In the second part of our series looking at some of the biggest advice firms in the UK, we looked at Ascot Lloyd. Read our interview with chief executive Nigel Stockton here, and read what it's like to be an Openwork adviser here

Ascot Lloyd has previously appeared in the New Model Adviser® Top 100, most recently in 2016, as one of the largest IFAs in the UK. But last year it merged with consolidator Bellpenny, a quite different business to those that appear on our annual list, regional awards or on the cover of the magazine.

What is it like to be an adviser at the firm? We caught up with chartered financial planner Joe Roxborough and chartered wealth manager Sheetal Radia (pictured) to find out more.

Strong support

First on Roxborough’s mind is back-office support provided by the firm. Ascot Lloyd has staff in 12 offices across the UK. ‘If you have a question, you can find an answer to it,’ said Roxborough, highlighting the investment research team. ‘I don’t want to be reinventing the wheel every 10 minutes, trying to discover something that someone else in the company has already dealt with.’

Radia and Roxborough liken their role to that of a local doctor, providing first contact and triage before referring to a specialist.

So what about the Bellpenny merger? The 2017 deal took assets under advice from Ascot Lloyds’s £2 billion to a combined £6 billion. ‘It should never be overlooked that you have access to all this expertise, and it’s benefiting the client through the delivery from the adviser,’ said Radia.

The team also praises senior management, particularly chief executive Nigel Stockton, the Bellpenny chief who took the helm following last year’s deal. And the sentiment seems genuine. Radia said he been made to feel welcome and supported in his first six months, since joining from London-based Astute Financial Management. ‘Nigel’s been great,’ he said, noting Stockton had taken the team for lunch and been available.

Roxborough said he had been given a relatively high degree of freedom at the firm. This cuts both ways though. He said he often responded to emails throughout the weekend but might then not arrive at the office until 10am on a Monday.

‘Why stick to 9-to-5 when you’re dealing with clients?’ he said. ‘If clients want to talk to you at 7pm, they want to talk to you at 7pm.’

I asked Roxborough if there were any commonly held misconceptions about the business. ‘One that I come across frequently is the idea we have a one-size-fits-all solution,’ he said. Roxborough suggests the firm’s use of in-house model portfolios may have fuelled that perception. ‘There’s a lot of variety in them for a start,’ he said, disputing the view Ascot Lloyd offers just one model of advice. ‘The exact opposite is true,’ he said. ‘You almost have too many options half the time.’

Shared vision

This prompts further questions about the planning process. The duo explain Ascot Lloyd advisers use Voyant for cashflow planning, but they do not introduce it with clients immediately.

‘The client will usually want to start talking about very specific concerns – the thing that brought them in,’ said Roxborough. ‘So zooming out is normally the first step.

‘We use software at a certain point, but a lot of it is therapy. We find out why clients feel a certain way, and gauge their thoughts on other important matters.’

Radia said the processes used by Ascot Lloyd advisers bear a degree of uniformity. ‘The proposals are very similar, but how you make that roll out to the client is the distinguishing part,’ he said.

Radia and Roxborough appear content in their work and, while they appreciate the support that comes from being in a larger firm, they do not feel treated like mere cogs in the wheel.

Roxborough concluded by remarking that clients, in turn, benefit from this blend of scale and independence: ‘I think it’s a Goldilocks zone,’ he said. ‘It’s just right.’