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What's it like to be a Foster Denovo adviser?

Ian Horne asks David Wilkinson and Jamie Smith what the national advice firm does to make them feel listened to, and how a growing business can avoid the cookie-cutter mentality

What's it like to be a Foster Denovo adviser?

Our series on advice giants has been looking at life inside the nationals and networks across the UK. Following our interview with Foster Denovo chief executive Roger Brosch, we met with equity partner David Wilkinson and private client partner Jamie Smith.

‘I genuinely think there’s no better place to be at the moment,’ says Smith (pictured above), now in his third year of being a Foster Denovo adviser. His previous roles were at St James’s Place and Hargreaves Lansdown.

Smith says Foster Denovo allows him to enjoy some of the benefits more typically associated with a small IFA. That might seem odd as Foster Denovo has 76 advisers across eight offices. But given the scale of his previous employers, it might well feel more tightknit.

‘The thing that struck me when I first joined was how nice the people were, and the culture,’ says Smith. He says there is an open door to speak to management, and mentions recent meetings where advisers have got together to discuss improvements to the proposition.

‘In my experience it’s different to a lot of companies,’ he adds. ‘There’s a genuine approach to put the client at the heart of what we do.’

Foster Denovo is a restricted firm, using five risk-rated mandates provided by its investment management company, Sequel Investments. The mandates are run by third-party fund managers. But, says Smith, ‘it’s an open door policy for the investment committee. Any of the partners can attend the meetings.’

Client discussions begin with a discovery meeting. Once the relationship has been established, regular review meetings are held, and this leads to a close working relationship between Smith and the administration team. ‘That’s really important,’ he says.

Client focus

Wilkinson (pictured above) approaches his Foster Denovo career from a different angle. As one of the 12 founding equity partners, he has been partly invested in the business from day one. While he does not get involved in the day-to-day running of Foster Denovo, he does help shape the strategy that provides the framework for decisions that will affect advisers. The decision-making ultimately rests with the board.

‘I’ve never really been interested in the board route,’ reveals Wilkinson. ‘I’ve always wanted to continue to look after clients. That’s the bit I enjoy.

‘I enjoy getting involved in what’s going on with the business to a degree, but not to the degree that I wanted to do anything else other than carry on advising.’

That said, Wilkinson does have some involvement in decisions over acquisitions and recruitment. What sort of adviser or business is Foster Denovo looking for? ‘We’re primarily looking for somebody, or a business, that comes in and fits with the culture we have here,’ he says, ‘We’re looking for people who care for their clients and really want to look after them.’

Sharing ideas

Wilkinson echoes Smith by claiming Foster Denovo combines the best of big business support and small firm dynamism. ‘If people have good ideas. we’ll listen. It’s a smaller business feel where you’ve got a bit of control, and a bit of influence and input.’

Another recurring topic is sharing. Wilkinson makes sure to point out Foster Denovo’s Quantum Leap initiative, which he runs alongside two other equity partners. This involves quarterly sessions, in which the equity partners pass on ideas and innovations that can be used with clients. ‘We’re all quite passionate about innovation and coming up with new ideas,’ he says.

Looking forward, Wilkinson says there will be a shift towards financial planning. And it already uses Voyant’s cashflow modelling process, which is built into its investment process.

‘We’ve dealt with a lot of our clients for a long time, and you end up becoming friends and almost a pseudo-counsellor,’ says Wilkinson. ‘You’re the person they come to with anything to do with money, and you’re coaching them on how to achieve their goals and objectives.’

Foster Denovo chief executive Roger Brosch sits down with Will Robins to explain the business's plans for the future.

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