Sadly, Reading has lost all bids so far to gain city status. But the university town has made the most of its links to the capital, incubating a thriving business district, specialising in technology, while also playing host to one of the UK’s largest advice businesses.
And as a University of Reading graduate, I raised my hand when the chance came for a visit.
As you arrive at Reading railway station, you cannot help but notice Oracle Corporation’s huge multi-storey office. The US computer giant’s influence stretches further, lending its name to the town’s massive shopping centre, a key part of an almost 20-year-long regeneration project.
Reading is home to a number of technology organisations, with companies working in IT services, software developers and telecommunications. It is also the base of financial services regulatory compliance giant Huntswood.
Nigel Stockton, chief executive of national advice firm Ascot Lloyd, which has its head office in the town, says there are a lot of ‘affluent people from the tech sector in Reading. Both Oracle and Microsoft have bases here,’ he says.
Victoria Joiner, financial planner at BlueSKY Chartered Financial Planners, says her clients come from ‘a mix of sectors, but Reading does offer many professionals from tech, followed by business owners and legal firm partners.’
The town’s proximity to London is also a huge draw for setting up base. Stockton (pictured above) says: ‘You get the benefits of an office cheaper than London but you are still fairly close to the capital.’ Driving from London takes around an hour (depending on the start location) and regular direct trains can get you to London Paddington in around 30 minutes.
Then there is the highly anticipated launch of the Elizabeth line [also known as Crossrail], which is estimated to begin operation in autumn 2019. The line will stretch from Reading to Essex, stopping frequently through central London. It promises to cut commute times and improve access to the capital.
Reading railway station underwent a £895 million development recently, which has helped the town consolidate its claim to be a business hub. Stockton says Ascot Lloyd based itself in Reading because of ‘the trains to London, the rail projects and the infrastructure.’
Location has played an important role attracting clients too, as Berkshire is one of the most prosperous areas in the UK. Phil Smithyes, managing director at Crowe UK, says: ‘Areas like Henley-on-Thames, Newbury and Oxford are dotted around Reading and they have wealth.’
BlueSKY financial planner Rob Starling also says Buckinghamshire and Surrey are particularly popular areas to settle down for high-net-worth clients.
BlueSKY currently employs three University of Reading graduates, who it is looking to develop over the coming years. The firm says it has a strong focus on the future of advice, whether through using technology to streamline processes or bringing in the next generation of advisers. It wants to work more closely with the university to help spread the word on career prospects with advice firms.
Ascot Lloyd is also ahead of the field when it comes to implementing technology and Stockton spends some time running me through the firm’s app, MyIFA, which is free for both clients and non-clients. It features some handy tools such as a tax calculator, a news section, a client’s view of their portfolios as well as a directory of the advisers.
Reading may not hold city status but this may just be the best bit about it. ‘The town is big enough for business, diversity and professionalism,’ says Joiner, ‘but small enough to stay well-connected.’