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Regional view: Setting up in the South East

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Regional view: Setting up in the South East

If you were to start up a new IFA firm in the U.K, which region would you choose for it? I’m sure that most answers would be subject to partisan bias, but if you could forget your roots and ties, you could very easily find yourself opting for the South East. What makes me say that? Is it the abundance of prospective older clients, and the fact that many Londoners choose to up sticks and retire in this area? In part, that’s exactly it. Equally, my recent conversation with Strategic Solutions Financial Services has strengthened my hunch that the area is a ripe market for quality financial advice.

The Strategic Solutions team in Branksome, led by Kevin Forbes (pictured), Jefferson Fawcett, Giles Wellington and Allan Cruse, provide a solid case study for demonstrating this. In the space of a mere six years, the firm has gone from a standing start to having over £300m in assets under management. On top of this, the team has just launched a standalone DFM proposition, Casterbridge Wealth. 

What is it that makes this region a hotbed for a growing IFA business? Looking more closely at the demographics, the team dispenses some local knowledge. Christchurch, as it happens, is one of the most concentrated areas for retired people in the United Kingdom. Barton-on-Sea, meanwhile, has one of the longest life expectancy rates of any place in the country. This certainly fits 2015 findings from the Office of National Statistics, which show that life expectancies in the South East outstrip those of any other region.

Having said that, it may be a little misleading to paint the area out as a grand-scale retirement village. ‘It’s very cosmopolitan now,’ says Fawcett, discussing nearby Bournemouth. Forbes agrees; ‘it’s not just full of older people. In the summer it’s stag night central!’ Providing a further endorsement of the nightlife, Forbes also notes the strong university presence, which has brought jobs and young adults to the area.

So that’s the elderly and student boxes ticked, but what’s to say that the area doesn’t simply have the same make-up as the audience for Countdown and Homes Under the Hammer? ‘There are some good employers here,’ counters Forbes, noting that Barclays, LV and JP Morgan are all local. Cruse furthers the case by mentioning that financial services contribute more to the Bournemouth economy than tourism. 

Reputable employers and a large retirement community provide a solid base for firms near Bournemouth, and there’s also reason to be hopeful for growth. ‘Having AFC Bournemouth in the Premiership has put the town on the map,’ says Fawcett enthusiastically. It’s true that Bournemouth have become a lot of peoples’ ‘second team’ now, and there’s a real feel good factor about having a team with an 11,464-seater stadium punching above its weight amongst the billionaires. Should the team become a Premier League mainstay, there’s every chance that investment will flood in for the team, and likely the area in general. 

This is all well and good, but are there drawbacks to being based near Bournemouth? To my surprise, I’m informed that the traffic is a major problem. Having seen the traffic when heading to Citywire’s London office, I wonder how Bournemouth can have the same issues. Bear in mind that the population of Greater London is over 8.6 million, whereas Bournemouth is home to a relatively small 194,500, according to the Borough Council. 

It turns out that the Strategic Solutions team isn’t exaggerating. A recent study by TomTom found Bournemouth to be the most congested town in the U.K, and Fawcett notes that the closure of a nearby spur road has caused chaos. Perhaps not actual chaos, but the kind of chaos that has you tapping the dashboard frantically and muttering four-letter words under your breath. In turn, the team has started timing meetings to avoid rush hour. 

However, they’ve decided against utilising Skype to dodge the hustle and bustle. ‘We offer a personal and high quality service,’ says Forbes. ‘It takes time to sit down and get to know clients. That’s why financial advisers are so much better than accountants and lawyers; we have empathy, and we understand and listen to our clients to a much greater degree than any lawyer or accountant I’ve ever met.’

Fawcett adds that home visits and relaxed chats allow for better conversations. In fact, when I confront him with some B-grade banter about the stamp collection in his car, he points out that it belongs to his dad, and that a client, who is also a collector, has recently valued it for him. Although Fawcett regretfully informs me he’s not sitting upon a fortune, I would wager a considerable number of stamps (after all, it’s legal tender) that he won’t be losing that client. And that could never have happened with Skype, so I suppose it’s worth braving the clogged roads.

Looking back at the South East more generally, IFAs in the area are surely facing up to an exciting future. The area provides a broad mix of potentially valuable clients, and the IFA community is lively too. For those looking to be more involved on the local scene, I would point out that Forbes has been doing a barnstorming job as local PFS meeting chair, tripling attendances and adding much-needed humour to proceedings. Meanwhile, Cruse is fighting the cause for advisers in his capacity as a CII president,  working hard to ensure that the profession is properly represented and funded.

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