With only a 35 minute train journey into London, an average house price of £500,000, 79% of schools rated ‘good or above’ by Ofsted and buckets of that quintessentially British, cobbled street character, Guildford is an idyll for capital city commuters.
There is undeniably a healthy amount of wealth in the town and surrounding area, just take a look at the designer brand names that hang above the doors of its high street shops. But does being so close to London mean affluent individuals turn to the capital for their wealth management needs?
Speaking to John Devine (pictured), head of Thesis Asset Management’s Guildford office, he dispelled any concerns.
‘We don’t see London as a challenge. There are plenty of wealthy people outside of London who want a local, convenient service.
‘We do overlap with London, but a professional working in London might have family locally,’ he said.
I rather naively assumed prior to our conversation that the vast majority of their clients would be wealthy city-slickers. I asked Devine if they had a typical client, and to my surprise, the short answer was no.
‘We have all types of clients; young, old, business owners, retirees,’ he reeled off.
As seems to be increasingly common in the industry, their client-base is spread across the whole of the UK. The main similarity that Devine could draw between their clients, is that typically they use advisory services from local planning firms collaboratively with Thesis’ discretionary offering.
A large portion of Thesis’ recent business growth has focussed on building new relationships with financial planning firms.
‘We have made introductions to advisory firms from direct clients looking for advice needs. Thesis has been helping them identify where they can find the right financial planning service, and we benefit from that relationship with the planning firm,’ he told me.
Thesis has predominantly been working with small specialist practitioners, but also some larger financial planning offices that have bigger networks. Thesis, like many other discretionary fund managers (DFMs), is accessing new business channels through the advisory community. There is a decent level of wealth management competition in Guildford; Charles Stanley, Investec Wealth & Investment, Coutts, Smith & Williamson and Premier Asset Management all have a presence in the ‘heart of Surrey’.
‘Guildford is a hotspot for DFMs. It is not so much that there is strong competition amongst us, but it reflects the opportunities in the region,’ Devine said.
Despite the well populated DFM scene, Thesis is not struggling for business. They have recently taken on a number of consultancy and bespoke mandates.
‘Business growth is good and we are working with some promising advisers,’ he added.
Looking towards the next 12 to 18 months, Devine is eager for the Guildford office to grow further.
‘We are looking for acquisition opportunities of smaller DFMs, perhaps a business with less resource struggling to meet MIFID II requirements.’
He currently heads up a team of five investment professionals. However he is ‘open to looking at every opportunity to grow the office’ which would include adding to their headcount.
In July this year, Gaurav Gupta who featured in Citywire Wealth Manager’s Top 30 Under 30 left Thesis to join Punter Southall Investment Consulting in London. I wanted to know how Thesis attracts and retains young talent; London may not be a threat when it comes to losing clients but are the bright lights of the city too much of a draw for industry rising stars?
Although not answering my question directly, Devine’s own story shows that Thesis provides opportunity for graduate
‘I joined at entry level and trained up the ranks and now oversee the office,’ Devine demonstrated. ‘We will train new team members up; we let them have client exposure so they get that experience and also through the model portfolio service (MPS) they get exposure to the research side. Working at Thesis they can understand the full picture of wealth management.’
The team benefit from there being a university in Guildford that offers a Masters in finance and can use it as a talent pool for the next generation of investment professionals. Whilst Thesis do not have an official graduate scheme, Devine told me they have a relationship with professors at the university.
Thesis’ MPS is run out of the Guildford office and is headed by Steven Richards. Whilst the team did see the departure of Gupta, their model portfolio manager, Adam Burniston, who is responsible for fund selection, is an industry rising star and was featured in this year’s Citywire Wealth Manager’s Top 100.
An average portfolio size within the MPS is around £250,000. On the bespoke investment management side – Devine’s area of expertise – an average portfolio size is between £400,000 and £500,000.
In a bid to get more client referrals over the next year, the office will be broadening their suite of offerings. ‘We have some new services coming out in the coming months which will appeal to advisers, around IHT. I can’t say what they are yet but it is exciting,’ Devine safeguarded.
Being head of the office, it is part and parcel that he must maintain discretion on new developments. He has been in the position for nearly two and half years and I wanted to know how he has found it.
‘I have learnt new skills as head of the office. I’ve been managing portfolios for 10 years, but now I have to be responsible for the output of the office as well, so things like meeting sales targets. But that part has been fun as well, motivating the team and achieving goals,’ Devine said.
‘The best thing about living in Guildford is that we are on the edge of the countryside. I can walk into work but in 35 minutes I can also be in London.’
It certainly looks like Devine is in Guildford to stay.