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James Priday on running an advisory business and a D2C platform in tandem

At just 26, Prydis Wealth director James Priday has plenty on his plate steering a growing financial planning business through turbulent times for the retail financial services sector.

Not content with that challenge, in January, he launched a D2C investment platform, Strawberry Invest, as a standalone proposition.

The name comes from the idea of picking your own investments and Priday says IFDL, part of Ascentric, initially approached the firm saying it was giving advisers the opportunity to offer its platform technology directly to consumers.

Priday says this was pitched as a place to house advised clients that wanted to transact themselves but the firm decided to take a different approach.

“Originally I was not sure we would go for it. We were looking at calling it Prydis Direct and offering it as an option for our wealth management clients. The more I thought about it, the more we felt it didn’t fit with the face to face planning we’re trying to offer,” says Priday. “But it is true that it doesn’t really make sense for low-end clients to be advised any more. The adviser struggles to add value because if they charge what they need to charge then that eats into any value they can add with financial planning.”

Rather than see those clients go elsewhere to an existing D2C provider, Priday says the firm saw an opportunity and decided to take the IFDL technology but launch Strawberry as a totally separate brand to Prydis.

He acknowledges launching a D2C proposition as a standalone business will be tough. There are already numerous big-name players and Priday has a wealth management business to take care of.  

Strawberry Invest aims to be simpler than the dominant D2C platforms like Hargreaves Lansdown and Charles Stanley.

“With Strawberry we decided to brand something fresh and simple. There is going to be growth in the D2C market. So we want to grab a share of that market with a simple, non-intrusive option. We’re not flooding clients with marketing.”

Priday says he wanted to do more than use the platform as a place for clients to transact but insists the platform will be run independently from the adviser side of the group. “I’ve never seen it as something that would feed clients into the advice business. We will not be looking at people that have grown assets and then try to pull them through onto the advised side.” 

Priday is targeting 1,000 accounts on the Strawberry Invest platform by the end of this year and cut its charges earlier this month, just a few weeks after launching, when it reached its first target of 150 clients.

Priday adds: “I’ve spoken to people that have joined from up in Inverness and Sheffield (the firm is based in Exeter) so the reach has been great. At this stage we’re not focusing on assets. If we’ve got people opening accounts that helps us measure how people are identifying with the brand.”

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Only a few years out of university, Priday is the antithesis to the perception that generation Y is lazy. He says he’s working two to three hours longer every day since launching Strawberry and notes that not having a family to take care of makes it possible to put in the long hours to get Strawberry off the ground.

He has ambitious plans for the financial planning business as well as the D2C platform. When Priday graduated his initial ambition was to tread the well-worn path into the City in search of opportunities in corporate finance.

But with a brother in the accountancy profession and the opportunity to get involved at Prydis, at the time a modest accountancy and advice business run primarily by his father, Priday saw an opportunity to do something different. 

His brother Joe left his city job and joined the accountancy practice. Now chartered, the accountancy business has expanded alongside Prydis Wealth and the firm expects to take office space in London in the near future as it expands down the M4 corridor.

He says having seen the advice sector from the inside, he believes the education system could do more to highlight financial planning as a career.

“When I was at business school at Exeter University people wanted to go to the City. They wanted to work for banks or fund houses. Not one person wanted to be a financial adviser. There is a big lack of understanding among young people about what financial planners actually do.

“That comes back from the days when a financial adviser was really just a salesman. That has changed and in fact financial advisers are the profession that has the closest relationship with the client, they do the top down planning and in some cases lawyers and accountants are doing more transactional work.

“Within universities that needs to be told because people are surprised about the top-down impact advisers have.”

When he first left education and became an adviser, Priday says he was amazed by the “strange chunks” of commission coming in from providers and wanted to move clients to fees.

The firm now operates on a three-tier charging structure. Prydis Pinpoint is charged as a fixed cost for one-off advice on mortgages or insurance; while Prydis Prime, the full financial planning service is offered either on a percentage basis, at fixed cost or with elements of hourly charging. Prydis also offers a discretionary management service, which is charged on a percentage basis.

Priday adds that incorporating fee-based charging structures into the advice business was relatively straightforward with the firm’s background in accountancy, where charging has historically been done on a fixed cost or time basis.

In total, the firm employs 52 people across accountancy, financial advice and a small legal services division and it currently advises £120m of assets. Priday believes there needs to be a significant change in the culture of regulation.

He says: “We could learn from accountancy. Once you gain chartered status you enter a conceptual framework and there aren’t these tiny rules that if you don’t quite comply with you are in trouble.

“Advisers so often get bogged down in detail, making sure very specific things are right to keep the regulator happy. Because of that there ought to be a communication line of some sort so advisers can check what they are doing real-time. Otherwise, the preferable alternative would be to make everybody get up to a much higher standard, have a conceptual standard and make people operate within that.”

With years in the advice sector ahead of him, it is probably a good bet Priday will still be asking for the same change from the regulator at 66 as he is at 26.

James Priday CV

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Born: Torbay, Devon

Lives: Exeter

Education: Millfield School; degree in accounting & finance, Exeter University; master in accounting & finance (Exeter University)

Career: 2013-present; founder and director, Strawberry Invest, 2010-present; Prydis Wealth, from trainee through to director; Teaching accountancy to undergraduate students at Exeter University

Likes: Animals, travel, testing myself

Dislikes: Laziness

Drives: Helping people get to where they want to be

Book: Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Film: In Bruges

Album: Mothership by Led Zeppelin

Career ambition: Continue to grow Prydis (including Strawberry), perhaps taking the company through an IPO

Life ambition: Set up an animal rescue centre, go into space

If I wasn’t doing this I would be… a vet or personal trainer

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