After living and working in Central London since 1992 I have decided to ‘go west’ and live in Exeter. My business is still largely London focused so I make the journey back to the capital each week, staying for a couple of days at a time. It is a good compromise for me and the change has forced me to look at my business in a completely different way.
Although I have historically been able to take the odd day and work from home with systems in place to support me, I have discovered the systems are not robust enough for me to work efficiently from two locations, which is the grand plan. The client-facing operation in London will ultimately be supported by a back office operation in Exeter but I find we are not as paperless as we had hoped and IT systems are still not as integrated and seamless as I want.
I am afraid, as an industry, we are a long way from being as efficient as the ‘futurists’ predicted.
But it has been encouraging to see what has been achieved when comparing ourselves to a new set of cohorts. There is a theory that cities like London attract and create hubs of excellence, and there is no doubt I have been able to compare my business against world class advisory firms on my doorstep.
That is not to say there are not world class firms outside of places such as London (or Manchester or Bristol, etc), because clearly there are. However, when you live within a hotbed of world class for a while, it starts to feel ordinary.
The ‘world class feels ordinary’ scenario has been very evident during recruitment interviews I have held in Exeter. Ordinary for me has been trying to recruit people in London in what is a very fluid and competitive market.
Candidates have a world of opportunity, tend to move around more frequently and seek opportunities that are more than ‘just a job’. As a result the best advisory firms to work for in London know they have to continually up their game to attract and retain staff.
My experience when interviewing people in Exeter (which may well be mirrored across other regions) is that, even among firms I consider regional leading lights, practices and attitudes towards staff feel dated. So I am reluctant to give up my weekly commute to the capital or the opportunity to rub shoulders with my peers because that is what will keep me on my toes.
I did not realise it quite so much as I do now but there is a hotbed of talent and thought leadership contained in a very small geographical area, and all are willing to share their thoughts and ideas with anyone who bothers to ask.
Yes, the same talent and thought leadership exists outside London but it is spread farther and wider, so the opportunity to ‘chew the fat’ over a coffee or glass of wine arises less often.
I can be found on the 7.53am out of Exeter St David’s most Tuesday mornings if you want to chat.
Dennis Hall is managing director of Yellowtail Financial Planning