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Profile: Walker Crips' Crispin Cripwell plugs regional gap

Profile: Walker Crips' Crispin Cripwell plugs regional gap

Given his name, Crispin Cripwell might have been fated to one day join Walker Crips. That he did so in April was surely an example of nominative determinism in action.

In actuality, his appointment was part of a growing trend in wealth management of companies seeking to plug regional gaps with small satellite offices.

‘Walker Crips has over a dozen regional offices around the UK but it has a bit of a gap around the home counties and the west of London, and Newbury is within the Berkshire-Hampshire affluent area,’ says Cripwell.

That is why he was brought in by the firm to establish its new office on the outskirts of Newbury.

While several larger wealth management companies have chosen to consolidate their regional networks, Walker Crips has been expanding across the UK. Prior to Newbury, which is its 14th office, the firm also announced the launch of an Epping branch in September 2016.

The strategy has paid off, with the company reaching £4.8 billion in assets under management and 275-strong staff.

However, according to its latest results for the six months to the end of September 2016, the firm has suffered a dramatic 91% fall in pre-tax profit to £53,000 due to regulatory and Brexit pressures.

Aside from the new offices, Walker Crips has invested significantly in compliance resources and client-facing systems, chair David Gelber noted at the time the numbers were published in November.

Newbury has been relatively easy to set up because Cripwell already has a large client book, built over a decade of service in the private client investment management industry, and there are no set up costs as the branch can be supported by the London office.

Cripwell’s clients, although focused mostly around the home counties, also come from as far west as Devon and Shropshire.

Before what he somewhat fondly describes as his ‘midlife crisis’ Cripwell worked as head of US equities at Rothschild Asset Management and later as director of global equities at Baring Asset Management.

He then moved over to Ashcourt Rowan in 2008 and left fund management behind for private client work.

‘I took a big pay cut. I probably took a two-thirds pay cut. And in the early days of 2008, I was thinking what on earth have I done because the market was falling around us.’

However, he found success after he inherited £25 million in assets from a retiring colleague and grew it to £130 million.

‘My client base is 98% discretionary. It is very diverse so it ranges from high net worth individuals to working for families and trusts, to charities, to pension funds.’

Now that Cripwell has found a new home in Walker Crips, he will be getting in touch with his clients and asking them if they’ll join him.

‘It is entirely up to them: they may want to stay with my old firm. So I think the next six months possibly even a year will be focused on that. But I hope that many will want to come.’

Then the next step will be building up the assets under management by cultivating his existing relationships with intermediaries.

But the real challenge for the new office is not attracting clients but staff.

‘The biggest challenge is finding staff members who are keen to train but not defect to London in a couple of years’ time.

‘Newbury does have its downside as well because it is so easy for people to switch. There is that magnetic pull to London. They might spend four or five years with you training them and then move onto the bright lights.’

For now, Cripwell is relatively happy running a skeleton crew and is looking forward to growing the fledgling branch, just as he and the five-strong team managed to grow Towry’s Winchester office from £55 million to £160 million.

That office has of course now been absorbed by the Tilney Group, as a result of the latest acquisition Cripwell had to go through during his career.

Early on in the 1990s, while he was at insurance firm General Accident, there were two takeovers. Then he moved on to NM Rothschild, the company’s asset management arm, of which he was part of, was sold off the HBOS.

During his career in wealth management, he essentially worked under three different companies, Ashcourt Rowan, Towry and Tilney, without ever actually leaving the previous one.

While such acquisitions drive growth, Cripwell has identified a key issue that can be easily overlooked: the ongoing pressures of suitability.

‘I think the one thing that every firm has either really grappled with or is really grappling with is suitability. My view on it is, it is absolutely right that there should be a crackdown on this and that everybody should understand our client proposal in a lot of detail.

‘But I think it is very important to do suitability properly once and then you don’t do it again other than online updates and refreshes with your clients.’

He highlights that this becomes increasingly difficult when firms are going through constant change.

‘Whether it was changes of management or ownership, often we were the smaller party so the forms would change. So to do your suitability properly for my client base took about two years.’

He says that as the smaller party in the transaction it is easy to understand why the buyer will want to impose its own way of doing things.

But he adds: ‘It is a very difficult problem, because as management I would do exactly the same as they did. But as a pawn in that, it was frustrating for me and for clients.’

Cripwell points out that once he had finished doing suitability at Ashcourt he had to start doing it all over again in 2015 when the firm was brought by Towry and once that process was over he had to begin again in 2016 when Tilney bought the firm.

Although his move to Walker Crips restarts the process anew, Cripwell highlights that the firm does not have the same legacy issues as his previous employer.

‘To bring a new client on board is about 15 pages of forms. Whereas it could be as many as 60 to 80 at my previous firm.

‘It is really helpful, particularly if you are talking about moving clients. Clients find it frustrating if you’re sending these forms out time and again. They want you to do it once and once properly.’

Cripwell sees investment as the fun part of his job, and even outside of work he enjoys reading around the subject, but he finds it discouraging to be hampered by compliance.

‘If you speak to any one of my colleagues or anybody at another firm they’ll say “I love the investing side”, so you want to try to make that as easy for the client as possible and get it done.

‘The last thing you want is the regulator breathing down your neck, so if you get it done, you can make it easier for the clients and it just frees up more time for fun.’

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