That was exactly the position Buckingham Gate managing director Matt Smith was in four years ago when he walked into a meeting with digital marketing firm Dianomi.
Smith is proof that sometimes a chance meeting can be life changing. There he was, on the train home after an interview with a recruitment agency, when his phone rang.
“It was the agency again. They said there was a chap at a company called Dianomi who was looking to build a financial planning business off the back of a client database, and was I interested in meeting him? I asked when and they said ‘how about now?’ So, I shuffled off the train and back across London for a meeting with the person who was to become my co-director. You could say it was meant to be.”
That person was Dianomi co-founder Robert Cabell De Marcellus, who was to become Buckingham Gate’s co-founder and marketing director. “We hit it off straight away,” says Smith. “We’re both slightly crazy, over-ambitious entrepreneurs; we think anything is possible. Even in the interview, we were taking over the world.”
Smith’s tendency to think big and go for it at a relatively young age – he is just 30 years old – could be the result of suffering from a severe reaction to a nut allergy while on honeymoon in 2013. He spent three weeks in hospital recovering from the life-threatening experience which changed his outlook.
“Something like that makes you more risk tolerant,” he says. “You ask yourself why you are waiting and procrastinating.
“Setting up a business is always a calculated risk, but having the database made it an easier decision. When any adviser sets up a business the question is where do the clients come from? Other factors are within the adviser’s control but clients are an external factor.”
With any partnership there is a chance the parties involved may have different ideas or start encroaching on each other’s territory. However, Smith has been running the business on a day-to day-basis without any interference from Dianomi, while it focuses on marketing.
We started the seminars towards the end of year one and now they are the source of 85 per cent of our new clients
“Other than the fact it does marketing for other businesses in the financial services space, Dianomi doesn’t have any specific financial planning experience,” says Smith.
“When it comes to driving the business we have a good relationship and we agree on strategy.”
The first thing Smith and Dianomi did was come up with a name and logo and apply for FCA authorisation.
“We originally did it via a network – I suppose on the mistaken belief that we would get authorised faster than going directly,” he says.
“Our relationship with the network lasted only about a year, then we moved to direct authorisation.
“One of the issues was that we write digital guides and blogs and there was a checking process with the network. We had a two- to three-week wait to publish and by then the content was out of date.”
Dianomi’s marketing experience really comes into its own with the organisation of Buckingham Gate’s monthly seminar programme on estate planning, pensions and investments. These have been crucial in building the business.
“Seminars are what the business is built on; they are the source of 85 per cent of new clients. We had a small number of clients in year one, but we started the seminars towards the end of that year and it was highly successful,” says Smith.
In March, Buckingham Gate took a slightly different tack and hosted its first full-day event on estate planning. “It was the first one we charged a fee for and we sold out about twice over, so we are planning to do another later in the year,” he adds.
Using seminars to attract new clients means showcasing your skills – giving people a taster so they can see you know your stuff, but not giving everything away because you want them to come back as clients. How does Smith walk that tightrope?
“We’re incredibly generous with the information we share, because you have to deliver value before you can expect people to work with you.” he says. “You can show them the benefits of trusts and tax relief on pensions but most people will appreciate the need for professional advice for their circumstances.”
Smith’s plan is to keep growing Buckingham Gate. The firm has just recruited an experienced adviser, new administrators and has launched a graduate programme.
However, he is not worried about investing in raw talent only to lose the finished article to other firms.
“People will stay with a firm if they are well treated, well challenged and well rewarded” he says. “When we’ve interviewed candidates on the support side we’ve seen the biggest reason people want to leave their current firm is a lack of progression and opportunities. People on the admin and paraplanning side can be so good at what they do that they back themselves into a corner because their firm doesn’t want to move them up the chain.”
Smith started out in banking and, while at Lloyds TSB, swiftly realised that being an adviser was what many aspired to. He moved to Wesleyan, where he learned many of the skills needed to start a business.
As a vocal supporter of advisers improving their skills and attaining qualifications, Smith holds a master’s degree in financial planning and business management from Manchester Metropolitan University. He wrote his dissertation on the value of the intangible elements of financial planning.
“The way people perceive financial planning is a fascinating topic. We know that what adds value isn’t the most tangible things like tax planning and fund management. It’s things like peace of mind and financial wellbeing that clients appreciate and you can’t put a pound note figure on them,” he says.
“My conclusion was that the act of having a plan and going through the financial planning process made people feel better even if nothing else had changed. It’s hugely relevant to retirement planning, because many people are more worried about running out of money than they are about dying. We should do anything we can to put them at their ease.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
To invest in yourself; improve your knowledge and skills and challenge them.
What keeps you awake at night?
Not that much but the current trends in DB transfers are getting dangerous with what has happened at British Steel.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the past year?
A combination of pension freedoms and DB transfer values.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Look for more ways to solve the advice gap.
Any advice for new advisers?
Invest in training courses and exams – there is so much great stuff out there.
2014-present: Managing director, Buckingham Gate
2011-2013: Senior financial consultant, Wesleyan
2007-2011: Senior personal banking manager then financial adviser, Lloyds TSB