From the ashes of Equitable Life, Almary Green’s founder and managing director Carl Lamb’s career in financial services has been on an upward trajectory. The former airman set up Almary Green only weeks after Equitable closed for new business in December 2000.
He started the new business in April 2001, with only one employee. It now has 33 staff and £300m under advice, “give or take Greece and the eurozone”.
Lamb started his working life in the Royal Air Force and he spent eight years as a fighter controller in the UK and overseas “preparing to fight the Russians” at the height of the Cold War. He was also involved in the Falklands War and says while it may sound a world away from his current occupation, it offered some valuable lessons.
“The one thing you could say about a military career is it teaches you an awful lot about dealing with people from all backgrounds, which I suppose is a natural fit for financial services.
“I have this feeling that most us from the military end up in financial services as shipwrecks and you either enjoy it and take to it as a duck to water or you get out.”
Despite the way his career at Equitable was brought to a premature end, he says it was a fantastic grounding in the business. “To be fair to Equitable, leaving aside what we all now know, it was a very good training ground. Their training was superb.”
Lamb has turned the setback at Equitable into a successful advisory business and he puts the main driver down to attracting the right people. What we have been very good at is attracting good people, they are all highly qualified and once people are here, they stay.”
As the firm has grown, it has also started looking for commercial opportunities in addition to organic growth. “Part of our growth over the last few years has been through acquisition.” He attributes about 20 per cent of the firm’s growth to acquisitions.
Lamb says Almary Green is fully RDR-ready and says getting an RDR-compliant proposition in place early was very important for the business.
“We are already RDR-compliant. We launched our RDR proposition on February 1 this year, so we have changed all our documentation, all new marketing brochures, etc, and the reason we brought it forward by 11 months was we wanted to have 11 months to get it right. If we did have to make any adjustments, it is better to do it now under our control”
The new proposition involves splitting clients into one of three categories – transactional for one-off advice and classic or premium services for ongoing advice. It is being introduced at individual client reviews along with a minimum charge for advice and he says so far clients have been very happy with the changes.
“We have not had a problem at all. We have also introduced for new clients a minimum fee of £500. For example, if you are dealing with a small annuity and the commission is, say, £300, you say, ’well, actually, to pay for this and cover our time, we will charge you £200. It is all about being up front and honest with people really.”
Lamb says while the RDR will bring a lot of positive changes, it will result in a number of people being excluded from advice.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am a very strong advocate of the RDR but I think one of the series of unintended consequences is a lot of people feel or think they can’t afford professional independent advice. Years ago, the likes of the Man from the Pru or Pearl did a very good job as ultimately people still need some protection.”
The next step for the firm is to achieve chartered status and Lamb is due to sit the exams for the advanced diploma in financial planning shortly, which will enable the firm to achieve chartered status.
Further acquisitions are also being considered but Lamb says it is very much a buyer’s market and Almary Green is walking away from most of the opportunities it is being presented with.
“We are constantly looking for new opportunities. In the last 12 months, we have talked to 12 firms about either buying them or merging with us and we have walked away from 10 of them – eight on price, they have an unrealistic expectation on price – and two on potential liabilities.”
As for the question of independent versus restricted, Lamb is very definite that Almary Green will remain independent. “We know we are staying independent, definitely, without a doubt. Four of us are members of Resolution, so we do quite a lot of work with lawyers on collaborative law and other work with professional connections. We also have members of Step and Solla, so being independent is very important.”
To help the firm stay independent, it set up an investment committee 18 months ago and Lamb says this allows it to regularly review the entire market while still adopting a coherent investment strategy that keeps risk down for clients.
“We will not do structured products, we will not do unregulated. From the investment committee perspective, we have decided that unless the adviser has a very, very good case, then they cannot do it.”
Lamb says the firm is also starting to take on the obligation of telling consumers of the changes that the RDR is bringing with it. “Using the local media, we have started to dripfeed information about the RDR, We have put an ad together which says from a client’s perspective, this is what you need to be asking your current adviser. Are they qualified? What are their plans for 2013?
“It probably will not win us many friends locally but these questions have got to be raised.”
He says it is frustrating for individual firms to have to undertake this education themselves but with little sign that the FSA is making any effort to take on the job, he is left with little choice.
“You would think that now, with six months to go, the regulator would turn its guns on educating the public. If we do not let the public know, what are we doing this for?”
Born: Yorkshire, 1962
Education: Waltham Tollbar School, Grimsby, Dip PFS
Career: 2001-present: founder and managing director, Almary Green; 1988-2000: corporate pensions adviser, Equitable Life; 1980-88: fighter controller, Royal Air Force
Likes: Travelling, sailing and skiing
Dislikes: I don’t suffer fools gladly
Drives: Audi A6
Book: Just finished Vulcan 607 by Roland White
Film: Battle of Britain
Album: The Very Best of The Jam
Career ambition: To make Almary Green an organisation that stands for quality both in terms of service and advice
Life ambition: I’ve been very fortunate so my life’s ambition is to continue in the current vein
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…On a racing yacht