I was lucky enough to find something of a kindred spirit in my lunch companion this week, writes Anna Dumas. It turned out that Investec Edinburgh’s senior investment director and I had two distinct things in common.
For one thing, Investec Wealth & Investment’s Laura Lambie spends plenty of her time out of the office travelling. She had spent the morning of our appointment in the sitting room of a farm outside Edinburgh, working through a family’s investments.
‘There were four generations all in one room discussing investments,’ she said, as we made our way to the Hotel du Vin’s sunlit terrace.
‘I’m lucky if I’m even two days in the office,’ she admitted. The rest of her time is spent visiting a varied client base that is spread over the length and breadth of Scotland.
The second link was that she is a sometime professional luncher. Lambie is treasurer of the Women of Scotland Luncheon, an annual event in aid of local charities that celebrates the endeavours of Scotland’s most influential women.
‘You meet some really interesting people who face big challenges,’ she told me of last year’s event, which raised money for Bobath, a Scottish Charity that deals with children who have cerebral palsy.
Ordering chips to share and a glass of white wine each, we soaked up some Caledonian sunshine and talked about her travels, and why face-to-face client management will always have a place in the investment industry.
‘A fair amount of my clients are in their 70s and 80s, and they simply don’t want an online portfolio service, they want to deal with a person,’ she said. ‘They also find it pretty hard to trust online banking, so I can help point them to the best branch accounts.’
As I slathered a fillet of salmon in hollandaise sauce, I asked Lambie if she felt that the rise of online wealth management services posed a threat to the bespoke, client facing model.
‘Online wealth platforms do have a place in this industry, but I wouldn’t say that they form part of our competition,’ she said. In fact, she believes their presence could be something of a potential boon for the industry as a whole.
‘They might well prove to be a new entrance point for individuals who wouldn’t otherwise have access to investments. It can be very difficult to get started, especially if your parents don’t invest. Online portfolio management helps people get to grips with the basics, like the value of a diversified portfolio over cash.’
Where the online and bespoke services differ, she said, is when working with older clients and those who are investing a more significant proportion of their total assets. In this case, the trust element of the bespoke relationship is paramount.
‘Our service is built on trust, and the only way you can build that is in person.’
Risk is also something she says can only truly be mapped by a real discussion. ‘In order to properly assess a client’s risk tolerance you have to meet face to face. A questionnaire might ask you how risk tolerant you are, but that doesn’t mean much to someone who doesn’t know about investments.
‘You have to give real life scenarios to give people an idea of what risk really means in context. You might say “how would you feel if we are sitting here in 12 months and world stock markets had fallen by 20%?”’
Just as important, she explained as we polished off the chips and ordered cappuccinos, is that the resulting depth of understanding is felt by all levels at the company.
‘Some companies have grown up with layers upon layers of management, whereas here I report to Murray [Mackay, regional director]. He sits on the IW&I board and he still runs his own client bank, and that means that the clients’ interests are always in line with those of the firm.’
And with that, we concluded another thoroughly enjoyable lunch appointment.