How would you say financial services fares in the Midlands? Judging by the success of Citywire’s 4th annual Midlands Forum this month, held in Birmingham, we would say it is very active, writes Eleanor Mahmoud. The full room of advisers and discretionary investment managers eager to take away some top investment opportunities spoke volumes to us.
I caught up with Vince Hopkins of Meriden-based BRI Wealth Management at the event who agrees:
‘Wealth management within the Midlands has been healthy, as it has been across all regions of the UK,’ BRI’s head of investment and chief investment officer says.
Plenty of national discretionary fund management (DFM) firms have cemented their presence in the Midlands by having an office in the region’s largest city, Birmingham. No doubt the likes of Barclays Wealth, Brewin Dolphin, UBS, Investec Wealth & Investment and Rathbones, amongst a number of others, are keen to access what has been named the most rapidly improving city in the UK. The Midlands has also experienced large growth in high quality private banking, something Hopkins sees as well deserved.
With this all very much in mind, Hopkins is watchful of the competition in the area and wants to utilise BRI’s position as a boutique firm:
‘Since we compete against large national DFM’s, we must be able to deliver high quality service, individual and tailored advice across all aspects of wealth management.’
The team of 42, which has more than doubled in three years, offer a holistic approach across investment management and financial planning to private clients, corporates, charities and intermediaries.
He goes on to say: ‘With all shares in BRI owned by employees it makes this aspect easier than a multi-national trying to please a separate parent company.’
It has been a busy few years at BRI, truly reflective of activity in the region. Hopkins explains that growth has largely come from relationships with professionals in the area and assets under management have jumped from £130 million to £425 million in five years. The team has also expanded from 20 to 40 people in this time and now houses 13 experienced advisors (investment managers and financial planners).
As we travel the length and breadth of the UK getting to know the wealth management world, one thing is becoming clear to us – the regional offices of national DFM’s no longer have a majority of local clients. Given the nature of referrals this is of course understandable, however there seems something distinctive about having a truly local presence, as BRI do. Hopkins happily tells me that about 80% of clients are based in the region, with a high number in Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
Local man Hopkins has worked in the financial services industry since 1981, so I ask him what changes he has observed in his time. As well as seeing DFM’s in virtually every main UK city nowadays, he says:
‘The biggest changes I’ve seen in the industry have been across technology and the variety of product offerings,’ before considering something that hasn’t changed – namely, the emphasis on knowledge, service and trust.
We discuss trust and in turn social responsibility, an area which Hopkins strongly feels he can contribute to when it comes to the younger generation:
‘Personally, I have always felt that we have a moral duty to help young people in the industry. It is difficult for students and graduates who have worked so hard studying to then struggle to find a job.’
Last year, BRI worked with the CISI on an internship programme, which saw the intern obtain a role in the industry in London after several months with BRI. The bright lights of London are seemingly still a draw for young people. Is it therefore difficult to retain talent in the region?
When I question Hopkins on this, he is simply proud to have helped that intern get their foot in the door elsewhere, thanks to the time spent at BRI. ‘There is a catch 22 when employers want experienced people. We regularly look to offer career advice to help those looking for a position,’ he says.
When I ask Hopkins the best thing about operating in the region, he tells me it is the people. It is no coincidence that BRI’s plans for the next 12-18 months are to focus on its own people, increasing the quality of its existing staff:
‘BRI’s short-term plans are to focus internally and capitalise on our internal strengths. We are not looking to actively recruit, but rather to support our existing staff and concentrate on the high level of service we offer to both clients and professional introducers.’
Having grown rapidly over the past few years, BRI is happy to offer its Midland-based staff the training they need, both in terms of exams and CPD and also soft skill training.
‘I like to think that our best advert is our people,’ Hopkins concludes.