Victor Sacks is making a lot of noise for his sole trader adviser firm, VS Associates, embracing social media and blogging to drum up interest from the local area’s young business owners.
Victor Sacks, director of VS Associates, cheekily brands himself the ‘Naked IFA’ as he is ‘on a mission to demystify financial services’ and promote fairness.
This is no idle marketing ploy, as the plucky sole trader got noticed in the profession two years ago for helping a client take on global advice firm deVere Group in a two-year battle that eventually paid out £190,000.
‘The client was classed as having a "cautious to realistic" risk profile,’ says Sacks. ‘But the firm put them into risky, unregulated collective investment schemes. So I helped take it to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which eventually awarded the redress, and deVere agreed it needed to change its processes.’
VICTOR SACKS CV
2016-present VS Associates, IFA and director
2013-2016 Ringrose Grimsley, IFA
2011-2013 LessTax2Pay, IFA
1994-2011 HSBC, IFA and financial planning manager
CII Diploma in Financial Services
Hitting the right notes
Sacks is combining his unique style of personality marketing, which often sees him blog about his shed or his drum kit alongside more serious matters, with strong social media and networking efforts, in building a small but efficient niche of local micro business clients within 10 miles of his home in Brampton, Cambridgeshire.
He started his career in 1994 as an adviser with HSBC in London and developed into a specialist for advising businesses. Tired of working in London, he left in 2011 to set up VS Associates. This was initially an appointed representative for two firms (LessTax2Pay in 2011 and 2012, and Ringrose Grimsley, from 2013 to 2016) based closer to his current home.
18 months ago, VS Associates joined Sense network, and Sacks started working from a purpose-built office at home. Since starting the brand, he has been drumming home the marketing message that he is the go-to man for small companies in the area.
To achieve this, he has been networking hard with accountants, solicitors, bank managers, and anyone who could be a professional introducer to companies with up to 20 employees.
‘There are plenty of businesses of that size in this area, so I don’t need to travel further than 10 miles,’ he says.
According to Sacks, bank managers were used to having IFAs sitting next to them in the past, but many cut their adviser workforces. ‘I sent them emails telling them I’d set up in the local area and we should meet for a coffee,’ he says.
‘Some became interested and engaged because it means they can provide a more comprehensive service to their clients. They are all on LinkedIn, so are easy to find. LinkedIn is powerful for researching your target market. Anyone who ignores social media for things like that does so at their peril.’
Sacks immersed himself in learning about social media to the extent that he eventually bought a franchise in a training company called 24-7 Business Networking.
‘I did not have time to continue running the franchise, so dropped it three years ago,’ he says. ‘But it helped a lot. Learning things like how to conduct yourself on LinkedIn, how to introduce yourself and get known, how to set up your own group and act within it.’
One strategy was to set up his own LinkedIn group called the Huntingdon UK entrepreneurs, although he has since lapsed running it due to lack of time.
‘The LinkedIn group didn’t provide me with any direct business but the important thing is LinkedIn and Twitter have provided me with clients,’ says Sacks. ‘If you keep posting and tweeting, people will start conversations with you.’
He has a similar philosophy regarding his heart on his sleeve blogging style. ‘The more we show of ourselves, the more the client is likely to show of themselves,’ he says. ‘It gets a lot of response. Some say "why did you put all that up, it’s too much?" But its social media, I take the word social literally.
How about the Naked IFA tag? ‘I use down-to-earth terminology,’ he says. ‘For example, analogies about buckets and siphons of income or savings to ensure clients can understand the message. That suits my clients.’
VS Associates’ initial fees are 3% for up to £100,000 investment, and 1% beyond that. Ongoing fees are 0.5% for most clients who need annual meetings, or 0.75% for quarterly meetings, which tend to be for those in the early stages of drawdown.
‘Clients in drawdown need more regular meetings because they need to manage their pot carefully, ensuring it is meeting their income needs without eroding capital, especially in the early stages,’ says Sacks.
He also offers an hourly rate of £150 or a mixture of this and percentages, but most clients go for the latter.
‘I worked on percentages in previous roles, so that was what my clients and I were comfortable with,’ says Sacks. ‘It is important your interests are aligned with the clients. We are working with them to preserve their capital, sharing the downside and the upside of the journey.’
Some might question whether a 3% upfront charge is justifiable, but Sacks says many advisers have a higher ongoing charge than his, which cost clients more in the long run.
