Posted on Thursday 10 May 2012 by Ulster Business

KWM

It has been a fast start for financial advisory firm KWM.

Launched at the start of the year the company works with clients and their professional advisers, both individuals and businesses, to plan their finances, grow their investments in a tax-efficient way, with the aim of reaping the returns.

Headed by well-known financial advisor Jonathan Finlay, who previously set up Kellands NI as an IFA in 2003 and grew the business into one of the top five in Northern Ireland, the firm is the result of his desire to change direction.

Following what he describes as the “carnage” of the financial market slump between 2008 and 2011, Jonathan was looking for a better way to look after clients’ money.

He was approached last March by wealth management specialists St. James’s Place and was very impressed with what it had to offer.

As a result KWM was formed in December to cover all areas of asset management, with a focus on wealth management, tax structures and pension funds.

“We focused for the first quarter on ISA business up to the end of the tax year and did very well with that. In the next nine months we will run more events for clients and build that client bank by strengthening our relationships,” says Jonathan.

He is in no doubt that KWM becoming a partner practice of St. James’s Place is something that will appeal to clients who want to know their money is being well looked after.

“With all the carnage we’ve been through in the last three or four years, people do find trusted and sincere advice gives them peace of mind,” he says.

“As IFAs we were building portfolios for clients. We found it more and more difficult to manage those portfolios properly. The last 18 months as an IFA I was starting to lose direction but the St. James’s Place approach to investment management has brought new life to our firm,” he adds.

“There are still a lot of IFAs out there trying to build and manage portfolios, but they can’t do it. You can’t do everything. That’s why we’ve brought in the experts to do it for us.”

St. James’s Place Wealth Management offers a variety of wealth management services to individuals and businesses. It is an award-winning FTSE 250 business, with funds under management amounting to £28.5bn and an impressive track record of winning awards such as the Daily Telegraph Wealth Manager of the year.

Speaking with Ulster Business on a visit to Belfast, St. James’s Place Managing Director David Lamb said Northern Ireland is an increasingly important market for the company.

It now has 31 businesses in the province but because over 90% of business comes from existing clients or their referrals, he doesn’t believe there’s any real clash.

“It is very much a network of advisors, they are not really competing against each other. There is sufficient scope and depth in the market for 30 firms, even 40 or 50 firms in Belfast, to work here without falling over each other. The market is bigger than that,” he says.

“We’ve been in Northern Ireland for 10 years and have been growing the business over that time. Because it is a people business, if we get the right people in the business we can grow organically in the right way. It is very different in Belfast to the City of London or Manchester but the principles are the same and the execution of it is personal.”

David is of the view that the dynamics of the marketplace, particularly regulatory changes coming in under the FSA’s Retail Distribution Review (RDR) that will require all financial advisors to have better qualifications and more capital, makes its support and resources very attractive to partner firms.

“The whole of our profession is becoming more professional. People who work in the industry now need a lot more technical knowledge, they need more back office support and they need to have their finger on the pulse. That’s one of the things we provide our partners behind the scenes, so people like Jonathan can spend more of his time on looking after his clients. It allows them to do what they are good at and give advice to their clients,” adds Lamb.

“There are a lot of landmines out there and it is easy to step on them. We try to make sure people don’t. That’s a massive undertaking.”

INVESTMENT STRATEGY

It’s generally accepted that people need to put more aside, more of us need to plan for retirement and most of us would like to find legitimate ways to pay less tax by structuring investments to get the best returns.

Finlay is confident that after the bust that followed Ireland’s property boom, people here are looking for something different to do with their cash and are much more prepared to diversify into other assets.

“We are looking to move towards the high end of the market, but we deal with anything from a £10,000 ISA to £1m plus cases. There definitely is a lot of wealth in Northern Ireland and that is the arena we are looking to play in.”

What they advise those clients to invest in will, he says, come down to their individual appetite for risk.

“St. James’s Place have a range of funds and I do not move outside of those,” he adds. “I’m a great believer in the old adage that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

David Lamb says that a simple rule of thumb for investors is to decide how much cash they need in the short term and then be prepared to take a five year view on the markets with anything they invest – the key being to not mix the two things up.

He explains the St. James’s Place ethos as: “Sort your short term needs out and then invest long. Diversify, because no one asset class will perform the right way all the time. And then have a way of finding the best people to manage your money, because it is what happens once you hand that cheque over that matters.”

As well as the common sense principles of having a spread of investments and making sure clients have the right tax structure around them, he believes the third crucial element to investing is finding the right fund managers.

With 3,500 UK funds it can be difficult for investors to choose and often they are way down the knowledge curve in terms of the information they have access to.

Lamb notes that the average tenure for a fund manager is about two and a half years, meaning the average IFA looking at a five year track record won’t necessarily know whose track record it is.

St. James’s Place controls its clients’ assets completely and uses its international research base to find individual managers to manage those assets, checking every transaction made. While actively managing its fund managers, it also says no to a lot of investment ideas, he notes.

THE FUTURE

KWM’s team currently includes Dennis Light, an industry veteran of 35 years, and Susan Wilson, who also has wide experience in the sector.

Finlay says that the company is planning to hire another three consultants this year, and is already looking to expand into Scotland.

He believes there will be a big shake up in the market over the summer as a lot more senior advisors will choose not to obtain further diploma qualifications, which could create opportunities to hire high quality staff and win new business.

While there is still a lot of nervousness about financial markets, Finlay is certain that KWM’s relationship with St. James’s Place’s will help more potential investors overcome that fear.

“Understandably people are more cautious about what they do with their money but through the St. James’s Place investment approach I’ve found it very easy. Their funds range from cautious to very high risk and the main thing we focus on is client risk. We make clients fully aware of the ups and downs,” he says.

“People are testing the water and dipping their toes in. That’s understandable when pension funds have fallen so much they have pushed people’s retirement back five or six years. Hopefully we won’t see the markets in freefall again, but if that does happen I know we are in the right place.”

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