Chet Helck, president and chief operating officer of US financial services group Raymond James Financial, is enthusiastic about the potential of the UK market.
He is determined that the company will succeed in its efforts to build a brand name through a small but growing IFA business and a wealth management tool that IFAs can use to service the needs of their clients.
In fact, so enthusiastic is Chet – short for Chester – that he does not hesitate to compare what RJF is introducing to the UK market to the effect of introducing credit cards to China.
“Can you imagine what it is going to be like when everyone has a credit card in China? It will revolutionise things. That is a change of massive proportion which people cannot really comprehend. The financial services industry goes through changes that are as revolutionary, facing resistance all the way. The reason why we will succeed is it is a better way,” he says.
He started his career with the mighty US tractor giant company John Deere before moving into investment. With perhaps typical American bravado, he insists that the approach adopted by Raymond James is superior to that practised by UK financial advisers. He repeatedly mentions professionalism and the need to make it clear to investors what they are getting and how much they are paying.
Looking at the growth of the firm in the US, it is difficult to pick faults with its success story. Helck joined in 1989 when annual turnover was $38m. By 2001, this had ballooned to $700m.
The problems come when trying to pin down Helck on how exactly its proposition is so different. He talks about focusing on professional advice with access to different products and offering investors more choice.
First, he says: “We will continue to grow as a firm which is committed to supporting professional financial advisers. Instead of being product-driven, we see our primary customer as professional advisers.”
Then: “The reason it will succeed is because it legitimately meets the best interests of financial advisers and the investing public. It is a better model. It delivers more choice, transparency control and, ultimately, better results.”
Helck rejects the notion that the 1,000 or so retail funds available in the UK represent real choice.
When presented with the idea that UK IFAs may be suspicious of an unknown brand name, Helck concedes that it may take time but he is firm about the company's commitment to making a go of it. “I don't think the Brits are inclined to be more suspicious of things from outside any more than anyone else in the world. In the US, when Raymond James started to become established 25 years ago, the traditional stockbrokerage firms dismissed it as something that would never work. Everywhere a new idea is launched it immediately meets resistance.”
Raymond James is not entirely a novice player in the UK. It has had a presence here since 2000 and has grown to some 30 RIs operating under the brand. Last week, it launched a wealth management offering which allows IFAs to white-label their own asset management service. “Our goal is to grow organically as opposed to start buying up firms. That is not our style because we cannot assure the level of quality and control.”
Helck is up-front about the fact that he is no expert on the UK environment but demonstrates a keen willingness to learn. He says regulatory reform is a necessity to move the market forward but agrees there is a limit to what firms should be expected to deal with.
He has fundamental objections to a Government-imposed price cap, saying it should be left to the market to sort out. “There is no nominal price cap but there is a very strong regulatory guidance on fees in the US. While there isn't a specific number that anyone has selected, you go above the norm at your own peril. Price controls typically don't work in any industry.”
The last two years have been busy ones for the Helck household. Not wanting to disrupt his son Greg's final year at high school, Helck has been commuting from Atlanta, Georgia, to St Petersburg in neighbouring Florida. While it is only an hour's flight, he says only seeing his childhood sweetheart wife, Abby, at weekends has not been easy. They have recently relocated to St Petersburg, where Raymond James is based.
Explaining his skewed work-life balance, he says: “The fact is I haven't played much in the last couple of years.”
One of the great advantages of now maintaining one home instead of two is that it allows him more time to indulge in his favourite pastime – boating. He owns a cabin cruiser which is docked outside the house in St Petersburg and he is looking forward to using it to explore the Florida coastline.
His other hobby is scuba diving. Over the years, Helck has been diving all around the Caribbean and the east coast of the US. He recounts a tale of diving near an underwater lava flow, describing it as the most visually stimulating experience of his life. Another underwater excursion saw him exploring a German U-boat and warship sunk off the coast of North Carolina. He says it was amazing because he didn't know the Germans were ever that close to the US.
When it comes to football, Helck says he supports the Nat-ional Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers because they play at the Raymond James Stadium, thanks to a 13-year sponsorship deal signed in 2000. He goes to games as often as possible, enjoying his hosting duties in a box at the stadium, and fondly remembers joining the Bucs for a trip in their private jet in last year's Super Bowl-winning season.
Helck says he finds English soccer interesting but admits it is beyond his realm of understanding – and, as for explaining the offside rule, not a chance.
This is only his second trip to the UK but his impressions have been favourable and he expects to spend more time here as the business develops. He cannot understand why everyone complains about the weather. “The weather's great here. It's cool, sunny, there's a breeze. I just wonder why the Brits complain so much about it.”
Born: Princeton, West Virginia, November 13, 1952
Lives: Recently moved from Marietta, Georgia to St Petersburg, Florida with wife and son.
Education: Degree from West Virginia University of Technology, graduate of Securities Industry Institute at Wharton Business School and of Leading Professional Service Firms, an executive education programme at Harvard Business School.
Career: 1974: joined John Deere & Co as product marketing and sales specialist; 1983: broker Edward Jones & Co as investment adviser, established retail office in Milledgeville, Georgia, and became regional leader for Georgia, Florida and Alabama; 1989: Raymond James as recruiter for subsidiary Raymond James Financial Services; 1998 became executive vice-president of business development for RJFS; 2002: president and chief operating officer of Raymond James Financial.
Life ambition: To be successful in managing the best family life along with career ambitions that I can.
Career ambition: To make Raymond James the best it can be.
Likes: People I can trust, honesty, integrity, dependability.
Dislikes: Lack of the above.
Drives: 10-year-old Lexus LS400.
Peers say: “Chet is well-known as someone who will ensure the completion of a task and at the same time maintain the quality of the objectives.”