This week I headed North West for a quick tour of Investec’s Liverpool branch and a lofty lunch with senior investment director Christopher Clay, at Panoramic 34, writes Anna Dumas.
The restaurant, perfunctorily named after the vista from the 34th floor of the city’s West Tower, offered similar views to those of Investec’s office. Both buildings have pierced a level of Liverpudlian skyline that remained intact until recent years, and both are testament to the city’s burgeoning financial centre.
The demographic within however, was decidedly different. ‘It’s the blue rinse brigade,’ laughed Clay, a far cry from the dynamism of the 220-strong Investec office, bolstered by the presence of the entire UK settlement team.
Over classic ‘working lunch’ (read 1980s) starters – soup for him and potted shrimp for me – we discussed Clay’s rise from post-university work experience at Rensburg Sheppards to the upper echelons of the wealth management industry, as the youngest senior investment director on the team.
He described how, after initially starting out as a media analyst, he moved to the private client division in 1999, before getting his big break aged 28.
‘I inherited a client bank of around £38 million, which was daunting but I got confidence from the fact that the firm clearly bought into me. Luckily the clients did as well.’
‘Everything in this industry revolves around trust. I now manage £125 million and over the past 16 years I’ve seen bubbles, crashes, and everything which can erode capital, but I’ve managed to maintain and grow that initial client bank through trust and careful investing.’
The main foundation for this growth, he explained as we both plumped for the pork belly, has been personal networking.
‘You have to take the job home with you to be a good wealth manager,’ he told me, adding, ‘You have to leverage your social life, which is something I enjoy. It takes a very long time to build up trust and I really enjoy that challenge.’
Also adding punch to his local presence, we discussed, is the power of the Investec brand, particularly while working with a tech-dependent generation.
‘A decade ago, clients didn’t really shop around so the industry was that much more stagnant. Now they’re much more financially savvy, and they use all of the tools at their disposal to find the best offering, the most obvious of which being Google. That’s great news for us, because if someone were to search “investment managers in Liverpool”, we’ve got the brand presence to be one of the first on their radar.’
Combine this with the fact that the brand is, as Clay says, a ‘global player which hasn’t been tarnished with the same brush as the UK high street banks’ and it becomes clear how the Liverpool branch has now amassed £1 billion in assets under management.
But it hasn’t all been about asset gathering for Clay, who moved from the media to the private client division because of a desire to work more closely with investments. ‘You can’t be a good salesperson unless you love the market. I love company analysis but constructing portfolios was what really appealed,’ he said.
Washing down our hefty meal with a much needed cappuccino, we discussed his process.
‘The backbone of my portfolios comes from our research process, but I find working with smaller fledgling funds and small cap managers fascinating. Panmure and Numis have done so well in this niche space, and clients understand the story. Growth through smaller, unloved companies is an easy and interesting strategy to work through with clients.
‘That’s the part I really enjoy,’ he told me, ‘the dialogue.’