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Bruce wilson

The managing director of Helm Godfrey believes in zen and the art of financial happiness, saying that sharing wisdom with clients is far more important than just selling products. Interview by Helen Pow

Bruce Wilson, managing director of Helm Godfrey, begins each day with yoga and meditation before enlightening his clients on how to “create financial happiness”.

An avid traveller and believer in all things holistic, Wilson is not your typical IFA but his refreshing ideas and passionate outlook put a welcome spin on the industry.

Wilson has been in the top job at Helm Godfrey for the past seven years and the firm’s mantra is financial happiness for clients while ensuring the business is solid and sustainable.

“We try to help people feel happy about their money. Money is an enabler, it enables people to do what they want. There are fundamental things we all want, such as security, but beyond that, people are different and what I try to do with my clients is find out what are their drivers and what are their values. What is important about money to them? My job ultimately is to provide my wisdom to help create the position that my clients wish to be in.”

Wilson studied accountancy at college, although a life travelling the world teaching yoga was much more appealing to the self-confessed oddball, but he was lured into to the world of finance.

“My girlfriend was working in financial services and I came back from travelling in 1985 to teach yoga and meditation and be an acupuncturist. I said I would come and help her with her admin and she got ill just before the Budget and because there was a rumour that 40 per cent tax relief was going to go, she had made all these appointments but was sick in bed. So I was telling all these clients to invest in a pension and they did. I thought it was amazing. I made more money in three weeks selling pensions than I used to make in a year working at the charity so I thought this is a really good job.”

He is passionate about two exciting projects on the horizon. Helm Godfrey has recently joined forces with Nucleus Financial Group to create a wrap product which Wilson believes will “revolutionise” the market. It will be 51 per cent owned by IFAs and the structure aims to drive down costs in the market and force providers to be competitive.

“The basic business challenge for forward-looking IFAs is to gain greater control over the whole process to improve the quality of the client experience and reduce dependency on traditional life providers.

“The big danger for quality IFAs is that wrap propositions from life companies or elsewhere will perpetuate that dependency. Product providers are trying to get margins on every product. What we are trying to do is make a platform whereby we can consolidate all our assets so it is totally clear and transparent.

“Every cost is bought at a price which is the real price. We are not trying to make a margin, we will be delivering, I believe, a structure which will drive costs down either way because if it succeeds, which I hope it will, product providers will have to reduce their costs.”

The other project is scheduled for next June when Wilson will be cycling from London to Paris with his 13-year-old daughter to raise money for Action Aid, a charity which fights poverty worldwide. This venture is nothing new to the keen cyclist who spent six months on the Oxfam Bike Ride to India in the 1970s.

Wilson has a major bugbear with the financial services industry at present – IFAs who focus on selling products rather than sharing their wisdom with clients. He believes financial planning should be a profession like law or accountancy where IFAs are paid for their advice and says if more IFAs had this outlook, the job would be much more sustainable.

“IFAs have to make profits and have to be sustainable because clients want to know that they will be around. They want continuity so the model has to change. Many IFA firms have collapsed because they have no reserves and are not sustainable.

“Helm Godfrey has grown its profits each year. We run it as a business, making sure we do not waste money. We keep our costs down, we have good advisers and we focus on clients. The man in the street has to know that the people who are looking after his money are looking after their own money.”

He also believes IFAs need to stop using turnover to gauge the value of their business because it means very little.

After 20 years as an IFA, Wilson says he still has the travel bug. He has seen almost every country on the planet except South Africa and Japan and cites India, where he is flying this week, as number one and even suggests that he was possibly Indian in a past life.

“If you said to me you can only go to one country in the world, I think I would choose India. It is so amazing, vibrant and colourful, the noise, the smell.

“I have always gravitated towards Indians. I do not know why and then I got into yoga. I have some kind of attachment with India that I cannot understand – and I like Indian food.”

Born: 1949 in Malaysia

Lives: Forest Hill, with partner Fairlie and two children

Career: 1999 to date: managing director of Helm Godfrey Partners; 1996-99: managing director of Chantrey Vellacott Financial Management; 1991-96: managing director of NBW Financial Services, managing director; 1986-91: director of Grimston Scott; 1985-86: senior unit management of FPS (Management); 1979-84: administration and financial director at Community Health Foundation; 1977-79: freelance accountant; 1975: international auditor at National Cash Register, Sydney, Australia; 1973-74: supervising senior at Peat Marwick Mitchell & co, Sydney, Australia; 1968-72: senior at Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co, London

Likes: Sun, travel/adventure, my family, personal development

Dislikes: Cruelty, violence, arrogance

Drives: I love my Red Thorn Raven (bicycle)

Favourite film: Touching the Void

Favourite book: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

Favourite musician: Jack Johnson

Heroes: Dalai Lama

Career ambition: Make Helm Godfrey a centre for excellence

If I weren’t an IFA, I would be…A yoga teacher and life coach


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