Q: What do Michael Jackson’s hit Man in the Mirror, Bruce Willis' film Die Hard and East Anglian firm Beckett Investment Management Group all have in common? writes Eleanor Mahmoud.
A: They all turn 30 this year!
Admittedly you may now think (or hope) this article is going to be a discussion of Michael Jackson’s repertoire, however we are actually focusing on the (slightly more topical) buzz of wealth management activity in the East of England. Based in historic market town Bury St Edmunds, Beckett are proving that the industry in the East is certainly fit and well.
‘The industry here is very healthy and continues to go from strength to strength,’ associate director Craig Brown (pictured above) begins. ‘There are lots of national firms but also a number of smaller independent local firms are present, which is nice.’
‘This A14 corridor is a hub of activity,’ Brown continues. ‘You can see it at fund manager events - a lot happens in Newmarket, Ipswich, Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds; they are always well attended.’
He goes on to discuss competition in the area and cheerfully tells me it’s more a case of co-operation over here:
‘In this region you see a lot of the same faces a lot of the time. You get to know them really well so there’s a bit of a family environment between companies and we’ll share thoughts on best practices and what is going on in the markets. It’s quite a collaborative environment.’
In said environment, the firm has seen strong growth in funds under management, from £100 million in 2012 to £400 million in 2018. Brown, along with fellow portfolio manager and associate director Samantha Owen (pictured below), have plenty to keep them busy.
The wider group is 50 strong, however the two of them make up Beckett Asset Management therefore holding sole responsibility for the firm’s portfolios – from strategic and tactical asset allocation to fund monitoring and investment writing. It sounds pretty full on, but it’s clear they enjoy having the autonomy over every aspect of those processes.
Owen gives me the lowdown on Beckett’s story so far:
‘The discretionary fund management section was established in the early 90’s. Beckett originally started life as an insurance firm, but many of our clients needed financial advice and wealth management, so this is how it evolved,’ she explains.
Having also evolved with the firm, East Anglian girl Owen is indeed a posterchild for rising up the ranks. Having joined the firm in 1999 as an administrator, she worked her way up to portfolio manager. Brown joined her in 2015, describing him as ‘a very welcome addition.’
‘I was born in the region and grew up here,’ she goes on to say. ‘I always thought I’d have to go to London to grow my career, but I was lucky enough that this was 20 minutes down the road!’
Owen and Brown are quick to dispel the myth that finding and retaining talent outside London is a struggle, with Brown explaining:
‘Yes, lots of young people will be attracted to London, but with a small team we can offer opportunities to be involved with every aspect of the business and every part of our investment process.’
‘In terms of attracting new people, the work life balance here is certainly better,’ Owen echoes. ‘Bury St Edmunds is still a good train journey away from London, so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea of a commute.’
She explains how Beckett offer as many work experience and university placements to young people as they can. They are confident it is a misconception you need to develop a career in London and that there is an incredibly big wealth management industry outside of the capital.
‘We’re close enough to it all but far enough away to allow us to take a step back and not get caught up in the noise,’ Brown states.
There is certainly plenty to shout about over in Bury St Edmunds as the pair are optimistic about the future:
‘Over the next 12-18 months, our goals are to gain further funds under management. We’ve got £500m in our sights, but we most importantly want to continue to ensure our strategies remain relevant and enhance our service to clients,’ Owen says proudly.
‘One way we are doing that is through our animated educational pieces. One of our advisors is a very good illustrator and he helps us create short animated videos. They break down complex subjects on financial planning and investment in a light hearted and demystified fashion, so our clients can understand it better. It’s a very unique concept which has had great feedback!’
Beckett has also recently signed up to the Women in Finance charter. ‘I feel we are unique here as our gender split in the team is 50/50!’, Owen jokes. However on a more serious note, it is a commitment across the senior management team of the group.
As a local business, the firm also do a lot within the East Anglian community and want to be as present within it as possible. Each month they have a dress down day, where each team member brings in food for a local foodbank. They raise money for a local hospice through an annual wine tasting event and have signed up to the St Nicholas Hospice Compassionate Companies initiative – an opportunity for local businesses to collaborate and raise funds.
Having heard how collaborative the environment is in the East of England, it’s only fair to have a bit of healthy competition, surely?
Brown agrees as he concludes: ‘Last week we were runner up in a breast cancer music quiz run by a local accountancy firm, pipped to the post by Lloyds Bank. We’ll get them next time!’