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Pat Meehan

L ondon and Bristol-based IFA Holden Meehan has seen steady organic

growth over the past 17 years. After starting out with just Pat

Meehan and co-founder Peter Holden, the firm now boasts 25 RIs and a

book of high-net-worth clients.

Holden parted from the company four years ago and Meehan has clear

ideas about the firm&#39s future strategy, based on rapid growth. Until

recently, however, a lack of resources was a major stumbling block.

But with the announcement last week that Holden Meehan has been

bought by Bradford & Bingley, Meehan thinks he has the backing

needed to transform Holden Meehan into a national brand for quality

fee-based advice.

“This has always been our intention but we have been limited by

capital constraint. We want to be a much bigger IFA but you now need

much more capital for every extra RI you have and this makes extra

growth less feasible without a lot of capital behind you.”

Meehan says PI and compliance issues mean that 25 RIs is the number

where growth becomes expensive. The firm has stayed at this size for

a while now and Meehan seems anxious to get started with his

expansion plans. A solid partnership with a big independent player is

what he has been looking for in the last couple of years and he is

now raring to go.

“We have always wanted to grow more. Now that we have come into the

Bradford & Bingley fold, we have the capability to grow to the

heights we want to. More RIs, more offices, greater geographical

coverage.”

But he is aware that growth for growth&#39s sake is dangerous. Meehan is

determined to grow the company quickly but without damaging the

culture he has been careful to create.

“In the present environment, you need to grow rapidly and gain a

critical mass. But the challenge is to hang on to the values and

culture of a small company while benefiting from the economies of

scale of a big organisation.”

He believes home-grown talent is preferable to purchasing hired guns

and likens the proposition to building a good football team. “It is

perfectly fine for the Manchester Uniteds of the world to bring in

big-name players to fill specific holes in their game but, at the end

of the day, their success lies more in their ability to foster growth

in their young players than anything else.”

Meehan&#39s growth plans are ambitious. He wants to grow the company to

200 RIs in the next few years. He is one of many IFAs who believe

that if firms have not grown to a critical mass in three to four

years&#39 time, they will be pushed out of the market.

“If IFAs do not have the capital to grow quickly, they will soon run

up against problems and may find it necessary to scale down. However,

if you have the capital to grow, then modest growth is not a sensible

option.”

It is a perception Meehan has maintained for the past few years,

almost pre-empting the present environment.

“With regulation increasing and the markets looking down, it seemed

that the middle market was a precarious place to be. I felt that if

we did not quickly gain the means to grow, we would miss our

opportunity. Heavy regulation will put a lot of smaller firms out of

business if they are not careful.”

B ut Meehan is not opposed to regulation. He sees it as a necessary

part of the business. The trick, he says, is to stay ahead of the

game.

“Staying ahead of the FSA gives you a natural competitive advantage.

I have always made sure that Holden Meehan has been prepared for

upcoming regulation and that our staff are highly qualified.”

In the late 1990s, when Holden Meehan looked towards becoming a

fee-based organisation, Meehan was adamant that its RIs should

increase their qualifications. He believed that qualifications were

key to operating as a competitive fee-based firm in a regulated

industry.

Out of 25 RIs, Holden Meehan boasts 10 AFPCs, 10 G60s and two

certified financial planners. Additionally, one of the company&#39s

directors, Amanda Davidson, is a former board director of the PIA and

sits on the FSA&#39s regulatory decisions committee.

Meehan now intends to set up an internal academy at Holden Meehan to

provide specialist training for staff. It is a venture that will

finally make use of the teaching degree he obtained in the late 1970s.

“I graduated from Leicester Polytechnic with a degree in education,

specialising in geography and drama, but I never went into teaching.

I figured that I needed some time out of the classroom, so I took a

job as a graduate trainee at now defunct life office Phoenix in 1981,

intending to go back to teaching after a year or so. So far, I

haven&#39t gone back.”

Meehan started out as a life inspector at Phoenix, moving in 1984 to

UK Provident where he worked as a City inspector. It was only two

years later that he teamed up with Peter Holden to set up Holden

Meehan in London. In 1989, they opened their Bristol office and

Meehan found himself back in his home town.

He says he has never really missed teaching but is thankful that his

education degree gave him a solid understanding of the need for

training and qualifications.

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