Oakmere Wealth Management founder discusses being a partner practice of St James’s Place
It is fair to say that few advisers sit on the fence when it comes to St James’s Place. The restricted national firm has attracted criticism in recent years, particularly in relation to its vertically integrated business model.
However, even the critics who view it as a distributor rather than an advice firm acknowledge its success in bringing some much-needed new talent into the industry, especially women and the second-careerists who come through its training academy.
Someone who has chosen to set up her business with SJP is Oakmere Wealth Management managing director Carla Brown.
She launched her own firm in 2011, having researched all her options and deciding that, as it was her first business, she needed some help.
“I did due diligence, exploring how to establish a firm and who to do it with. I looked at becoming directly authorised and at a number of networks,” she says.
“Some of the networks went bust because of the financial crisis, so I wanted to partner with a big firm that would give me the support I needed.”
As part of her due diligence, Brown also spoke to some long-standing SJP advisers and found they were still happy with the firm, just as she is eight years down the line.
She acknowledges the criticism SJP receives from some quarters, but believes a lot of it is caused by people not really understanding the business model and assuming all SJP partner firms are run the same way.
“A lot of people don’t understand the role of SJP in our businesses. We are all independent businesses working under the SJP umbrella. My practice could be completely different to the practice in the next village,” she says.
“It is not a franchise model and we have a great deal of autonomy as to how we run our firms.
“There is a charging structure which is set by SJP, as there is with any product provider, but we have some discretion within this to adjust advice charges based on the individual needs and circumstances of the client.”
Brown says SJP provides its partner firms with bespoke and tailored support. “It provides the necessary infrastructure to allow us to spend more time with our clients and to focus on the future of the business, rather than spending time on reports to the FCA – which you have to do if you are directly authorised,” she says.
Training courses, continuing professional development and promoting the benefits of being chartered also feature highly as ways SJP supports its advisers.
“There is always something you can go on and learn,” says Brown. “I put my adviser through the SJP Academy last year and it has asked me to speak to women thinking of joining, to promote advice as a career.”
Many advisers feel they need a bit of hand-holding when they start their first business, but once established with some experience under their belt, some prefer to go directly authorised. For Brown, it makes sense to remain with SJP, as if it is not broken, why fix it?
“Every business changes over time and the focus might change in the future. But it works for my business and my clients are happy,” she says.
Service has always been an important consideration for Brown. Prior to setting up Oakmere, she spent four years as an IFA with HSBC’s private client team, dealing with high-net-worth clients.
She left because she felt the bank was targeting new business and not paying enough attention to its existing clients.
Brown makes it clear to her clients that, as a restricted adviser, she can only advise on the products and services that SJP makes available to its partner firms, but she does not feel this hampers her ability to do a good job.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Not to wait for people to come to me but to go out and find them.
What keeps you awake at night?
I sleep very soundly but I do worry about my 16-year old son’s GCSEs.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Mifid II – it has changed our process and we now issue quarterly valuations and cost documents.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Get a better handle on the professional indemnity market. I know IFAs are coming out of the defined benefit transfer market but that’s an area where we need specialist advisers.
Any advice for new advisers?
To spend as much time as possible with advisers and ask what works for them.
“I’m interested in lifestyle financial planning and adding value through my relationship with clients. I have more freedom now as a restricted adviser than I had as an IFA at HSBC,” she says.
“Through SJP, I can access unique funds and fund managers available to institutional and overseas investors. I am confident in SJP’s due diligence on external providers.”
However, Brown thinks there is not enough knowledge about the difference between independent and restricted advice among the general public, and would like to see more clarity and information on this. It reflects her wider concerns about a lack of financial education among the public in general, but particularly in schools.
“My son is a teenager and has had no financial education in school,” she says.
“When I was with HSBC, I went into primary schools to help them as I was shocked it wasn’t happening.
“The schools didn’t have the knowledge or the resources, but we need to teach children the basics, like opening a bank account, how interest works, what mortgages are and how investments work.”
At the more sophisticated end of the investment spectrum, Brown was recently named Best Financial Planner at the Enterprise Investment Scheme Association’s annual awards. Does she feel more advisers should look at EISs for their clients?
“In the right circumstances, they should be considered but they are not mainstream investments. They are seen as effective tax planning but they are higher-risk,” she says.
Brown is happy with the way the advice industry is shaping up as a profession.
“In the 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for me to be the only female in the room at a conference or team meeting. If I went to industry events with my husband, people would speak to him, assuming he was the adviser,” she recalls.
“It’s great to see how it has changed, with more women in the industry, but there is still a long way to go.”
Brown concludes: “It’s not seen as a sexy job – people see it as dull – but it can be fascinating.”
2011-present: Managing director, Oakmere Wealth Management
2007-2011: IFA in private client team, HSBC
2003-2007: Financial consultant, Cheshire Building Society
1997-2003: Trainee adviser, Black Horse Agencies then wealth adviser after acquisition by Bradford & Bingley
1995-1997: Pension reviewer then underwriting department, Hambro Assured