Pete Matthew: The dangers of being boxed in


A little over a year ago, my company moved to new offices after 24 years at our old place. Our former home was a listed building, so we could not have signage. It had also become cramped and dingy. By contrast, our new 3,000 square foot office is bright and airy, with lots of room. It gets plenty of footfall past the door and we have more signs than Las Vegas. Nearly.

Clients speak highly of the new office, particularly if they knew the old place. They comment on the brightness of the decor and the obvious increase in space. More than anything, however, they comment on how the place feels. They say there is a fun atmosphere, an air of relaxed focus and that everyone seems to get on well.

The space has really brought out the best in our staff and enabled them to express themselves through their work. It feels like we have a culture now, which was somehow hidden before.

Culture is a difficult word to nail down a satisfactory definition for, particularly in this case. But as we grow, the importance of maintaining our culture is becoming more obvious than ever. As it does so, I find myself observing other companies we work with and how they are building their culture, even as they grow rapidly.

Companies like Seven Investment Management, for example, which is growing fast yet continues to maintain the founders’ core values in everything it does. Like Nucleus, whose sense of fun pervades every communication I receive from it. And like The Lang Cat, where, while smaller than the previous two, you can still feel the humour and heart of founder Mark Polson in its excellent publications.

I believe culture makes a company and helps keep customers engaged. So many things that used to be differentiators, such as qualification levels and professional body affiliations, are now just expected by clients. As an industry, we are in danger of being forcibly homogenised by the RDR, the Financial Advice Market Review and market forces. But if we can maintain our uniqueness we will be in business for many years to come. Why? Because people will always buy people, at least when there is serious in-depth advice to be had.

Robo-advice services will never trump this or be a threat to a well-run local financial planning business because the latter will always have enough clients wanting to feel a part of the culture. Large advice firms, many of which like to preach they are the only business model that will survive in future, also struggle to instil any depth of culture in their nationally spread advisory teams. What little culture they may want to build quickly gets throttled by compliance.

I see firms swallowed up by large consolidators, signing away their uniqueness and haemorrhaging clients. When I retire, I want to be able to walk down the streets of Penzance with my head held high, knowing I did the best thing for my clients and employees.

It is essential to foster a healthy culture in your company. It defines your firm and keeps you unique and attractive in clients’ eyes. It should permeate every document and email you send, every brochure you make and the start-to-finish experience of clients in your office. It comes from the top, so lead by example.

Pete Matthew is managing director of Jacksons Wealth Management