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All smiles in Cardiff: Business isn’t dragon its feet in the Welsh capital

All smiles in Cardiff: Business isn’t dragon its feet in the Welsh capital

Positivity shines through in Cardiff, which on this occasion is the focus of our regional spotlight on Wales. ‘I love Cardiff and I’d never leave,’ beams Craig Palfrey, director of Penguin Wealth. I receive similar enthusiasm from Paul Barnes, who founded PDB Wealth Management 10 years ago. ‘I’ve worked in cities all over the country; Brighton, London and Bristol. And Cardiff is one of the friendliest, and the culture is really enjoyable.’

That is an encouraging start, but what about financial advice in the city? Both Palfrey and Barnes explain that their typical clients are at the retirement stage or post-retirement, and it would seem there are enough of these going around to support growing businesses. This is perhaps a reflection of the post-RDR adviser cull, as a mere 13% of the Cardiff city population is aged 65 or over according to Centre for Cities. This number may seem relatively high, but places Cardiff ninth from bottom out of all cities in the U.K (62 are included in the survey). There is a vibrant university scene in Cardiff, however, which skews the figure a little.

To add to this, it would be naïve to overlook the fact that Cardiff is becoming an exciting location for young professionals. Palfrey explains that there are some big employers in the financial sector, including AA, Admiral, Barclays, Legal and General, and Zurich. He even lists them in alphabetical order, so I assume he’s made this point to others. ‘There’s been a lot of investment; it’s vibrant,’ he says, before explaining that bars and clubs have been opening up across the city.

The party atmosphere – or at least the feel good factor behind it – has been further bolstered by the Welsh government. Grants and support have been provided through Business Wales, Jobs Growth Wales, and several other schemes. ‘The government is trying to attract business from London,’ observes Palfrey, and his enthusiasm for this move would suggest that this attempt has been somewhat successful. Barnes, meanwhile, notes how L&G is behind a £400m regeneration scheme at the centre of Cardiff, which is expected to bring a further 10,000 jobs to the city. This is one of several schemes that L&G has invested in across the country, highlighting Cardiff as one of a select number of cities that developers see real potential in.

Progress requires planning, and infrastructure may become problematic if Cardiff’s professional services grow as hoped. Still, there are already efforts to improve the connection between Cardiff and other cities, and the Welsh government has pledged to invest billions to improve its motorways and roads. ‘Transport has continued to improve,’ says Barnes. ‘Transport links, particularly the M4 corridor all the way to London, are great.’

Putting the spotlight on Cardiff again, it is fascinating to hear that Barnes describes it as a ‘small city’. ‘In that sense it isn’t like London or Bristol for example,’ he adds. I can see why he reaches this conclusion as Cardiff retains a homely feel that many populous areas lack. Even so, the Office for National Statistics placed Cardiff as the eighth most populous city region in mid-2015, with a population creeping above 1.5million. This is almost 400,000 larger than the number provided for the Bristol region. Little wonder, perhaps, that Cardiff remains fertile land for advice firms.

To be fair to Barnes, his observation fits within a financial advice context. ‘You know all the major firms and you’re likely to meet the same principles at local conferences,’ he continues. ‘It is a small world; there are a lot of quality advice firms here, and it may well be the case that before a client comes to see you they’ve already been to see one of your peers.’ I would suggest that this is an indicator of savvy or careful clients rather than limited growth prospects. Both Palfrey and Barnes are in the process of looking for new hires.

With the developments in the city centre, Cardiff Bay, and with attractions such as the castle and the Millennium Stadium, it appears that Cardiff is driving forward with the sort of might and vigour that is commonly associated with the national rugby team’s scrum. ‘It’s a really good time to be an adviser here,’ says Barnes, while Palfrey reiterates that ‘South Wales is fantastic.’

Although Barnes and Palfrey were interviewed separately, it would seem that the pair are fighting to present Cardiff in the best possible light. That in itself is a fine endorsement, though I will allow Barnes the final word. Brushing off the threat of competition, he urges advice professionals to come to the city. ‘If someone were thinking of setting up in Cardiff, or looking to join the profession here, my advice to them would be ‘don’t think twice.’’

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