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Hugh Doxat-Pratt

Alpha Financial Consultants director Hugh Doxat-Pratt is feeling upbeat about the future, having just been awarded certified and chartered financial planner status.

After completing a maths degree at Birmingham University, Doxat-Pratt joined British Leyland to work in operational research but he felt he was unlikely to get any further up the ladder so he became a technical salesman at a computer firm in Oxford for four years.

Shortly after moving his family to Torquay, he embarked on his first foray into financial services in 1988 as a salesman with Confederation Life.

He says: “What I liked about financial services was that it involved some of the things I am good at, which are problem- solving and dealing with people.”

Two years later, Doxat-Pratt moved to Cannon Assurance, now Lincoln Financial Group. After four years there, he decided to set up on his own.

“I realised my clients wanted me to be offering more than one company’s products so that was the reason I set up Alpha. I was beginning to feel constricted. I found that the whole sales process at Cannon was just not my style. The guy who sold the most got applauded, even though we knew it would come off the books next month.

“My style has always been long-term relationships with people. There are some clients I started with at Confederation Life who are still with me.”

Doxat-Pratt spent five years running his own advisory firm but in 2000 he felt it was time for a new challenge so he put Alpha on ice and moved to Inter-Alliance.

“I felt I could learn something from these guys. I was looking at moving into fees at the time and no one else at the network I was in was even vaguely considering it.”

But only three months after he had joined, Cannon decided to sell its sales- force to Inter-Alliance. Shortly after this, the Prudential salesforce was also sold to Inter-Alliance and suddenly Doxat-Pratt found himself being asked to manage a small team.

“I had joined a small group of eight people, who were high quality, well trained and all working towards more qualifications and suddenly the office was totally different.”

So Doxat-Pratt decided to restart Alpha which now has a team of three people – himself as adviser, operations director Mike Rodda and client co-ordinator Adam Prestwood.

There is room for Alpha to take on another adviser but Doxat-Pratt says it would have to be someone who is absolutely right for the firm.

He is a great believer in getting proper qualifications. “In the early days, the initial training was pretty pathetic. It was primary school standard and you had several goes to get the right answers and they were not difficult questions. I just felt that was wrong. I am some- thing of a technician and I felt it was important to prove that.”

Doxat-Pratt says that becoming certified was “very, very hard” but thinks it is one of the best qualifications an adviser can get. “It really makes you think about what you are putting in a report, how and what you are communicating and we made several changes to the business as a result of it.”

But his ambitions do not stop here. He is looking at potentially getting qualifications in long-term care, equity release or investment management.

Doxat-Pratt believes the firm can weather the recession. “We are well placed with the technical knowledge we have got and the vision we have as a firm. The award we won last year as inno- vative firm of the year in south Devon was also important.”

He does not believe that fee-based advisers will suffer as a result of the economic downturn and says there is a changing attitude, with clients becoming more willing to pay fees, just as they would to a solicitor or accountant.

Doxat-Pratt has been getting an increased number of referrals from his existing clients since the credit crunch began but his firm wants to remain niche and he does not look to take on a vast number of clients each year.

“We don’t believe you can seriously have 500 clients so we run an active client bank that is considerably smaller than that. We do not add that many each year and, if you do, you have to shed people at the bottom and that does not work very well.”

Alpha does some active marketing by networking and talking to introducers and Doxat-Pratt says if someone came to see him about putting £4,000 into an Isa he would happily give them a free half-hour of advice to point them in the right direction.

“Sometimes I view myself as the conductor of an orchestra. You bring in the trumpets, you bring in the woodwind section, come on first violins, let’s have some more volume. You are helping people by putting them in touch with the right people.”

He is concerned that the retail distribution review is making financial advice more confusing for consumers and says most people knew the difference between tied and independent advisers.

“I really worry that we are going into jargon with the labelling and I just think we have got to get away from that and get it back to something that people can understand. It is about relation- ships and not labels.”

He believes financial products should be regulated as much as the people selling the products and says this would give the consumer far more protection.

“If you bring in a dodgy toy from China, you don’t sue the toyshop, you sue the manufacturer. There have always been some terribly dodgy products that have been brought to the market which always seem to have very nice commission attached to them.”

Doxat-Pratt says the biggest challenge to IFAs at present is tackling consumer confidence and persuading them to take a long-term view.

His ambition is for Alpha to be seen as a high-quality financial planning practice where “you will get good technical advice from people who care”.

He adds: “We would like to be a beacon among many other beacons to show that financial planning is the way forward.”

Born: March 1960, Epsom, Surrey

Lives: Torquay, Devon

Education: BSc (Hons) in mathematics from Birmingham University, certified and chartered financial planner

Career: 2001-present: director of Alpha Financial Consultants; 2000-01: adviser with Inter-Alliance in Exeter; 1995-2000: director, Alpha Financial Consultants; 1990-94: salesman with Cannon Assurance; 1988-90; salesman with Confederation Life

Likes: Winning (in business and in life), solving problems and helping people, enabling clients to sleep at night

Dislikes: Needless and pointless bureaucracy, people who just do what they are told and do not think independently

Drives: Mazda 6 diesel sport

Book: The Old Testament – it is fascinating, honestly

Film: College Road Trip – my wife is a Donny Osmond fan

Album: Shostakovich – Jazz Suites Nos 1 and 2

Career ambition: To positively impact on the lives of all those I come into contact with

Life ambition: To be the best husband, dad and friend that I could possibly be and to show through my actions that Jesus is relevant today

If I wasn’t doing this I would be…A radio sports commentator

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