Chevening Financial on old ladies and the importance of community spirit

Some advice firms participate in their local community by donating money to charities. However, co-founder and director of Kent-based Chevening Financial David Hawes-Gatt has discovered  playing a more active role can be more rewarding in both a business and personal sense.

Every Thursday morning, Hawes-Gatt collects local pensioners from their homes to take them food shopping. He says: “I thoroughly enjoy it and it’s a nice way to put something back into the community. I pick my first lady up at 9am and I’m in the office by midday, so it’s two to three hours a week.

“When I see my ladies we have a laugh. It’s good for them and for me. People seem to think once you get to your 70s your sense of humour goes but they play jokes on each other as well as on me. They appreciate what we do.”

What started out eight years ago as helping local charity Imago Community with projects such as cleaning up the garden of a youth centre has evolved into a much more regular commitment. Hawes-Gatt believes this differentiates Chevening from other advice firms in the area.

“We wanted to get our name known a bit more and to hold some sort of event to encourage other local businesses to help out with the charity. But we wanted to do something more permanent and decided that we were going to give a morning of our time each week to the project.

“To stand out in the local community you have to do things a bit differently. We offer CPD sessions for some of the professional connections that we’ve got and things like that. We had a big launch party a few years after we’d been in existence because we wanted to get to know more people in the Sevenoaks community. Like many big towns, there are lots of potential clients within a few miles of where we are based.”

Chevening organises events such as seaside trips and Christmas lunches for “the ladies” throughout the year and recently received recognition for its work in the community by winning the first regional and national Small Business, Big Heart awards run by the website BusinessesForSale.com.

Chevening donated the £1,000 prize money to another charity it supports – DEBRA – which helps people suffering from the blistering skin condition epidermolysis bullosa.

The resulting press coverage for Chevening has raised the firm’s profile and been good for business. “The reaction we’ve had from posts on Twitter and Linked In has been positive. We’ve been able to send emails to our clients to tell them about it, and the clients like it.”

What is more, getting actively involved in the community by organising events and doing charity work has “opened one or two doors” for the firm in terms of networking and building professional relationships with lawyers, accountants and residential care homes.

“There is a brand new 80-room residential care home opening in Sevenoaks in June and we’re already talking to the management and the regional manager co-ordinating it about working with them. It could mean my ladies use their cinema. A woman who works for us is a professional ballroom dance teacher, so perhaps we could sponsor some tea dances.”

Given that Chevening has long-term care experience and that the fees at this particular care home start at £1,500 a week, it is perfectly placed to build new client relationships.

Hawes-Gatt got into financial services after seeing an ad in his local newspaper that promised “great rewards for hard workers”. He had spent six years working at John Lewis in London, having decided to follow his dad into retail.

In 1982, Hawes-Gatt joined GHIA, part of the General Portfolio group. “I stayed within the group in various sales management roles until around 1996 when I realised that my income was mostly coming from looking after my own clients but that most of my time was spent looking after advisers who worked for me.”

When GAN – the French insurance company which took over General Portfolio – closed its salesforce, Hawes-Gatt decided to join his friend, fellow Chevening director Paul Harding, and become an IFA. He then joined national IFA Millfield but found it disappointing.

“Unfortunately, it was run by people who simply wanted to become the largest IFA in the country but ignored the fact they ought to be profitable at the same time. When they went bust I decided to go out on my own within the Montpelier Group. I didn’t want to stay within the new Millfield regime that was resurrected under a different name.

“Montpelier had some interesting ideas on advice but we didn’t really click. I decided it was time to bite the bullet and set up a business of my own, together with Paul.”

Hawes-Gatt and Harding launched Chevening in 2008 – perhaps not the easiest year to start a business.

“The financial crisis didn’t help but it was more the fact that we were directly regulated. It was a steep learning curve for a small business.

“It meant that, although we were profitable, we certainly took a backward step financially for two or three years. But it was worth it.”

Chevening hired mortgage specialist David Fryer in 2009 and brought in a third director, Rob Hunt, the following year. Hawes-Gatt says the plan for the future is to build on what has already been achieved. “We have a thriving business with some great clients and we enjoy what we do.

“We want to develop the relationships we have with professional connections. We want to ensure we have an exit plan that can accommodate all three directors, but also ensure our clients are looked after in the same way as they are now.

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career? 

Believe in yourself. Listen a lot and talk a little.

What keeps you awake at night? 

Whether I can maintain my 8 handicap at golf.

What has had the most significant impact on advice in the last year? 

Lifetime allowance issues meaning more and more use of VCTs and EISs, which we have been recommending to clients for years.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…? 

Crack down on the rogue advice given to some Sipp clients.

Any advice for new advisers? 

With the average age of an IFA being well into their 50s, there will be a massive need for younger advisers to come into our business, so stick with it.

CV

2008-present: Co-founder/director, Chevening Financial

2006-2008: Director, Montpelier Financial Management

1998-2006: IFA, Millfield Partnership

1996-1998: IFA, Creative Financial Solutions

1982-1996: Sales management, adviser, branch manager at GHIA and other businesses within the General Portfolio group (subsequently GAN)