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Anything but standard - island life with Standard Bank Jersey

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Anything but standard - island life with Standard Bank Jersey

With its roots firmly centred within Africa, for Standard Bank Jersey it’s safe to say they don’t follow the standard business structure present across most of the island’s wealth management firms, writes Alex Foster.

Having had a strong foothold in Jersey for over 20 years now, Standard Bank have become a solid figure of the island’s wealth management presence. For Tony Wood, senior fund manager at their only office within the UK offering wealth and investment services, who has been with the office since the very start, he knows the region like the back of his hand.

‘I would describe the health of the wealth management in the region as very strong,’ Wood begins. ‘Fund management administration here has grown exponentially and we have a solid trust company backbone.’

Standard Bank’s origins lie in South Africa, going back as early as 1862, having expanded across to the UK for the first time in 1992. Africa remains its key focus in regards to its investment strategy but I’m keen to understand if Standard Bank, from a clientele perspective, compete on a local level, or whether their client demographic only lies further abroad.

‘From an investment management perspective, local opportunities are actively competed for, typically with the inclusion of a gatekeeper,’ Wood explains. ‘Although we are an Africa focussed organisation, we offer a number of services locally.’

Standard Bank Jersey resides within the island’s capital of St Helier, the financial hub of Jersey, where all firms operate out of. Having been there since the early 1990’s, Wood is more than familiar with the competition.

‘We’ve all been in this industry for many years so we all know one another,’ Wood remarks. ‘In the earlier days it was perhaps more of a collaborative environment. I think now it’s more corporate, but it is also more professional now than it ever was.’

With all the wealth management firms being based in St Helier, Wood explains to me what truly sets them apart from the rest.

‘A number of wealth management companies in Jersey have teams based in London who determine the fund selection process,’ states Wood. ‘Therefore the local portfolio manager’s role is largely relationship management driven.’

‘They can then fit client portfolios to models and buy lists that are set elsewhere,’ Wood continues. ‘What differentiates us from many other Jersey firms is that we set our fund buy lists locally.’

Despite being with Standard Bank Jersey for over 20 years, Wood tells me he moved to a part-time position for four years, but has since returned to his full-time role and is happy to be back in the saddle. He describes how his active engagement within the firm changed and along with it his outlook on the industry in the region, identifying potential issues for wealth management within Jersey.

‘The four-year period I worked part-time with Standard Bank gave me a different perspective, but returning to full time mode, the industry changed a lot in that short space of time,’ explains Wood. ‘I think perhaps a problem is that the investment management industry itself is consolidating.’

‘Most big international operations are looking at London and with the uncertainty of Brexit, it’s hard to say whether we will see more firms setting up here,’ adds Wood. ‘A lot of solutions are platform-driven now which is another factor to consider.’

I question Wood whether this London-centric mind-set extends beyond just the big multi-national corporations, and whether he sees any future change to the landscape of wealth management firms within Jersey. His prediction is logical.

‘A potential change may include fewer large wealth management firms setting up here but more niche, boutique firms that don’t have to hire as many people,’ Wood states. ‘In most organisations, the most expensive element is your staff.’

Wood believes that technology will be the driving force behind this potential pattern in years to come.

‘With the rise of technology, if people can be replaced or assisted by that technology, we may see numbers of people employed levelling out,’ predicts Wood. ‘Embracing new technologies and controlling costs is pivotal to your success, therefore I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a trend.’

For Wood, this technological uprising is going to favour the young guns trying to put their foot in the door of the wealth management industry, not just in Jersey but across the board.

‘Young graduates leaving university now have sharper I.T. skills and are better equipped to learn the technical aspects of the job,’ remarks Wood. ‘Mixing young graduates who have those technical skill sets with a more mature experienced workforce is the key to being most effective.’

Wood isn’t worried about being unable to attract younger staff to the region either, even amid the gravitational effect of London, and for this he simply accredits the tranquillity and opportunities that the island offers on a personal level.

‘Jersey is a beautiful island and there are some incredible walks along the cliff paths. I’d like to say I’d go out running but I don’t,’ jokes Wood. ‘There is also ample opportunity to do water sports or golf around here.’

‘In the summer, choosing between the sunny beaches of Jersey or the sweaty tube ride in Central London, I know where I’d rather be.’

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