Advice firms in the region are benefiting from its close proximity to London but are also forging local connections
Advice firms in the South East have plenty to smile about. Not only is the region the sunniest in the UK, it is also one of the most prosperous, being the second largest regional economy after London.
Covering nine counties, it covers coast to countryside, stretching from Kent in the east, across the south coast through Sussex, and north through the likes of Surrey and Berkshire.
Just like London?
In Berkshire, Beaufort Financial (Reading) has seen a significant increase in referrals over the past six to 12 months.
“The big thing in Reading is that there is a big professional community. There are loads of law firms and I think that about 13 of the top 100 companies in the UK are based in Reading. It’s a mini London,” says director Mark Dolby. “We’re doing a lot of work to forge relationships with accountants and solicitors. We’ve had business breakfasts, seminars and a number of other things.”
Over in Kent, Pentins Financial Planners director Samantha Secomb appreciates the high-speed train service that can get her from Canterbury to London in an hour. “It’s not so much for client meetings, it’s normally for seminars or meeting with other people I’m working with collaboratively,” she says.
“As lovely as Canterbury is – it is steeped in history, with the cathedral and the old city wall – it’s not London. If you want to see a presentation by a certain speaker you have to go to London as they don’t tend to come to Canterbury.”
In Hailsham, Sussex IFA director Karl Hopper-Young would rather head to Brighton, the South East’s largest and sunniest city, than commute on a tightly packed train to London.
“Brighton is an amazing place and it feels very safe. Everyone feels at home in Brighton. Would I want to go to a conference in London? Yes, but only if I haven’t got to worry about what I’m doing either side of it. When you take that amount of time out of the office, it’s a lot,” he says.
Having been a part of the membership body Sifa for the past 15 years, Hopper-Young has built relationships with local solicitors and is involved in the work leading up to pension sharing orders and mortgage capacity reports.
“It’s like a fact find in reverse in that your job normally is to build financial futures but my job is to get to the point where people can financially separate in a way that is practically possible,” he says.
The Pentins office is located on the University of Kent campus, and has built connections within Canterbury’s educational community. Secomb says: “We are retained by The King’s School, a prestigious private school, to be available for advice on staff pensions.”
Segmenting the market
In Cranleigh, Surrey, Informed Choice caters for a mix of an ageing population – with more than a third of local residents over 65 – and London commuters.
“The surrounding Surrey Hills are most definitely stockbroker belt, with a large number of high-net-worth and mass affluent clients right on our doorstep,” says the firm’s managing director, Martin Bamford. “Clients who live here and work in London like being able to engage with City-quality financial planning services, without having to pay London prices for the privilege.”
The firm recently opened a second office, in Petersfield, Hampshire, which is similar to Cranleigh in terms of affluence and demographics. Informed Choice’s main client segment is retirement planning, those either at retirement or in the early stages of retirement.
“As a result of the ageing population, we also see a lot of demand for later-life planning, including care fees planning. The average care home fees in Surrey are second only to London, making the cost of care in later life a huge expense,” says Bamford.
However, he adds that despite its profile as a wealthy county, Surrey is also home to pockets of hidden deprivation.
“As a business, we believe it’s important to give a lot back to our local community, through charitable donations and volunteering,” Bamford says.
Back in Sussex, Hopper-Young says it makes no sense for his firm to focus only on the more profitable clients, as its client bank has been built on referrals that are linked.
“You can’t say to a client’s kid that we can’t deal with them because they’re not profitable, so, we don’t segment,” he says.