When Atkinson Bolton Consulting was set up 11 years ago, managing director James Bolton says the plan was to allow a year for the business to start generating enough turnover for him and the two other founders to start taking an income.
Instead, the company exceeded its planned turnover by more than double in its first 12 months and has continued to grow at an impressive pace.
He says: “In the first year, we had a budget target of £220,000 and I think we turned over about £580,000.”
Bolton graduated with a degree in bio-chemistry from King’s College, London but having decided not to take his studies further, moved into financial services instead of pursuing a career as a scientist.
“I enjoyed science tremendously but I did not want to go on and do a doctorate, which is what I would have had to do to excel there.”
He joined the graduate scheme at Willis as a trainee employee benefits consultant and after three years with the firm, moved to join the Beckett Group. “It was a move to escape London and to try to gain responsibility more quickly, which I figured I was more likely to do in a small organisation.”
After eight years with Beckett, Bolton decided it was time to set up on his own. It had always been an ambition to set up his own firm but the death of his sister at the age of only 34 proved the catalyst. “She went through an awful illness for 12 months and died in early 2000. Anything like that tends to change your life and make you want to get on with it and make the most of it.”
Bolton was one of three founders of Atkinson Bolton, alongside Adrian Atkinson and David Thurlow, and he says the principles they put in place at the outset have stood them in good stead.
“I could see that a sales/commissiondriven organisation was going to have its time numbered. Stakeholder pensions were coming in and particularly on the corporate side, I could see we needed to change the model and have a fee model based on client service.”
From just the three co-directors, the firm now has a staff of 44. Adrian Atkinson is no longer with the firm but Simon Gibson was appointed as a director in 2004. Bolton became managing director in 2010 following an internal review of the business. “It is the different skills of the directors that create our strengths. David is technically brilliant, Simon is a fantastic networker and a great asset manager and my skills are on the corporate side of the business, with client relationships and the internal management of the business.”
The strategy put in place at inception is paying dividends. The firm is comfortably ahead of where it needs to be for the RDR and is rapidly gaining a reputation for the highest standards of advice. Last week, it was named IFA of the Year at the Money Marketing awards following awards for Best Investment Adviser and Best Small IFA in the two preceding years.
“It is fantastic to be recognised for the success the business has had. It is a great recognition of the work that has been put in over the last 10 or 11 years in order to make sure we are well set for the future.”
Atkinson Bolton has three strands to its business, an employee benefits practice, private client advice and investment management, and Bolton says the range of services it offers will enable it to remain independent after the RDR.
“We are definitely going to remain independent, there is no doubt about that. This is where our strengths with the corporate side, the investment side and the private client side really do come together. In order to remain independent, you have to cover so many bases and be able to advise in so many areas. For many firms, it will be difficult to do so.”
Although the RDR will cause some firms difficulty in meeting its requirements, Bolton sees the regime as a benefit. “There is a cliff edge that will be a threat to many firms but the fact that we can meet the requirements and have been able to do so for many years will be an advantage to us as it will be a shrinking market.”
The private client advice business has established itself firmly in the high-net-worth market and Bolton acknowledges that this is a area that many IFA firms have targeted with their RDR strategy.
Bolton says the firm is targeting growth of 20 per cent a year for the next four years, with most of this to come from organic growth. Although he expects to see an increase in the number of IFAs leaving the market and says the business is not averse to acquisition, he suggests many advisers have unrealistically high valuations for their businesses.
“The shake-up of the next 12 months will mean more people will be looking to exit. Our strategy is to keep an eye out for opportunities from consultants or businesses that want to exit but also to continue what we have done over the past 11 years, which is grow through our own contacts.”
He expects auto-enrolment to be beneficial not just for Atkinson Bolton but also for many other IFAs. “The opportunity will exist for at least another two or three years to take advantage of that market as auto-enrolment filters through to some of the smaller companies.”
The firm has around £220m in assets under management in its discretionary investment offering and is also aiming to grow this at around 20 per cent a year. However, Bolton says while the firm is proud of its investment offering, it is reviewing its investment process to ensure it still fits with the directions coming from the FSA.
“We run our own Oeic and we do not believe the FSA would currently have any concern about the way it is used.”
Bolton is upbeat about the future and says the biggest challenge for the firm is being able to take advantage of all the opportunities available. “We have a lot of very exciting projects and some exciting marketing going on. It is about being in a position to maximise those opportunities and the concern is not being too cautious with our growth assumptions.”
Born: Ipswich, 1967
Lives: Needham Market, with my wife and three sons
Education: Ipswich School, BSc bio-chemistry at Kings College London
Career: 2001-present, founder then managing director, Atkinson Bolton Consulting; 1992-2000: consultant to client services director, Beckett Group; 1989-92; graduate trainee to employee benefit consultant, Willis
Likes: Family time, skiing, antiques, art, fossils, renovating old buildings and good red wine
Dislikes: Negativity, arrogance
Drives: Jaguar XK
Book: Currently reading Why Does E=mc2 by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw but my favourite book would have to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Film: Bond or Bourne
Album: London Calling by The Clash
Career ambition: To continue to grow and develop the business and the people within it and be the best at everything we do.
Life ambition: To always be happy and keep everything in perspective and possibly to buy a camper van and tour Europe.
If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…An archaeologist