Blackpool is not generally thought of as a wealth management hotspot, but in a town more commonly known for its illuminations and stag dos, James Brearley & Sons has spearheaded a campaign for regional dominance.
Nigel Corrie, Brian Butler and David Hannis are now leading the charge, and, while taking great care to maintain its local roots in one of Britain’s most famous resorts, they also have growth ambitions. These include plans to increase their footprint down south.
Hannis explains: ‘We put ourselves in the specialism camp. We do not do financial planning but we work closely with financial planners. We have always held that as a company, there is an opportunity to influence how we serve our clients. The bigger get bigger, and the personal service is diluted.
‘Banks are getting into things that maybe they are not specialists in, and clients are left as a secondary thought rather than the main concern.’
According to Corrie, most wealth managers are now deciding if they are going to be an investment manager or to simply provide execution-only online dealing services. He believes James Brearley has the necessary expertise to continue to offer dealing, online services and investment management.
This strategy was devised after a restructure at the management level. Just over a year ago, the four-strong executive team at James Brearley & Sons saw one member, Louis Harold Dial, retire, leaving Corrie, Hannis and Butler to develop a clearer, more focused, strategy.
‘We felt that we needed to be, as a business, more progressive with things like strategy, rather than get sucked into the day-to-day operational management of the business,’ Corrie explains.
‘We introduced a level of management below the executive director level. We took three of our senior managers and made them associate directors, [running] one back office, one front office and one compliance, where they took on a lot more responsibility for the operational running of the business.
‘Yes, we still [ultimately manage] that and we still have that responsibility, but what that allowed us to do is to lift our heads and think a little bit, rather than have our heads down. It just felt more appropriate that the three of us should be thinking more about the direction of the business, and the introduction of the assistant directors allowed that to happen,’ he says.
Corrie, Hannis and Butler devised a clear strategy on how to grow the business and now focus their energy on the intermediary market.
Corrie argues that the three aspects of their offering, the custody service, online service and the investment management, cover a large enough spectrum without becoming ‘all things to all men’.
The firm has focused on growing in the North West since it was founded and headquartered in Blackpool. From there it slowly expanded across the region, with Corrie and Hannis opening up the first offices in Kendal and Southport in 1986 and 1988 respectively.
Currently it boasts five regional offices – Kendal, Burnley, Preston and Southport, in addition to its seaside HQ – with 25 front-facing staff and 75 employees in total. With £1.3 billion in assets under administration, they feel there is still plenty of room for growth.
Corrie and Hannis both have banking backgrounds, which they find very useful when it comes to running the company. Hannis joined the firm after becoming frustrated with the banking sector.
Echoing Hannis’ concerns, Corrie left banking because of what he describes as a ‘dead man’s shoes’ system of progression. ‘Either people had to be promoted or people had dead man’s shoes syndrome. My thinking was maybe there was something better out there, but still in the world of financial services. I had always thought about stockbroking,’ he recalls.
Butler was a late joiner compared with Corrie and Hannis. He trained as a chartered accountant and started at the firm in 1999.
They are now looking to expand James Brearley’s presence, especially in London, although they do not have plans to open up new offices any time soon. ‘We are breaking down those geographical boundaries that may be seen around us,’ Butler says. ‘Looking at having a specific presence in the South, progressing the name of the firm and services to a wider intermediary community.’
To this end, the company is currently recruiting someone to represent the business in the South East.
‘That will be key for us there. You always hope you find the right person.
‘We have seen business coming to us from the London area and hopefully the introduction of this particular recruit will support the work that we do down there and push it along,’ Corrie says.
Corrie suggests that they have not yet found a cultural fit with the business to consider opening up a new office, but he is not completely ruling out the option.
‘We dominated the North West. There is nothing that has come along that fits in with the cultural side of our business, but that doesn’t mean to say that if there was something we wouldn’t look at it. It just hasn’t happened yet.
‘Our regional offices are developing their areas. We see that greater growth rates have occurred in the custody and online side of the business. The regional offices are very much the traditional part of the office, although the online is becoming traditional as well.’
During a period when most wealth managers are consolidating regional coverage from the larger cities, such as Manchester and Liverpool, the trio are happy to challenge the norm.
‘People have retrenched from the cities. We built a strong client base and the whole idea on that side of our business is to support that front office and their clients. If you are a large organisation in a city centre, it is unlikely you will get the same person every time.
‘Our clients know who they are going to talk to every time they call and people have built strong relationships with clients,’ Butler says.
With a focus on the intermediary market, Corrie highlights that flexibility is a key consideration and says there will be times that intermediaries approach the firm to ask for specific services.
‘Our first move will be to try and accommodate them and we will tell them at the outset if we can accommodate a particular wish or not. Our ability to work with the intermediary in what they are looking to produce for their clients is a key aspect for us.’
Hannis adds: ‘There can be an intermediary wanting to have control over the asset allocation weighting within their models, but they want our expertise to select the right component parts for that asset allocation.’
They acknowledge that there may be times that they cannot accommodate the particular needs of a client. However, they will try and work with the intermediaries to offer what they need.
‘There are some intermediaries that are looking at direct to consumer (D2C) services. There is one in the pipeline we are looking to support to bring in a D2C online dealing service to clients,’ Corrie reveals.
‘D2C is a competitive marketplace. It is a more effective and efficient use of our resource to continue to work with intermediaries. We have a history of working with them. It works, so we will continue to push in that direction. If something works let’s keep it going.’