Lifting the lid on an advice network that continues to make waves
“Infamous”, “fascinating” and “bizarre” are just a few of the words Money Marketing hears when the topic of conversation turns to St James’s Place. The Gloucestershire-headquartered advice network is home to almost one in every six advisers across the UK and is expecting to pass the 4,000 mark imminently.
Hundreds are also waiting in the wings of the largest training ground the industry has – the St James’s Place Academy – which spreads across London, Edinburgh, Solihull and Manchester. The FTSE 100-listed network has the largest geographical reach in the UK. There are 2,500 SJP firms stretching from Belfast to Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland, to Aberdeen and Inverness in Scotland, and even as far north as the Orkney Islands.
SJP also has a presence in all major Welsh and English cities, on the Isle of Man, and across various centres in Singapore, Hong Kong and China.
The network is far from without its controversies, particularly on the subject of fees and where the profit really comes from: advice or fund management. Advisers have also raised concerns about requirements that can be placed on them if they want to leave the network.
Money Marketing spoke with one former adviser who said they had an exit contract stating they were not to be derogatory about the working environment at SJP, and an additional four-year restrictive covenant stipulated the former employee could not cancel, change or move any policies on the contract at any time.
While this contract dates back a number of years, those in the network are quick to point out that today SJP offers market-leading charity initiatives and greater flexibility in how its advisers can run their firms. Advisers have been able to run partner practices with the network since 2011, which allows them to function fairly self-sufficiently. Advisers also have the option of being placed with existing firms in regional hubs. Money Marketing spoke with SJP advisers from across the UK to see what a day in the life of a partner practice is really like.
The path to SJP
While no two advisers’ routes to the firm are the same, they share common ground on why they joined. Specific asset allocation and fund selection processes were key for some, while others say the ability to tailor how tightly monitored they are by management was a key benefit.
Liz Robinson has been a senior partner in SJP’s Nottingham regional office since 2012. She first worked at Prudential before becoming an IFA and eventually moving to SJP.
She says: “As an IFA, I put portfolios together for clients, but it was becoming more and more difficult to keep on top of these and ensure clients’ money was working hard for them at all times.
“I felt I was not equipped to do this job alone as the global economy and amount of funds available were changing fast. I was spending more time discussing the 15,000 funds globally available, rather than focusing on my clients’ goals and this has changed, having joined the partnership.”
Norwich-based partnership Tailored Solutions managing director Stuart Shearer agrees. He says: “The work that can be done behind the scenes gives us access to fund management expertise that allows clients to diversify and spread their money across different managers with different styles, and ultimately gives me the chance to do what I love most, which is spend time with clients.”
Beauchamp Wealth managing director Alexandra Pearce says tough due diligence on external managers is another benefit on the investment side, noting: “The work undertaken by the SJP investment committee in selecting and monitoring funds on a global basis, rather than just UK-based fund managers, was attractive.”
She adds that the depth of support available under the SJP banner made for a tempting proposition: “There are resources available at head office to assist with any client query and with expertise across all areas of business.”
Shearer says clients are also more at ease because of SJP’s advice guarantee, which makes sure clients continue to be served should either they or their adviser suffer hardship, and this drew him to the network.
He says: “It gives them additional reassurance about the advice they’re receiving and, from a partner’s point of view, it really demonstrates the confidence the business has in the quality of the partnerships.”
SJP is not perfect, but it is not as imperfect as you may think
SJP is one of the most controversial and successful financial services firms in the UK, dividing opinion and generating plenty of outpouring from the IFA community. Is it all warranted?
It is often referred to as a “product flogger”, but that term doesn’t marry up to the large number of chartered individuals and firms it has within the partnership.
There are many fellows that sit within its support services and everyone across the business is encouraged to increase their qualifications. This is all geared to giving quality and compliant advice and service, rather than “flogging” products. It is doing more to bring new entrants into the industry than possibly anyone else, with academies across the UK, second-careerist programmes, graduate programmes and even bespoke schemes to train the children of partners that want a career in financial services.
