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Proud of Plymouth: Charles Stanley's John Stewart talks wealth management in the South West

Proud of Plymouth: Charles Stanley's John Stewart talks wealth management in the South West

The next instalment of Wealth Manager’s regional focus takes us back to the South West writes Eleanor Mahmoud. Much further south this time though; Plymouth.

Plymouth has a rich history, with origins tracing back to the Saxons and developing into a key maritime and military centre. It has also been the site of where many historical voyages set off, including the Pilgrims in 1620, James Cook exploring the Pacific in 1768 and Charles Darwin searching for the Galapagos Islands in 1831.

Fast forward to 2017 and perhaps helping clients to go on voyages of their own, albeit through their life and investments rather than navigating the ocean, the wealth management industry is making waves. With two well-known DFM’s operating in the city, I’m keen to speak to one with as rich a history as Plymouth – Charles Stanley.

John Stewart, branch manager, tells me that Charles Stanley has been operating in the city for over 20 years. Originally operating as Shaw & Co Ltd, it was later purchased by Charles Stanley. Acquiring the Plymouth branch in this purchase gave the company valuable exposure to the area.

Stewart explains: “At the time, there was no branch in Cornwall and the acquisition of the Exeter branch came later, so Charles Stanley were delighted to have this South West presence [from Plymouth].”

Stewart joined Charles Stanley in 2005, after spending time at Barclays Stockbrokers in Peterborough – a long way from home considering he is a self-pronounced ‘Plymothian’.

“Plymouth is my home town so I was very excited when the opportunity to move back home came up via Charles Stanley”, he says.

Having moved to Plymouth with his family at age 10 from Dorset, Stewart goes on to tell me that he went to school and was brought up in Plymouth; his family have always been from the area. It appears I have chosen just the man to give me the low down on this coastal city:

“Plymouth is a great city. It has a fantastic catchment area – to the north there are great towns like Tavistock and out into the east you have the South Hams. To the west, well, you have the whole of Cornwall!”

As we talk about the whole region, Stewart agrees with general consensus that Bristol is the wealth management hub of the South West, followed by Exeter.

“The wealth management industry is concentrated in Bristol, which has got to be great for the region. Exeter is reasonably well probed whilst down here in Plymouth, it’s a quieter area for DFMs. We don’t get many brokers or roadshows coming this far down.”

However, Stewart is confident they are at no disadvantage sitting deep in the region, as he says:

“Bristol is buzzing at the moment and there is certainly a draw to set up your office there to run the region. But if you want a truly local presence, Plymouth and its catchment area is a very good place to be doing business in.”

I hear how young people often leave the area after studying to head to places such as Bristol or London, but the elasticity of people works in the city’s favour.

Stewart explains: “To counteract this, we often find that when people are qualified and experienced, they tend to come to the South West when they want the quality of life that Devon and Cornwall can offer.”

Charles Stanley has group assets under management of over £24 billion. With over 20 offices outside London and 6 in the South West, it has an undoubtedly strong regional footprint. From their office in a grand Georgian building, the team in Plymouth is home to a healthy team of 7 investment managers and 3 support staff.

Stewart tells me that the majority of clients are based in the South West, but goes on to say:

“We also have some from different parts of the country or even abroad, as we would usually maintain our relationship with clients if they move away.”

Geographical spread amongst new clients also comes as a result of referrals from existing clients and professional advisers, including IFAs, lawyers and accountants. Stewart tells me that whilst Charles Stanley has its own financial planning offering for clients, they also partner with external IFAs to enhance relationships.

As we discuss how the office has developed over time, it seems its growth is largely attributed to such referrals:

“Our primary source of growth in Plymouth is recommendations from existing clients. This is also our preferred way - it shows that clients who know what we do are happy to recommend us to other people.”

However, it seems it is not enough to simply rely on word of mouth in the competitive and changing industry we see today.

Stewart tells me how they are getting involved with the local community, saying: “We are increasing the marketing we do locally and the awareness of Charles Stanley. Being in Devon, we tend to support outdoor based activities.

We’re supporting the Point-to-Point horse racing and some golf at a club in Tavistock in aid of guide dogs. This year a new initiative is to also sponsor a local athletics league. It’s important for us to have a positive imprint on the area we operate in.”

The team are clearly dedicated to being fully embedded in the region - this is for the long term. I ask Stewart what they have planned over the next 12-18 months and he tells me that continuing with their marketing plans is top of the list.

“Over the next 12-18 months, we would very much like to carry on with the marketing initiatives we’re undertaking to carry on engaging with our clients here and hopefully attract some new ones too.”

Also on their list is to successfully complete their planned office move in the autumn. “This is really exciting for the team and our new premises will certainly be able to accommodate any changes that Charles Stanley take on in the future.”

As my chat with Stewart draws to a close, it’s only right to ask him what his favourite things about the area are. His enthusiasm is catching and he has plenty to tell me about. First we talk about the city’s architecture and history.

“Plymouth is an architecturally fascinating mix of new and old. The Barbican is absolutely great and the development of the harbour as well. Plymouth suffered in the war, so some of the areas which got redeveloped give us this blend of new and old. Oddly enough, some people might think those areas are a ‘concrete mess’, but some of the buildings are now listed as they are quite unique.”

And of course, the true beauty of the South West is best found when exploring. Stewart concludes:

“Part of the fun of being from Plymouth is that you’re used to the outdoors life. Most people use Plymouth as their base, whether it’s to go sailing, walking on the moors or exploring Cornwall.”

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