It is just over two years since Heather Maizels joined Victoria Private Office and in many ways, her career in wealth management has come full circle.
Maizels believes that a generation after launching Barclays’ private bank with a team of five, her current firm can once more lead the way in helping shape the direction of the private client market.
‘At Barclays I started the new model, launching its private bank from scratch, and it was copied by all of the industry,’ she says.
‘The new model for clients going forward is going to be small owner-managed companies that look after your money, provide conflict-free advice and don’t use relationship managers. This will be the next cycle.’
The business she started at Barclays 19 years ago is a world away from its current incarnation and the very fact that Maizels got it off the ground at all is a testament to her drive and persuasion.
The latter skills were honed studying law at Cambridge University’s Girton College. Maizels was awarded a scholarship to Inner Temple, going on to become a barrister, but her childhood ambition to work in the legal world ultimately left her unfulfilled.
‘It was a good pupillage and I love doing deals, but I guess I also like harmony. My practice was around settlement and the thought of spending my entire career arguing…’ She shakes her head at the notion and says, partly inspired by her late brother who worked at Hambros, she decided to move over to the City, joining Hill Samuel in 1980.
After working in its foreign exchange department, carrying out one of the first swap deals in the UK, she was later headhunted by US investment bank Kidder, Peabody & Co to set up a currency desk.
She describes the move as her ‘lucky break’. Kidder Peabody had the largest Middle East department on Wall Street, and working with wealthy families on a placement to Kuwait opened her eyes to the private client world.
GE mogul Jack Welch would doubtless be very surprised to hear that he played a small part in the launch of Barclays’ private bank, but when his firm acquired Kidder Peabody, Maizels quit.
‘I realised straight away that I didn’t want to work for him,’ she says. ‘I approached Andrew Buxton, who was the chairman of Barclays, and said I wanted to set up a new business for him, a kind of merchant bank but for individuals.’
Buxton was sold on the idea and although it took a couple of years, her demands for an office in Mayfair and the flexibility to hire from outside Barclays were met.
They took over the old headquarters of collapsed property company Mountleigh and she initially hired a team of four comprising lawyers, accountants and tax specialists.
‘It was a new model I was starting from scratch and these people were not bankers and they had never sold anything,’ she recalls.
‘They had only ever given advice and been family-minded. I feel very much this is the situation I have been in for the last two years.’
Maizels led the business for eight years until it became Barclays Wealth, at which point she took a seat on the advisory board.
She accepts that as it grew into a leviathan of the private client world, the business was never going to be able to continue the ethos of the original five, pointing out ‘if you have 5,000 people it is going to be very different’.
After a 19-year tenure she left in 2011 and immediately set about finding a home for her long-term clients, which she said she did not want to see left ‘languishing’ at a private bank.
‘When I left, I had a good breadth of experience. I had grown a business, looked after clients, opened and closed a trust business – and I have still got a lot of clients that I am very close to.
‘I was looking for somewhere that I could take them to,’ she said.
‘I met [Victoria Private Office chief executive] Phillip Russell and [chief investment officer] Inno van den Berg and they explained the business and said they wanted to grow it in a careful way that was not dilutive to the service that they provide the client.
‘I had a track record of growing a business the right way. They owned the business, which meant that they could do what they said they would do and what I found very attractive was they had no institutional backing or external shareholders or no single dominating client.’
Maizels was also impressed by the mix of longstanding clients the firm had, which included a global order of nuns and a number of wealthy divorcees, indicating the team was adept at dealing with clients sensitively.
‘I felt this was a platform that I could bring clients to,’ she says.
Maizels joined as managing director in what was an interesting time for the company. Russell and van den Berg previously worked at UBS and one of Russell’s biggest clients, the Scanlon family – who were behind the Foster’s lager empire – set up Victoria Capital as a family office in 2003. Van den Berg moved across as a co-founder and the senior directors later led a management buyout when the Scanlons’ decided to cash in the business and move back to their native Australia in 2008.
After a period of consolidation, the company was renamed Victoria Private Office and the proposition broadened out and positioned for growth.
‘Why are we different? The important thing is to recognise that every person who walks through the door is different – you can’t do that in a private bank,’ Maizels says.
‘What is interesting is that people do typically ask us “do we own the business?” They might own theirs and they want to get things done and find that hard in big organisations. But we can make it happen. Others ask are we a bank? People are looking for conflict-free advice and do not have our own products.
‘Clients like the intimacy and feel we have the capability to do things how they want to whether they are individuals, families or charities.’
The company offers a broad range of services beyond pure wealth management, including monitoring and assessing existing portfolios a client may have with a number of private banks, advising on one-off transactions, such as private equity deals, sitting on private company boards and evaluating currency risks.
‘We also act as experts in the high court on investment issues and we get involved with family issues, for example providing valuations of companies or intervening in matrimonial disputes,’ Maizels says. ‘We also get involved in training lawyers and trustees and sharing our risk management expertise. We are best described as investment counsel; people come here for advice.’
She has a particular interest in philanthropy and the inter-generational passing of wealth. Given she has now been working with some families for 19 years, this means she is increasingly dealing with the younger generations.
‘They tend to be very responsible but they want significant capital to grow their own businesses and I am advising the young in relation to their trustees,’ she says.
‘I’ve got credibility with the senior members of the family because they have known me for a long time and this empowers the young – they know I am on their side. I am spending more time with the young and it is very exciting.’
In terms of opportunities for growth, Maizels is confident that the model Victoria Private Office has put in place will continue to attract disillusioned clients from the big financial institutions.
‘I feel passionate about clients languishing at private banks. People up and down the country want to get on with their lives and feel understood,’ she says. ‘There is such evident demand for advice without conflict and it is actually a very big market.’