent them letters and tried to contact them and will continue to do so.'

Insley owns 63% of the firm with the remaining 37% spread among members of his family. Insley has convertible options on some of the shares taking him to 90% at execution. Staff are remunerated by salary and discretionary bonuses.

Insley worked in the City of London before setting up Ascot and has been topping up his minimal salary (the personal allowance is currently £11,500) with income from rental property.

'I’m still running the business for growth,' he says. 'I want a box at my football team Brentford FC when they finish their new stadium. That will be a reward.'

The foreseeable future will be about continuing to recruit and set up joint ventures. 'We just need to get one of those right to double in size.'

Insley is 35 and has no immediate intention to sell the business. He works 14 hours a day, which is a strain with an 18-month-old son at home. So another important step is to reduce those hours, he says.

Top quote:

'I am not as relaxed as I used to be. I don’t socialise as much. You don’t get anywhere without investing time and brainpower. I’ve moved from being an investor to a business owner, thinking in a more strategic and integrated way. But I love the challenges and the strategy. It is as much of a hobby as playing football or tennis.'

The fee bit...

Insley is currently splitting the business into three: Ascot Wealth, AWM Virtual Wealth and Impulse Plan. Ascot Wealth Management will remain the umbrella brand.

Ascot Wealth will be the existing service of independent, mainly face-to-face advice.

AWM Virtual Wealth will deliver the same level of service, but by video only.

Impulse Plan is a new, restricted, hybrid robo-human offering, largely using white-labelled technology from True Potential.

Insley says he wants AWM Virtual to be separate, as its brand will attract people specifically seeking video advice.

The firm has a wide array of fee options depending on whether clients want transactional, ongoing or specialist advice, for example. They can pay by percentage or retainer, but most do the former.

Face-to-face advice is tiered between 1% and 3% initial, and 1% for ongoing. AWM Virtual will charge up to 1% initial and 1% ongoing.

For the ongoing fee, clients receive as many review meetings and contacts as they need.

At first glance, AWM’s fee structure appears labyrinthine. But Insley says clients understand the structure once it has been explained. Breaking it into so many options gives them more choice and makes sure they know exactly how much they are paying for what.

Insley is currently splitting the business into three: Ascot Wealth, AWM Virtual Wealth and Impulse Plan. Ascot Wealth Management will remain the umbrella brand.

Ascot Wealth will be the existing service of independent, mainly face-to-face advice.

AWM Virtual Wealth will deliver the same level of service, but by video only.

Impulse Plan is a new, restricted, hybrid robo-human offering, largely using white-labelled technology from True Potential.

Insley says he wants AWM Virtual to be separate, as its brand will attract people specifically seeking video advice.

The firm has a wide array of fee options depending on whether clients want transactional, ongoing or specialist advice, for example. They can pay by percentage or retainer, but most do the former.

Face-to-face advice is tiered between 1% and 3% initial, and 1% for ongoing. AWM Virtual will charge up to 1% initial and 1% ongoing.

For the ongoing fee, clients receive as many review meetings and contacts as they need.

At first glance, AWM’s fee structure appears labyrinthine. But Insley says clients understand the structure once it has been explained. Breaking it into so many options gives them more choice and makes sure they know exactly how much they are paying for what.

Top quote:

'No-one has refused to do business with us because they found the fee structure too complicated.'

The investment bit...]

Ascot has five in-house portfolios. The investment committee meets every Monday and comprises Insley, one adviser, two analysts based in Cape Town, and external consultant Ed Kerby, a postdoctorate research fellow at Stellenbosch University.

Asset allocation is set using research from Kerby and the analysts. Portfolios have a maximum of 20% in any one fund or sector.

'Our approach is top-down,' says Insley. 'We try to identify themes and regions, then find a fund that fits them. For example, in February 2017, we did a lot of work on emerging markets. As a result, we chose to invest in India for its improving demographics and infrastructure. It has worked so far, especially in the first seven months.

'Recently, we also bought the BlackRock US Opportunities fund as an immediate reaction to [US president Donald] Trump’s tax cuts. We chose that as it best reflects the sectors such as utilities and energy that we think will benefit most.'

Ascot uses a composite benchmark, which its portfolios have outperformed over the past one and two years, says Insley.

The best of Ascot Wealth Management on Twitter

You can follow Ascot Wealth Management on Twitter using the handle @ascotwm. Here is a short selection of their Twitter highlights:

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