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Profile: 'it's important clients know we are in it together'

Profile: 'it's important clients know we are in it together'

'Get your hands dirty’ is the advice Charlotte Aspinall, head of investment management at Hurley Partners, gives newcomers to the industry.

Aspinall and Julie Sebastianelli, a director in the financial planning team, are both partners at Hurley Partners, but they have taken very different paths to get to where they are today.

However, the pair agree that one of the most important things to being successful in wealth management is understanding all the parts of the business, both from an operational standpoint and from a client service angle.

‘Get involved as much as you can in all aspects,’ Aspinall says. ‘From a client’s point of view, they want excellent quality investment advice, but they also want to make sure their income payments are made, their stocks are transferred and their portfolio is run as efficiently as possible. You should get to know every aspect of the investment management operation. As much as you can. For the young person, I would just say, get stuck in!’

Sebastianelli adds: ‘It’s a people business, so I think, often in big organisations, people become very protective of their own clients – that can be a danger. It is a people business, but it’s about ensuring you get into the detail and understand not just the investment side but the more personal financial planning side. If you can do those, it’s a winner.’

Sebastianelli was part of the team that set up Hurley Partners in 2013. After starting her career at Pearl Assurance as a graduate trainee, she moved to Hogg Robinson Benefit Consultants as a pension consultant in 1987. 

‘At the time, there was a lot of change in pensions. With the introduction of personal pensions, it was a very interesting time,’ she recalls.

When the company decided to move to Peterborough, she felt it was time for her to move on, and she joined Binder Hamlyn in 1989. She stayed with that business through all of its guises, as it was taken over by Arthur Andersen and, finally, Deloitte, until 2007.

She met Tony Hurley, chair of Hurley Partners, while she was there as a client. Hurley then brought her over to Brown Shipley, where she stayed until the team left to set up Hurley Partners.

‘I think the traditional insurance company route had a lot of plus points in terms of getting people saving,’ she says.

‘But the transparency and openness of investments now is very different. People now have more choice and more education. It was a very different environment in those days.

‘That said, I went through that change. Arthur Andersen was a fantastic period of my career. But as time moved on, you became aware that the business of Arthur Andersen and the big four is so varied and enormous and geared towards corporate clients.’

She adds: ‘I was a small part of a private client practice. You become quite aware that your business is quite niche in that environment. [It is very different] moving to a firm where this is our business, we do what we want, and we can arrange the business how we want it. The strategy is ours and how we implement it is down to us. Whereas within a large organisation that becomes quite difficult to do.'

Hurley Partners is celebrating its fifth anniversary, having grown assets to £625 million. It is in the black, with pre-tax profit up 271% over the year to April to £1.1 million on turnover of £5.6 million.

Sebastianelli specialises in financial planning, investment management and advising clients on their pensions. 

She says that the majority of Hurley’s clients have some kind of pension arrangement through either a Sipp or Ssas, and inter-generational wealth transfers are important for retaining assets.

‘For me, it is about knowing the family and the personal relationship. We’ve tended to find that when there is a death in the family, we very often already know the next generation. Our clients will introduce us to their sons and daughters,’ she says.

‘We get to know the family and that’s really important in our view. It’s that nurturing and personal relationship. Generally speaking, we tend not to lose a lot of assets at the point where mum and dad might have passed on.’

In addition to Sipps and Ssas, and the transfer of wealth down the generations, Sebastianelli and the team also work on helping clients with final salary pension transfers.

She says that although final salary pensions are still rightly regarded as a ‘gold-plated pension arrangement', for those who need additional flexibility, a transfer can be the right answer.

‘It’s complex advice – it has to be done properly. We believe we do that really well,’ she says.

The pair believe the key differentiator for Hurley when giving advice is that the financial planners work closely together at all stages of the process. 

Sebastianelli adds: ‘In a lot of organisations, the investment manager sits very separately from the financial planner, and the financial planner dips in and out. The way we operate is we both see our clients together.’

Aspinall’s road to Hurley Partners was quite different to Sebastianelli’s. After graduating from Leeds University with a degree in business management and sociology, she joined The Fairmount Group as an investment administrator. From there, she went to work at Charles Stanley as an investment manager in 2000. She was recruited by Hurley in 2017.

‘I was ready for a new challenge and was looking to work for a smaller company where you are involved in all aspects. You really do get to know clients, and we are not product driven. We don’t just use funds, we also have the ability to use direct equities,’ she says.

‘We have freedom and flexibility, we’re not limited the way some other houses can be. We definitely feel part of the team and the company. The hard work you put in is reflected in the success of the company.’

As part of her day-to-day role, Aspinall is one of five members of the investment policy committee, where the asset allocation decisions are made.

Aspinall says the team is not looking to make any tactical investment changes over the next 12 months.

‘We don’t run the portfolio that way – we try to dampen down the macro noise,’ she explains.

‘It’s very shifting sands at the moment. What we have always done is to look at companies which are cash generative and we feel have good asset backing.’ 

Currently, the portfolios are overweight industrials, which Aspinall is quick to point out encompasses a wide range of companies, such as BBA Aviation and engineering firm Renishaw.

‘Those companies really tick the boxes of what we are looking for. They don’t tend to make that many moves when the winds are blowing around.’

She adds: ‘We have been hurt a little of late, but we feel those companies, especially with their asset backing, will be good long-term investments. It’s quite rare we would have a start-up software company [in our portfolios], for example.’

Direct portfolios typically have around 25 to 28 holdings, with Aspinall saying that any more than that will be ‘a bit of a scattergun’ approach.

In fixed income, she is keeping portfolios short duration and with just 20-25% exposure to high yield.

‘We want it to be defensive. Geographically, we are in line with the benchmark, but we do have a call on US and Asia. We are underweight the US and overweight Asia, which I think reflects our long-term view. If we were short-term, we would be shifting that around.

'With Asia, they will have the headwinds with raw materials and trade wars, but the demographics there are really compelling. That will feed through to consumer demand.’

All the partners in the business also invest their money alongside their clients.

Aspinall and Sebastianelli both point out that it is very important for clients to know they are all ‘in it together’.

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