One of our favourite parts of running this feature is visiting pubs from a bygone age and learning about the UK’s history on location, writes Eleanor Mahmoud. For the final Pub Club of 2017, I’ve come to Milton Keynes – a town (or is it a city? The debate continues but I’ll spare you the facts) not exactly known for its history.
I arrive at The Old Beams, a McMullen pub which was rebuilt in 2007 after a fire. Ten years of history ain’t bad for a town that’s only 50 years old, right?
I find Paul Wilson (pictured left) and Steve Hutchings (pictured right) from WH Ireland’s Milton Keynes office at a table in the corner of the large and airy dining area, drinks in hand. I very quickly discover that Milton Keynes is much more interested in its future than its lack of a past.
I’m told it is one of the fastest growing places in the UK, demonstrated by the 17.5% population growth from 2003 to 2013. Chancellor Phillip Hammond pledged billions of pounds towards infrastructure spending in the ‘brain belt’, which includes Milton Keynes.
A top hunting ground for wealth management firms seeking growth, surely? Well, it appears not, given that WH Ireland is the only major discretionary firm here. Before I question why, I get to know the team here a little better.
Hutchings joined WH Ireland this year to head up business development across the whole group. He came from Coutts, where he spent 10 of his 20-year career building up its Milton Keynes office to over £300 million in assets under management (AUM). He’s a big fan of the area.
‘I’ve been in Milton Keynes for 13 years now and don’t see myself and my family anywhere else. It’s a fantastic place which has everything you need,’ he says. ‘The only thing I can think of that we don’t have is a Michelin starred restaurant!’
WH Ireland opened this office four years ago and the team of five now look after around £100 million AUM, the majority of which is discretionary. They class about 50% of their clients as local, and pride themselves on utilising their small team to really get to know clients.
The two have already decided on their lunch orders, so I waste no time in joining them with some quality pub grub – lasagne, sausage and mash, and beef and rioja pie.
‘We have 80 years of market experience between our three investment managers,’ Wilson, head of the office, tells me. He’s been in Milton Keynes for 18 years, 15 of which were spent at Charles Stanley.
‘Whilst we’re lucky to have such an experienced team, it can mean we have trouble attracting the younger generation of clients.’
Seeing as they want to tap into Milton Keynes’ relatively young population, the team actively tries to prevent this becoming a bigger problem.
‘We’re therefore putting in valiant efforts to increase our social media presence and the usability of our website to engage with [younger clients] more’, Wilson explains.
He tells me that while it is early days, they are seeing good feedback from their initiative.
‘It can be a challenge, but we’re really trying to target those who are accumulating wealth, not just those with accumulated wealth.’
As our main courses arrive, we discuss why WH Ireland has such little direct local competition here. Coutts recently closed its aforementioned office to allow it to be serviced from Cambridge; UBS tried, so did SG Hambros. Hutchings is confident he knows why.
‘Other wealth management firms have tried but failed here and I believe that’s because they didn’t have local people on the ground.
‘People in Milton Keynes like to do business with people in Milton Keynes. Don’t assume that people who live or work here can simply be serviced by London firms.’
After polishing off our mains, we treat ourselves to a Tuesday lunchtime dessert. Will WH Ireland continue to rule the roost or will I be back for another Pub Club with a newly opened office soon? Watch this space!