These are helping to bring vital new blood into the industry and, coupled with a wide range of career opportunities, help retain talent.
How many FTSE 100 firms do you know where the chief executive and board regularly attend client events? A key part of the culture at SJP is that you never forget just who the most important people to your business are; your clients. Without clients, you have no business. This mantra applies to everyone and regular client contact is a key part of a board member’s role.
Giving something back to those less fortunate is carved into SJP’s DNA. More than 85 per cent of the staff contribute monthly to its charitable foundation. This is one of the highest, if not the highest, contribution rates for a large firm in the UK. And it’s not just money; staff give their time as well to raise further funds and there isn’t a week when some fundraising event isn’t taking place. Then to top it off, SJP matches the money raised.
No company is perfect and that includes SJP. However, lift the lid and you may see that it is not as imperfect as you thought.
Martyn Laverick is managing director at Soprano Consulting
Keeping up standards
Increasing supervisory scrutiny within the advice profession has left many advisers feeling pressure to keep up with compliance standards.
When Money Marketing looked at how major firms test and ensure the ongoing competency of their advice staff last year, SJP had one of the more robust processes in the market.
All advisers sit annual competency tests on technical and product knowledge and regulatory changes, including an internal reaccreditation test. This takes the form of an online exam based around the Chartered Insurance Institute syllabus.
Advisers also have continuous access to webinars and a knowledge management tool, Techlink.
Pearce is Warwickshire-based, which allows her to receive on-site training and development. She says Beauchamp Wealth’s long-standing position in Leamington, where the firm has been since 1983, means it does not require tight oversight.
She says: “We don’t have much day-to-day contact with SJP as we’re well established; we don’t require much interaction, but we know help is there when needed. I’m left to run my business my way, adhering to my own methods, and SJP does support me and my team.”
Broader business support is provided around once a month for Shearer’s firm Tailored Solutions, while administrative support for the company is close to daily.
Shearer joined the partnership in 2015, and says regional group training and meetings that encourage support between firms are a strong part of SJP’s business make-up.
He says: “There is a great deal of support provided for training and active encouragement for continued professional development. It gives partners and advisers the resources they need to help.”
Director, Goodall-Smith Wealth Management
Running an SJP partner practice has given me countless benefits.
I have complete autonomy to run my business exactly how I want, but at the same time have access to a huge amount of support from SJP.
I can access technical, human resources and compliance support from the SJP head office; I receive weekly summaries about the industry; and I have a dedicated senior partnership development manager who I can speak to about anything.
SJP also champions personal professional development, and I have attended free training courses to build my skills.
Outside the office
According to the St James’s Place Charitable Foundation website, more than 80 per cent of SJP employees and partners are regular donors to its causes. Fundraising events across the UK and Europe add to the monies provided and saw a total of £10.8m flow into the foundation last year alone.
Pearce says the charity was a strong factor in deciding to take Beauchamp Wealth – formerly her father’s company – under the SJP umbrella eight years ago.
Shearer is also involved in the foundation and will participate in the Big Walk fundraising initiative through Somerset for two days in May.
He says: “There is a lot of involvement in wider projects. The approach is quite unique in that regard, and support staff from across all local areas also attend and get involved.”
Robinson is a regional charity representative for Nottingham, an unpaid position which sees her coordinate a number of the foundation’s fundraising initiatives. She says: “We arrange a lot of really good social events and the SJP community is a very generous group of individuals, with the entirety of the Nottingham partners volunteering for initiatives each month.”
Robinson is also working towards chartered status, and is part of a project overseeing culture and strategy across the whole of the network.
She concludes: “I’ve been able to have discussions with our chief executive on diversification within financial services and, in an ever-changing world, SJP is always looking forward and adapting with a very hands-on, future-looking strategy. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Where SJP advisers are found: