The East of England, spanning Bedfordshire, the home counties of Essex and Hertfordshire and up through East Anglia, is relatively affluent due to its close proximity to London and strength in the financial services and farming sectors.
Fiducia Wealth Management has its head office in Dedham, a picturesque village near Colchester on the Essex/Suffolk border where the painter John Constable once lived and worked. The firm also has a second office in Chelmsford, Essex.
Director Susie Laws is based in the Dedham office, which once housed farm animals.
“It’s set on the outskirts of the village but we are close to Manningtree, where you can get the train to London’s Liverpool Street station,” she says. “We have a lot of clients in London and we travel to see them. Although they live or work in London, they want to deal with somebody who is not in London.”
Laws says the only downside of being in Dedham is that it is difficult to recruit because there is a smaller talent pool and, being only an hour from London, the firm is competing against London firms for new hires. “But it depends on what people are looking for – if it’s the bright lights of London, we can’t offer that. What we can offer is a work/life balance and flexible working, which is good for retaining staff.
“We have someone who works until 2pm on Fridays so he can pick up his kids from school. He’s a valued member of staff and he makes up the time,” says Laws.
Flexible working is also in operation at Fiona Gray Financial Planning in Ampthill, Bedfordshire. This pretty market town between Bedford and Luton has the most expensive property prices in Bedfordshire and its annual festival recently featured bands like Squeeze and The Vamps.
“Ampthill is considered to be a nice place, which helps us as it attracts more affluent clients and more work for us,” says senior chartered financial planner Helen Vaughan. “Fiona [director Fiona Gray] has been an advocate of moving with the times and we have found that by investing in technology we are able to work from home.”
Vaughan says the firm uses voice over internet protocol, where phone calls are made using the internet. She says this enables staff to work from home using a laptop and headset, with everything they have in the office accessible from home.
She says recruiting can be difficult but remote working has allowed them to recruit from further afield geographically.
In the commuter town of Berkhamsted, just 33 minutes by rail from London’s Euston station, Highclere Financial Services partner Alan Lakey also works on a flexible basis. As well as his job as a specialist protection adviser, Lakey runs CIExpert, a detailed product analysis and ranking system for other financial advisers. Flexible working enables him to juggle both businesses by dividing his time between Highclere’s office and his home office in nearby Tring.
Lakey’s work on CIExpert involves meticulous attention to detail and making complex calculations accurately, so he needed an office environment which was free from distractions. “I had an office built in my garden. It’s got everything I need in there,” he says.
Lakey is often featured in the consumer press and can expect to receive calls from prospective clients all around the country as a result. It means the ability to work remotely, in addition to seeing local clients face-to-face, is essential.
“I probably have about 50 clients I have never met in my life,” he says. “People from the local area read those newspapers as well, so I do get calls from [local readers] but the bulk of business is through referral.”
As a vibrant market town with a conservation area near the old castle ruins, Berkhamsted is even busy at 10pm on a Sunday and its streets feel safe to walk through at any time of night, Lakey says.
Highclere’s office used to be a 15-minute drive away in nearby Hemel Hempstead, but it relocated to Berkhamsted following a flood.
“My fixed overheads are probably 20 per cent higher than in Hemel Hempstead. Rents are high and rates are high. The local authority even charges you rates on parking space,” says Lakey. “But the benefits outweigh that.”