Henri James Wealth opened its doors just as the recession was starting to hit and the firm’s operations manager says it was good timing as the downturn brought the value of financial advice to the attention of many people
Interview by Rachael Adams
Henri James Wealth operations manager and partner Michael Cox started his career in financial services before training as a teacher and then moving back into the sector. He says teaching and financial services require similar qualities. “I am very patient and placid, which suits financial administration and teaching.”
He quit teacher training when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that will eventually leave him blind and decided to find a stable career that would act as his pension plan.
In March last year, he joined forces with former colleague Sarah Stallard to set up Henri James Wealth in Bristol, with Cox taking care of back-office work and Stallard the advising.
“I am a dogsbody, basically. I originally did paraplanning but I have moved on to building various portfolios for people. I love what I do but part of me will always hanker after teaching.
“My health has had too much of an effect on my career. I had always wanted to teach but I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 18. When I finally had it under control, I thought, great, I can go and do what I want but then in 2002 my eyes were diagnosed.
“When I worked for Eagle Star, I had to do death claims. It taught me about working with people because it is such an emotional thing.”
He sees forging strong relationships as being key to Henri James. “We want to provide a genuine service. I review all the portfolios on a monthly basis and we report to our clients quarterly. I believe in IFAs having an emotional attachment to their clients.”
Cox’s role as team manager at outsource pension company Vertex also taught him valuable lessons. “On a team of 60 people, I was the only one with any financial qualifications. It has made me very aware of the value of good customer service.”
He says the customer reigns at Henri James. “We are not into selling products. We just want to give advice to people who have never had it before or who have not had the best advice before. That is why we started Henri James when we did.
“People always say we were brave to start then. We did not hav ea single client but I am a big believer that the present environment is a great time for financial advisers.
“People do not believe in safe havens any more. After what happened with the banks, the public is starting to realise you cannot just squirrel money away and it will still be there a few years down the line. The recession has opened people’s eyes to the necessity of financial advice.”
The retail distribution review also influenced the duo’s decision. “Unlike existing IFAs, we have not got to amend anything to become RDR-proof because we started at the right time.”
“I think the RDR is positive. Some IFAs will step out of the industry, meaning lots of clients will need looking after. That is partly why we entered the market.”
He says the RDR’s emphasis on improving advice will mean the FSA will crack down on what it sees as poor practice and he supports this approach. “In the future, if clients look at things and think they are not providing a positive outcome, the FSA just won’t allow it.”
“People have had enough time to get to the level they need to be at. It is not like the RDR was sprung on them. I just hope the FSA does not water down the qualifications.”
As Henri James plans to retain indep-endent status, Cox, Stallard and their newest recruit, IFA Paul Scobie, will focus on QCF level four training this year but Cox says their ambitions stretch further than just meeting the regulatory minimum requirements.
“We have got delusions of grandeur. Keeping on top of regulation is important but we are not interested in having a little business in Bristol.
“Our masterplan is a few offices in prime locations with four or five IFAs in each one, not one huge office with 20 IFAs. I have worked in that environment before and it is an administrative nightmare.”
Henri James Wealth has a Paris-based sister company, Henri James Real Estate. “We want to leverage with the estate agency. We hope Henri James Real Estate continues to expand and opens in London so we can advise there too.”
In the shorter term, marketing is the buzzword for Henri James this year. “We did not have the money or the time before so now we are looking at advertising in hospitals, train stations and airports.” Cox also says building relationships with professional firms is a priority. “We will launch an advertising campaign with local accountants. Bristol is an affluent area, so there are lots of opportunities.”
Paul Scobie’s 25 years of IFA experience means he can take over some of the advising while Stallard focuses on marketing. The firm will also take on a trainee later this month. “If we can get one more adviser on board that will be three within the first year, which is pretty good.”
But despite having big plans for Henri James, Cox is realistic about his role in the company’s future. “I said to Sarah from the start that this will be the last job I ever have. In 10 years time, I will have just 2-5 per cent of my vision.
“I know I might struggle with the technical side of my role but, based on my previous experience, I could relationship-manage clients. I am happy to move that way if necessary.”
Although his health plays a major part in determining his career path, Cox says he is determined not to let it dominate his life. “It gets me down some days but doing this job gives me a chance to have a happier life as I get older.”
Born: Worcestershire, 1974
Education: University College Worcester, studying primary education
Career: 2010-present: operations manager of Henri James Wealth; 2008-10: managed the administration team in a Sipp company, a commercial property company and an IFA business; 2006-07: annuity team leader, Vertex Financial Services; 2005-06: manager’s assistant, Lloyds TSB Private Banking; 2003-05: customer service representative, Lloyds TSB; 1995-2003: studied for teaching degree; 1992-94: claims adviser at Eagle Star
Likes: Horse racing, people and live comedy
Dislikes: Liars, bad manners and poor customer service
Drives: Nothing since 2003, these days I take the train
Book: Lost in The Funhouse: The Life and Times of Andy Kaufman
Film: The Usual Suspects
Album: Piano Man by Billy Joel
Career ambition: To create a successful business that employs many happy and contented staff
Life ambition: To make my parents proud based on a brilliant upbringing
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Training racehorses