The largely rural South West has chocolate box appeal for retired clients, while a thriving alternative scene is a magnet for young with socially responsible values
As the biggest region in the UK, covering eight counties as diverse as Devon and Gloucestershire, it is difficult to make generalisations about the South West’s identity.
Cornwall is known for its cream teas and magnificent coastline; Somerset for cider and the Glastonbury music festival; and nearby Bristol for the iconic Brunel-designed Clifton suspension bridge and its “financial services hub”. Different counties are grouped together, with no more or less in common than any other part of the UK.
For advice firms in the region, the diversity is played out in the need to appeal to both old and young; to respect tradition while being receptive to new ideas.
“Lots of people retire to the South West and these clients exactly fit the profile of our business because we specialise in retirement advice,” says Bristol-based advice firm Nicholls Stevens managing director Carole Nicholls. “They may have had advisers when they lived in other parts of the country and usually start off remaining with those advisers.
“But after a while, they find the logistics too difficult. Then they look around for an alternative in the area.”
The Nicholls Stevens office is located in the centre of Bristol with good parking facilities, although Nicholls admits driving is a nightmare. “The bus stops outside the office, so many local clients, however rich, use their bus pass,” she says.
One of the problems Nicholls encounters is that, as her older clients age, they need more home visits, which is a drag on time.
“They are not particularly internet-savvy, which means a restriction on the type of communication one can employ,” she says.
At the other end of the spectrum, with three universities in the area – Bristol, Bath and the University of the West of England Bristol – there are plenty of graduates to recruit and Nicholls is trying to expand her firm’s client base so that it includes younger clients.
“Bristol has a large population of 35- to 45-year-olds,” she says. “There is a good arts scene and an alternative scene. Bristol has more vegans than any other city in the country so we are aiming environmental and green investments at this group.”
In Cornwall, Serenity Financial Planning head of life planning Jeremy Squibb has noticed that tradition can sometimes hamper new ways of doing things, but this is giving way to “alternative mindsets” encouraged by the local university, which is strong in the arts field.
“I grew up in Cornwall, so I can say this with authority: you’re typically up against ‘this is the way we always do it so that’s the way it is done’. After I attended my first-ever life planning course, the company I worked for at the time said that stuff won’t work in Cornwall so forget about it,” he notes.
Yet Squibb has noticed people becoming more open-minded and wonders if being “at one with nature” by the beach makes them more reflective on what really matters.
The majority of Devon-based H R Independent managing director Tim Harvey’s clients are in London and the South East, but he does have local clients who are very “community minded”.
“I do a lot of pro bono work. Some of them haven’t got two pennies to rub together, but we’ll be having a couple of pints in the pub and a gin and tonic will turn up for my wife,” he says.
Harvey adds that he has wealthy local clients who have inherited money or retired to the South West after selling property in London and the South East. “For the price of a one-bedroom flat there you can buy a small farm here,” he notes.
Harvey’s younger clients include professionals who want their children to have access to the great outdoors, playing rough and tumble, camping and kayaking.
“Old-fashioned life insurance, particularly family income benefit and income protection, is a big part of what we do for them,” he says.
Back in Cornwall, factors that affect an advice business are more seasonal than regional in Squibb’s experience.
“Any time there is a school holiday, Cornwall grinds to a halt and getting around to see clients takes longer. What’s more, a lot of clients like hoteliers and restaurateurs don’t want to be seeing advisers in the summer,” he says.
“Usually, at the end of summer, they have made all their profits and they’ll think they can put more in their pension. But they need it to see them through the rest of the year, so managing their expectations and longer-term strategy planning is important.”