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Starting life as a husband and wife partnership run from home, IFA network Berkeley Wodehouse has in 10 years grown to become BWA Holdings plc with a turnover of £10m a year and a target of an Aim listing by the end of next year.

Set up in 1992 by Val and Michael Gaze, the network now has 220 members and 184 firms and is aiming to diversify the business into new areas.

Following its incorporation in March 2001 under the name BWA Holdings, the business was divided into two. Berkeley Wodehouse continued as the IFA network and in July a new division – Berkeley Wodehouse Associates Link – was set up, offering bespoke consultancy services such as compliance, auditing and training and competence services to IFAs.

Founder Michael Gaze has no direct family connection to the name Berkeley Wodehouse but he named the firm as a tribute to Armyn Frances Berkeley Wodehouse, a cousin of the author PG Wodehouse, who helped bring him up after his father was killed in World War Two.

The Gazes realised the business was growing beyond its original management structure and incorporation was the best way to realise its full potential. They appointed former Burns Anderson chief executive Philip Whitehead as chairman and former Burns Anderson commercial director Malcolm Streatfield as chief executive.

Streatfield has recruited further Burns Anderson staff, with Andy Fouracres in the compliance team and finance director Paivi Grigg both previously with Burns Anderson. But Streatfield is clear that all approaches were above board. Streatfield says: “These people from Burns Anderson were in the marketplace for new jobs.

“Becoming a limited company meant there was a tremendous amount of freedom to grow. It brought more people into the decision-making process, with a board deciding things rather than a husband and wife team.”

Berkeley Wodehouse plans to develop a third corporate entity with the creation of an IFA arm next year. The idea is to build an IFA by buying the businesses of retiring members.

Streatfield believes this strategy taps into a natural advantage that Berkeley Wodehouse would have by virtue of the knowledge they already have of the profitability and effectiveness of retiring IFAs&#39 firms – they know what they are buying.

The ambitious project would require a considerable injection of cash, which Berkeley Wodehouse is planning to raise by a float on Aim.

Streatfield says: “The ultimate plan is to get ourselves positioned on Aim within the next 18 months with a fair wind. We can then raise capital to expand the business.”

Another of the company&#39s cash-raising strategies is also designed to increase member loyalty and participation. Berkeley Wodehouse is planning a share issue aimed at members. The issue will make 5 per cent of the company&#39s share capital available to members that want to take up the offer.

Streatfield says: “We are making shares available to members so members that want to can take an equity stake in the company. It shows our independence and will increase the bond of loyalty between members and network. If members feel they partown Berkeley Wodehouse then it will inevitably increase the bond.”

He is bullish about the challenge thrown at networks and IFAs by possible changes to polarisation, believing they have seen worse in the past. Whether polarisation stays or goes, Streatfield believes Berkeley Wodehouse will be in a position to capitalise on the rush for distribution that could ensue.

“One does not know which way the review of polarisation will come out but whatever happens there will be opportunities for distribution channels such as networks. We are hugely committed to independence. I believe there will always be a need for quality one-to-one advice. Those who do the job properly have nothing to fear. I cannot see any new challenges that can match what we have faced over the last decade, with pension reviews and three regulators in six years,” he says.

But in view of the number of changes facing the financial services distribution channels and the pace of consolidation across the industry, Streatfield accepts that Berkeley Wodehouse could be a takeover target at some stage. He says: “Most of the bigger networks have been bought. It makes sense that they will go down the pecking order in terms of size. But we are not courting offers for takeover – we have positive plans for the business and are concentrating on how to improve and grow.”

Streatfield believes there are advantages to being smaller, with all the changes facing the industry.”We are a nippy little powerboat whereas I see Misys as a super-tanker that cannot change direction.”

Berkeley Wodehouse&#39s new website, in which a “significant” but undisclosed sum has been invested, goes live in November. Like other network websites, it plans to offer members tailored websites of their own for £30 a month and will be rolling out more interactive online services in 2002.

Streatfield claims there is no typical Berkeley Wodehouse member. “We have a broad church of membership. Our members range from a building society across the spectrum to sole traders.”

But he believes that what members like about the network is its personal touch. “I like to think that any member can pick up the phone to talk to Malcolm Streatfield. My mobile number is available to all members.”


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