Ian Porter may not look like your archetypal Hell’s Angel, but in the summer he is planning to ride through Ardenne and the Moselle Valley in France to celebrate his 40th birthday in style.
‘I’m going with a few biker friends and they are an eclectic bunch,’ he says. ‘One only has one arm – he lost the other one in a motorbike crash but got back on a few years ago, and now he has a customised Harley Davidson.’
Ahead of his French foray, he plans to put his own Suzuki GSXR1000 through its paces on a track day he has lined up at Brand’s Hatch in May. It is supposed to be able to reach a nerve-jangling 180 miles per hour, but he might not quite push it that hard to spare his wife’s nerves.
Porter, who is the proposition director of Alexander Forbes Wealth Management, is clearly very passionate about motorcycling, but it is not only the thrill of the wind rushing through his hair that has him hooked.
‘I love the diversity of people you meet,’ he says. ‘It does not matter if you are a brickie, a bank manager or a Hell’s Angel – if you have got a bike you are all in the same club. It is very egalitarian.’
Porter is a real people person and this has had a profound influence on his career. He started out at Commercial Union in 1987 valuing old with-profits policies manually, which he admits he found somewhat dull.
By 1991, he had tired of ‘sitting behind a desk’ and saw a job as a client-facing broker consultant at Scottish Life advertised in his local paper. ‘I got the job and was lucky to work with a couple of great guys who really trained and mentored me and helped me gain the confidence to deal with people,’ he says.
Porter quickly excelled at the firm and won a trip to Monte Carlo for smashing his sales target in only his second year.
He admits that he developed a bit of an ego and grew increasingly irked by the structure at ScotLife.
He later ‘moved to the other side’ but not before a few more twists and turns.
‘I decided it was time to change and joined Allied Dunbar as a broker consultant. I doubled my salary and they also gave me a 2.8 litre Volkswagen Golf – at ScotLife I only had a 1.3 litre Ford Escort and when you are 25 that is quite an incentive,’ he recalls.
‘I have to say it was two of the toughest years of my career to date. It is difficult selling policies to IFAs when you are a tied sales agent because they see you as a threat. But working with IFAs made me realise this was what I wanted to do.’
Porter’s introduction to the advice world was a challenging one as he joined a three-man DBS member-firm working on a commission-only basis.
‘You learn a lot about what it is like to live on an overdraft,’ he jokes. ‘I spent two years there and I was very happy but I wanted the security of a stable salary.’
He moved to Croydon-based IFA Sedgwick Noble Lowndes in 1998. The firm was acquired by Marsh & McLennan Group months later, but by then he had already made his mind up to leave.
‘You generally become either an investment or a pension person, and my natural inclination was towards investment,’ he says.
This led him to move into the City at what is now HSBC Private Clients. Between 1999 and 2002, he worked in its high-end IFA business, which he says was one of the first to roll out multi-manager model portfolios for its clients.
While at the bank he also completed the Investment Management Certificate. He moved again to Cripps Portfolio, which was an offshoot of the lawyers Cripps Harries Hall.
However, there he realised that he preferred the client relationship side to the number-crunching, and during his time the firm’s assets under management grew from £300 million to £1 billion.
By now no stranger to corporate activity, he stayed following the firm’s management buyout and rebrand to Heartwood Wealth Management in 2006 but left the following year.
Much of what he learned at the firm can be seen in the changes he has made in his current role at Alexander Forbes, although with a few key differences.
‘Cripps basically dealt with widows and orphans but we launched funds of funds and commoditised a lot of smaller portfolios, which enabled us to push up the value chain,’ he says. ‘It was a steep learning curve dealing with high net worth clients and trustees of charities.
‘Ultimately, the company was very investment-centric but did not understand that the route to market was through financial planning. Their view was to win the mandate and then have a bit of financial planning on the side. In my view, it should be the other way round.’
Porter left the group in April 2007 but still retains
a shareholding in the business.
He joined Alexander Forbes shortly after, moving into its investment solutions division.
This was the firm’s institutional manager of managers offering, which the firm was planning to roll out into the retail market, mirroring its highly successful South African operation. The idea was similar to Cripps Portfolio’s approach, he says, in that the thought was to build the investment proposition first rather than integrating into the financial planning business.
‘After a while I put my head above the parapet and said they needed to think about how they integrated
the advice and investment processes. The board was receptive to people speaking out and although I had only joined in June I ended up leading a strategy away day with them in September,’ he says.
They agreed to his idea of putting in place a three to five-year plan to move away from the firm’s existing transactional model to adopt an investment-centric yet holistic financial planning approach.
Porter says this was quite an overhaul and he immediately set about ‘strengthening the foundations’.
‘We spent last year putting the foundations in place for getting everything right. We improved our documentation, ensured Treating Customers Fairly was demonstrably embedded in the business and that clients had a homogeneity of experience,’ he says.
Central to this process was the hiring in of a
new management team. Porter brought in Rosie O’Hanlon and Tim Schofield as technical managers.
O’Hanlon, a law graduate, oversees best practice
and documentation, while Schofield, a former Royal Navy lieutenant commander, leads the firm’s training drive. Porter also poached Hilary Brown from Legal
& General Group to oversee fund research and investment strategy.
Following this move, the firm stopped using external ratings agencies, preferring instead to use its internal resources, which also include the institutional manager of managers arm and access to the research of actuary Lane Clark & Peacock, in which Alexander Forbes is a majority shareholder.
The final member of his cabinet is Chris McKiernan, who has an artistic bent and manages the firm’s intranet as well as designs its documents.
Over the past year Porter has also reduced the number of consultants, as some were simply not up to scratch.
Alexander Forbes is best known as a corporate pensions consultancy and that remains its main source of clients. Its employee benefits consultants refer any members of client firms’ pension schemes, earning more than £75,000, and major shareholders and directors, to its wealth management arm.
It also gets referrals from a tie-up with the Police Mutual and has a relationship with lawyers Cripps Harries Hall.
‘To be honest, the business was transactional in nature and that had been relatively successful, but had a huge through-put of clients who had been advised on a transactional basis. Now we are saying we can offer something better,’ he says.
The main focus is understandably on key clients. The structure at Alexander Forbes is set up to cater both transactional clients and advisory clients, which enables the firm’s advisers to spend the majority of their time on those who have met the minimum liquid assets requirement it brought in or those who wish to pay a fee.
As part of its drive to ensure best practice, the firm’s advisers will have a maximum number of clients they can manage from April.
‘We do not talk products at the first meeting; we talk to clients about their aspirations and we have shifted the business to a much more targeted and professional approach,’ he says.
All staff also have one day a week of training, with all advisers working to diploma standard as a minimum and a further day a month of training on the firm’s proposition.
Porter says there is still a lot of work to do, but with the new team and new approach there is a vibrancy about the firm. If the power of its brand in the corporate pensions world can be replicated in the wealth management universe, it will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with.