Postcards from Birmingham: our visit to six Brummie businesses

The On the Road team travels to UK's second city to hear about its thriving finance scene.

England’s second city boasts a gastronomic triple crown: Cadbury chocolate, curry and, er, cool restaurants (the city has four Michelin-starred eateries, second only to London). But it also has community spirit, civil pride and its well-known comedians (Lenny Henry, Tony Hancock, Stewart Lee and Jasper Carrott, depending on what floats your canal boat).

It is an affluent town. A 2017 report by PWC and Demos found Birmingham to be the ‘fastest-improving city to live and work in’. The report also found unemployment had fallen 11.4% from 2013, to 7.4%, putting it closer to the national average of 4%. House prices have steadily risen too, up 24% since 2008, according to research by ZPG Advantage.

HSBC is moving its headquarters to Birmingham, the Commonwealth Games will be hosted by the city in 2022, and it will be one of the key destinations for the HS2 train line (assuming that happens).

With Birmingham on the rise, our team spoke to a range of advisers and consultants, who have witnessed and played a role in this development first hand. Read on to see what they had to say about their businesses, and why it is time to be bullish about Brum.

England’s second city boasts a gastronomic triple crown: Cadbury chocolate, curry and, er, cool restaurants (the city has four Michelin-starred eateries, second only to London). But it also has community spirit, civil pride and its well-known comedians (Lenny Henry, Tony Hancock, Stewart Lee and Jasper Carrott, depending on what floats your canal boat).

It is an affluent town. A 2017 report by PWC and Demos found Birmingham to be the ‘fastest-improving city to live and work in’. The report also found unemployment had fallen 11.4% from 2013, to 7.4%, putting it closer to the national average of 4%. House prices have steadily risen too, up 24% since 2008, according to research by ZPG Advantage.

HSBC is moving its headquarters to Birmingham, the Commonwealth Games will be hosted by the city in 2022, and it will be one of the key destinations for the HS2 train line (assuming that happens).

With Birmingham on the rise, our team spoke to a range of advisers and consultants, who have witnessed and played a role in this development first hand. Read on to see what they had to say about their businesses, and why it is time to be bullish about Brum.

Phil McGovern, managing director, MPA Financial Management

Within the walls of a gorgeous Grade II listed building on the city’s historic canal, we met with Phil McGovern, managing director at MPA Financial Management.

Over a lunch of French cuisine, we caught up on all the latest developments at the firm.

The most significant news is the recent acquisition of half of Worcester-based advice firm Suckling Waddington & Partners. The venture has proved successful for both McGovern and Suckling Waddington partner, Gary Cowley, who have been friends for more than 20 years.

The transition process has been described as seamless due to both firms’ shared key values and culture. McGovern and Cowley will run the firm with a 50/50 approach and Suckling Waddington will be keeping its unique name and office base in Worcester.

Bhavna caught up with Cowley the next morning for breakfast, who echoed McGovern’s positive words about the transition. It has been a particularly interesting step for Suckling Waddington as it has made the move from restricted to independent.

Suckling Waddington is also undergoing a rebrand at the moment, working with Hannah Price, managing director at Mischievous Marketing. This will involve a redesign of its brochures and a relaunch of its website, featuring some snazzy new team photos.

Tony Bates, managing director, Idex Consulting

Across the UK we hear that IFA businesses, although growing, are finding it tricky to attract the talent needed to take their firms to the next level. With this in mind, we caught up with Tony Bates, managing director of Idex Consulting, for a chat at Caffè Nero in the city’s Mailbox building.

Bates’s first piece of advice for IFAs is to build a brand, and to ensure this brand is aligned with the recruitment process. He noted applicants are unlikely to reflect positively on firms that do not treat potential recruits with respect. ‘Companies need to take recruitment seriously,’ he said. ‘It’s important to provide feedback to applicants, and to be relatively quick at handling the process.’

We also discussed the changing nature of the relationship between IFAs and recruitment consultants. Bates said he is contacting fewer consultants than ever, and ensuring his approach is targeted rather than scattergun.

As a final point, Bates had been told an increasing number of advice firms, particularly larger businesses, have been enquiring to consultants about the availability of female advisers.

Sarah Seeley, financial consultant, Kind Wealth

‘Everything has been going well,’ said Sarah Seeley of Kind Wealth, who has just completed her first 18 months as an adviser. Although Seeley has been in the financial advice world for 18 years, it is the progression of the profession that encouraged her to take the leap from administration to advice.

‘I didn’t like the sales side of things pre-retail distribution review,’ she said. ‘If you sat in a client meeting it was very different. There used to be an element of smoke and mirrors to it, which didn’t sit right with me. Now it’s geared towards client service rather than just onboarding the client’s assets.’

In 18 months self-employed Seeley has accrued £5.5 million in funds under advice. She credits the team at Kind Wealth, and in particular managing director Phil Stroud, for supporting her. ‘Phil is absolutely brilliant,’ she said. ‘He gives incredible support, both with advice and networking.’

Seeley’s main aim has been to build her client bank, and she intends to continue doing so by working on her connections with accountants and solicitors. Kind is an Intrinsic member firm and Seeley plans to progress to Level 6. She will take her chartered exams through the Old Mutual Wealth Financial Adviser School. ‘I think you need that advanced knowledge,’ she said.

Hannah Price, managing director, Mischievous Marketing

An integral area for IFA business development is marketing, so we made sure to catch up with Hannah Price, managing director of Midlands-based Mischievous Marketing.

In a sector where many businesses have grown to a healthy size without much consideration to marketing, Price urges advisers to think more holistically about the value of the process. For instance, a strong brand can make it easier for advisers to attract top talent, and also to sell their businesses should they be thinking about retirement.

We also asked whether IFAs should have a website, as we have stumbled across many who do not. ‘I probably shouldn’t say this as a marketer, but IFAs don’t need to have a website unless they are keen to grow both their team and client base,’ she said, pointing out the value of networking and referrals. ‘In fact it is possibly worse having an out-of-date website than not having one. LinkedIn profiles can act as an alternative to a website and can be used as an engagement tool, especially with professional connections and corporate clients.’

Price also urges IFAs who hire marketing consultants to place their trust in the process. ‘If we’re allowed to be creative and focus on what we do best, the outcomes tend to be better for the business,’ she said.

David Philips, director, Wealth Design

On the ever-busy Colmore Row of Birmingham, the On the Road team assembled for a spot of lunch at The Alchemist. Joining us was David Philips, director of New Model Adviser® cover star firm Wealth Design.

The conversation began with the topic of client satisfaction, which Philips had been mulling while completing his New Model Adviser® Top 100 application. He informed us Wealth Design carried out its first client questionnaire over the summer, and will be making this a routine exercise.

Thankfully, client feedback has been positive and Wealth Design, along with Hannah Price, will be using it to continue refining the advice proposition. Insights from the clients primarily centred on ‘ensuring there is ongoing proactive human contact between adviser meetings, and delivering frequent market updates,’ said Price.

Philips explained the firm wants to look beyond simply retaining and bringing in new clients, and is now focused on building the ultimate client experience. In the future Wealth Design will run focus groups with a small sample of clients to gather feedback on innovations to their service delivery.

In team news, two Wealth Design advisers, Scott Flemings and Gemma Oliver, have become chartered financial planners.

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