‘This is a lifestyle business and I’m setting it up to last a long time for myself and my family,’ he says. ‘I don’t see the need to charge huge amounts, nor to charge for every minute of my time. Besides, there are 25,000 advisers and 65 million people in the country. There are enough for all of us to look after. You don’t have to go too far from your doorstep.
‘Some people ask how you can make money in a small lifestyle business. I have been on the brunt of such comments online. To them I say, "Crack on! If that’s what you believe, you believe it." They [advisers] don’t understand what my costs are and I don’t have to educate them.
‘So long as I can pay the bills, and have enough money to take holidays and do other things with the family, I’m happy. I want a life-work balance, not a work-life balance.’
Another marketing exercise has been to have a regular slot on Huntingdon Community Radio, where they refer to him as the Money Man.
Sacks also joined existing networking groups including the British Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Business. ‘Within a few weeks of joining the federation, I was giving a presentation about auto-enrolment,’ he says. ‘Even though the federation has its own proposition, they wanted me because I was local. Out of the 45 that came, 14 invited me for a meeting and 10 did business with me.
‘I had 25 first meetings with employers about auto-enrolment, of which around six went through to staging, and I got 20 individual ongoing clients from talking to those schemes’ members. Auto-enrolment was labour intensive but it was worth it for those ongoing clients and to get my name out there with local businesses.’
Entrepreneurial clients look to avoid risky business in portfolios
VS Associates uses outsourced, actively-managed model portfolios from Square Mile Investment Consulting & Research, IBoss Asset Management, or Margetts Fund Management. ‘I don’t have time to construct portfolios, pick stocks or make tactical moves,’ says Sacks.
‘If a client wants to be more tactical, we can add satellites but I’m yet to find any that want that. I work with young business owners. Most of them have not been investing for a long time, so I don’t want to bamboozle them.
‘The majority of business is with IBoss because it is a managed service, constantly looking at the funds and performance, tweaking where necessary and communicating reasons for those changes. It takes a cautious approach within each risk band.
‘That is good for my clients because they take risk in their business, not in their investment portfolio, especially now as I think there will be market corrections at some point. There are many economic issues in Europe and the US and this is not the time to chase risk.’
The IBoss 1 portfolio underperformed its IA Mixed Investment 0% to 35% Shares sector in 2014 and 2016 but beat it in 2015. ‘That portfolio aims to give a smoother process, looking chiefly for capital preservation,’ says Sacks. ‘So when the market goes up [the sector] is likely to beat it, but vice versa on the downside.’
Money making instrument
VS Associates’ recurring income, which is at 38%, does not cover its costs. ‘We are growing and recurring income is going in the right direction,’ says Sacks. ‘When I get to somewhere between £15 million to £20 million under advice, I could shut the doors to all new clients except for referrals. That’s where I want to be.’
It did take a while to get to a sustainable income level. This year, VS Associates expects to make £74,000 profit, almost three times the level of 2013. Sacks takes a small salary plus regular dividends, equal to two thirds of profits, leaving the remainder for tax and reinvestment.
Some initiatives that could help Sacks move to the next level include moving from level four to chartered, a more up-to-date looking website, and a larger office that clients can visit. He says the website redesign is imminent and he plans to achieve chartered status within three years. ‘At some point, I might have an office on the high street, but I need to walk before I run,’ he says.
Support and staffing is another issue and Sacks accepts one weakness in the business is ‘it will be hard to find someone who can carry on the brand because the brand is me.’
Sacks owns the business 50:50 with his wife Tina, who was previously a sales manager at HSBC and works for VS as an administrator. ‘Tina is qualified to give mortgage advice and is working toward level 4 so she can start advising,’ he says.
Sacks is talking to other advisers about joining and replicating his model in their area, and would like to hire an apprentice.
‘I do not want to sell as I’m enjoying building it,’ he says. ‘I don’t see many advisers operating solely in my niche. Even though my clients are young, many of them will come into more money as they get older and introduce me to their children.’
Secret of success
The biggest mistake he made was underestimating how difficult it is to set up your own business. ‘Learning areas such as marketing, compliance, new systems and branding [is difficult],’ says Sacks.
‘You need self-belief to give up the security of an employed job. But now I have done that, it feels fantastic. I spend more time with my family and appreciate what I have.’
FIVE TOP TIPS
Believe you can make a difference.
Work locally, as there is no point in commuting or travelling when business is all around.
Use social media and embrace its potential.
Make friends with your local accountants, solicitors and business bank managers. They need you.
Know your worth. Do not be tempted to do everything that comes across your desk.