‘I’m a mini business inside a mini business,’ says Sylvia Bowen, describing her new role as an autonomous wealth manager at boutique Brighton Capital Management.
After nearly three decades of working for Brewin Dolphin and UBS, downsizing from the City majors to the Raymond James affiliate at the beginning of the year was both a literal and metaphorical ‘breath of fresh air’, she says.
‘It’s the flexibility,’ she adds. ‘I can look after my clients in the way I wish to with the support of the team here and I didn’t originally think this was achievable.’
It has also cut a very welcome three hours off her commute from her Surrey home every day.
While establishing herself outside the security of a wealth blue chip will mean several years of hard graft, her relief at escaping the office politics, paperwork and growth targets is evident. Clients will now get a happier manager, she says, able to draw on the strengths of a supportive environment for the benefit of the people she is servicing.
‘I’m the owner of my own destiny and pressure for targets is only driven by myself,’ she says.
‘Joining Brighton Capital was the perfect solution because I didn’t want to go it completely alone, I can carry on working with those clients indefinitely, I can confidently say that if I’m needed at 70 I will be able to offer my services.’
Bowen had certainly served her time as a captive of Southern Rail. She started working for Brewin back in the early 1990s as a personal assistant with no plans to pursue a career in finance. However, the mentorship of a female director prompted her to qualify as an adviser in 1997, and she stayed with the firm for more than 13 years.
That led to a 2005 move to become a UBS investment director, but she was lured back to Brewin six years later, where she remained until her recent move to independence.
Brighton Capital was founded in 2015 by former Wealth Manager cover stars David Pegler, also a Brewin alumni, and Tim O’Connor, formerly of Barclays Wealth. It has since evolved into a six-strong team, including former Brewin directors Ewen Emmerson and Francis Jarman, managing £110 million across 100 families.
‘We like to call them families or relationships, as we are managing two or three generations,’ Pegler says. ‘It can be a very sticky business and the trusted adviser can stay on for generations to come.’
Pegler spent the six years prior to Brighton Capital's launch as head of Brewin Dolphin’s Brighton branch, before it was acrimoniously consolidated into a regional hub at Reigate, sparking an outflow of former staffers.
He began his career at Cazenove in 1993 followed by a six-year stint at UBS. As much as the names on his CV rhyme with Bowen’s, he says the trajectory of his personal experience, and increasing appreciation for more personal working relationships, are an even closer match.
‘You may not want to kill yourself working,’ Pegler says. ‘We offer the flexibility of a non-corporate model and we wanted to offer Sylvia the ability to use her experience to work in a different way and keep relationships going for longer without the corporate environment of meetings and less time with clients.’
Pegler says the feedback he received when he informally polled his clients at launch on the strengths and weakness of the service was pretty uniform.
The response was: ‘you are good with financial planning and good with returns, but you never really ask about our lifestyles and what keeps us up at night.’
Around 60% of the boutique’s clients are business owners and many felt they were not being asked about this part of their lives, so Pegler and co decided to change tactics.
‘In a corporate world you’re an employee but we are now entrepreneurs. When you are approaching these clients you have to speak their language and when you start giving such advice we understand them better.
‘We no longer go into a meeting with our clients to talk about their investments, we talk about their lifestyle and it’s a different proposition. This is what we can do better than big corporations – we don’t want to have thousands and thousands of clients, we want to offer something closer to a family office offering, and Sylvia is very interested in this.’
While the big challenge for Bowen now is to try and see as many people as possible in a relatively short period, it is also about getting that initial contact across, she says.
The renewal that comes with change and a better work-life balance seems to emit a positivity that clients perceive and respond to: since she joined in January, £10 million has been added to the firm’s assets under management (AUM).
Having the existing relationship has been vital in bringing clients on board, but the Raymond James name has not gone unnoticed either as it helps foster a feeling of security for those moving their money into a new firm that is not widely recognised.
Pegler says the business has enjoyed exponential growth over the past three years, with a 30-40% rise in clients and assets each year, but admits this is bound to slow down going forward. Although not aspiring to manage thousands of clients, the team wants to establish itself in the industry as a solid force to be reckoned with.
Looking into alternative ways of growth, Bowen and Pegler say the boutique is considering partnering with law and tax specialists that can add to its offering. A joint venture with a local legal firm that has been a solid supplier of clients is currently in the works, expected to be announced in the next few months.
‘If you talk to us in two years we are more likely to have that type of growth than huge staff,’ Pegler says. Providing better data representation of client investments and improving client experience are other projects underway.
‘It’s been a good journey,’ he says. ‘We always felt we wanted to do this and I’m pleased we made the jump. There is still stuff to do because we live in a very busy world with information overload. Clients spend more time looking at their summer holiday than planning their finances, so we have to have order and everything sorted out in the background.’
Bowen adds: ‘It’s the feeling of being good at investment and what you do, but in a corporate environment you are suffocated by endless demands that are not present in a boutique.
'This industry has evolved, but we want to go back to those values and treat the clients the way they want to be treated.