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Dennis Hall

Dennis Hall is one of the few IFAs who is genuinely unconcerned about the retail distribution review. The managing director of Yellowtail Financial Planning is in the enviable position of having made the switch to fees several years ago. Yellowtail does not derive any income from trail commission or generate any income from assets under advice. Income for the firm is all derived from the advice billed in any given year.

Yellowtail is based in central London and has the kind of clients that most IFAs would give their eye teeth for. The firm’s target clients are professionals with a net worth between £2m and £5m and Hall has the luxury of having clients who are not only able but are willing to pay fees.

He has been convinced that fees are the best way to operate for many years and says commission tends not to result in the best value for customers or the best service. But it was only with the establishment of Yellowtail three years ago that he managed to fully break away from commission.

For businesses still to make the move, Hall’s experiences are encouraging. He says the conversation with clients about charging fees is not particularly difficult, the hard part is deciding what it is you are charging a fee for and what makes your business different.

“I think the difficulties were not fully understanding what the fee proposition is all about, what the value is and how to communicate that properly. It is a problem that a lot of the industry are going to be facing in the run-up to implementation of the RDR.

It is not as simple as saying that one day I am charging commission, the next day I am going to charge a similar amount in fees. You have got to be able to articulate where the value of your proposition lies – and the value is not in implementing a product.”

For Hall, the difference is being able to work with a client to understand what they want to achieve and putting together a plan to help them achieve this. Hall is one of the small number of life planners operating in the UK. He says financial advice is not about products but about what a client wants to achieve.

“We are a financial planning firm. We have not set ourselves up as a wealth manager, we do not want to be running money.”

Talking about the impact of the RDR on high-net-worth clients and the Kinder Institute approach to life planning is a long way from Hall’s first job as a Royal Marine. Hall joined the Marines from school and served for 10 years but after that time he says you either have to decide to stay for your career or leave and try something different. For Hall, that something else was financial services.

“I knew some people who had left the Marines and were in financial services and seemed to have a reasonable life and when it came to them trying to sell me products, it did not take long before I knew more about the product than they did. Yet they were getting paid more than I was getting paid and were driving a better car than I was driving.”

From the Marines, Hall joined Sun Life Unit Services and spent five years working in direct sales. He then spent some time with a small IFA business but says, if anything, this was even more sales-orientated.

He moved to NatWest Life at the time it was restructuring and cutting its salesforce from 3,500 IFAs to just 100.

“As much as I do not like banking, what bank IFAs roles are all about, it was a very good springboard to get up to London and to get some real support to developing qualifications.”

In the five years he spent at NatWest, he rose to become national development manager at the business and he says the managerial training and experience have been particularly valuable. After NatWest, he spent a year in Moscow before the rouble collapsed and he joined the expat exodus back to London.

On his return, he set up his first fee- based business as a sole trader as part of the Bankhall network. He was making a comfortable living but says his attempts to scale up the business were not successful. He was looking to buy an existing IFA firm but did not find anything he was comfortable with.

“There was nothing I wanted to buy where they had not swept quite a lot of dirt under the carpet. You just knew it was going to come back and bite you.”

He was introduced to an accountancy firm which was looking to expand into financial services.

But although he spent three years with the firm, their attitudes to remuneration never matched and he decided he had to go it alone again and set up Yellowtail.

“Culturally, we were not together. They saw fees as an underpin for commission they could not collect and I saw fees as the only model, so in 2006 I put my money where my mouth was.”

Since then he has been developing the Yellowtail proposition and he says the next step is to develop the three other staff of the business to a state where he can take a back seat in the business. Part of this development is putting his staff through the Kinder Institute training, as well as reaching chartered financial planning status.

Away from the office, Hall has a keen interest in art. Although he says he and his wife particularly like 16th and 17th century Dutch art, with Vermeer a particular favourite, he jokes that he cannot afford to own his interest. Instead, he is building a collection of more modern artists, including works by Julian Opie and Damien Hirst.

Hall is also trying to raise a significant amount of money for charity by cycling from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

He got involved in the project when a client mentioned that he was attempting it for charity. Having already cycled it when he was in the Marines, Hall confidently said “I’ve done it, it will be no trouble” and the client promptly suggested that as he had done it before there was no reason he could not do it again.

The team of four have set their sights on £100,000 between them. Hall admits this is an ambitious target, particularly during a recession when corporate backing can become scarce, but says: “We will keep knocking on the doors.”

Born: Lincolnshire, 1959

Lives: Mayfair, London

Education: Secondary school in Lincolnshire, Open University

Career: 2006-present: managing director, Yellowtail Financial Planning; 2003-06: CBW Financial Services; 1998-2003: Bankhall member; 1997-98: Moscow; 1992-97: NatWest Insurance Services; 1987-92: Sun Life Unit Services; 1977-87: Royal Marines

Likes: Art, food, wine

Dislikes: People who don’t listen, fools

Drives: VW Phaeton

Book: Smiley’s People by John le Carre

Film: The Killing Fields, Apocalypse Now, Groundhog Day

Album: John Peel – a tribute

Career ambition: In the next five years, I want to develop Yellowtail and my staff to the point they can make me redundant, so I can work on my next phase of business development

Life ambition: To make a permanent difference

If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Acting or writing.


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