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How Scottish wealth firms are preparing for referendum

How Scottish wealth firms are preparing for referendum

Many Scottish wealth firms are yet to put contingency plans in place for a ‘yes’ vote in the Scottish independence ballot.

Glasgow-based Speirs & Jeffrey announced it has established companies in England as a safeguard, but others are yet to follow suit. 

James McCulloch, the firm’s chairman, revealed that these new entities were intended to offer the option of either holding client assets or acquiring Scotland-registered Speirs & Jeffrey.

The wealth manager has also opened bank accounts in England to transfer client funds if Scotland goes independent.

McCulloch said: ‘We continue to see huge advantages in operating from a single site here in Glasgow. While we are not keen on establishing a second site elsewhere in what would be the continuing United Kingdom, we would do so if necessary to protect our clients and our business.’

However, McCulloch also noted that a yes vote on 18 September would not lead to immediate independence with negotiations expected to be ongoing until at least March 2016.

This lag is prompting other wealth managers to defer any decisions, with Edinburgh-based Cornelian's chief executive Jeremy Richardson saying there would be time 'to react and plan appropriately' to independence.

‘There is a very long list of things that need to be negotiated with Westminster to set the final terms of separation,' concurred Alex Montgomery, chief executive of Turcan Connell Asset Management.

Turcan Connell has stated its ‘core business is and has been within Scotland’, although it is ‘committed to our London office and we are resolved to retain and build our business in England and Wales as well as in Scotland’ it said. However, the firm has recently acted to ensure each team has dual-qualified solicitors.

Richardson has similarly said: 'We regard ourselves as a UK company based in Scotland and currently have no plans to make any changes to our location or organisation should Scotland vote for independence. However, we will continue to monitor developments and will take whatever action is needed to continue to support our clients.'

Montgomery (pictured) acknowledges some client anxiety about the uncertainties of independence.

‘One of the principal questions we’ve faced really is: should I have an English bank account?’ he said.

‘Some clients have chosen, just because it doesn’t cost anything, to open an account with an English bank. That is not unreasonable; it is a hedge. But we really don’t think there is any rational reason to do anything dramatic in terms of shifting assets from one place to another.’

A senior manager at another law and wealth management firm with offices across Scotland, who asked to remain anonymous, reported similar conversations.

His company has not yet enacted any contingency plans, though, preferring to wait until more details emerge in any independence negotiation, highlighting the currency question as a ‘gaping hole’ that would need addressing before informed decisions could be taken.

He is nonetheless watching what plans fund groups have in relation to independence in his due diligence before making investments and when reviewing portfolios.

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