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Profile: Acumen MD on growing your own advisers

Acumen Financial Partnership managing director Angela Maher discusses succession plans and family values

Family crops up a lot when Acumen Financial Partnership managing director Angela Maher talks about business. It is clearly important.

Having come from generations of people who ran their own businesses in industries such as farming, you could say it is is in her blood. And with son Daniel joining Acumen as a trainee adviser, the firm has a legitimate claim to being built on family values.

“I haven’t done anything to persuade Daniel to join us. He recognises it is an established business with a good reputation and that this is a good career. We have the second generation coming through and that’s good for the continuation of the business,” says Maher.

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“My co-director John Landy put his finger on it recently. He said we know exactly where Daniel is from; we know he’s got the same core values rooted in him and what he is going to be looking for at the company is where we want to go.”

Landy joined the firm in 2008 and became co-director in 2012. He now owns 35 per cent of the business.

“We have a great relationship. Our core values are the same: we have the same family values, loyalty, integrity, honesty and support. That relationship has gone from strength of strength, and with Daniel joining us, it allows us to demonstrate we have a plan for the future.”

Maher’s son’s appointment means there will be three people under 25 working at Acumen.

“Daniel will be our fifth trainee adviser in 13 years. For a company of our size, that is a remarkable achievement. You’ve got to keep the young blood coming in,” she says.

Five questions

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?

Listen to your instincts. If something or someone doesn’t ring true, there is probably a reason for it.

What keeps you awake at night?

Dishonesty, wrongdoing and injustice. It’s wicked to take advantage of the vulnerable.

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?

The perception of the industry after the British Steel scandal. It has cast all of us in a bad light and people who need our help are not getting it.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…?

Bring them all into Acumen for a four-hour discussion showing them what we’re doing and what we’re looking to achieve.

Any advice for new advisers?

Work out your core values and stick to them.

For many firms, it’s not only growing their own staff that is difficult. Retaining young talent can often be a bigger challenge.

Maher may have found a solution with her take on flexible working. Job sharing or part-time opportunities for working mums is commonplace in many sectors but Maher prefers to give the same level of flexibility to all employees.

“Flexibility in the workplace is hugely important but when you apply it just to women it pushes all the responsibility for childcare and caring for families onto them. We have a young, male adviser who has a new baby and we have done everything we can to make sure he has all the flexibility he needs.”

Editor’s note: Advisers will profit from greater gender balance

“Holiday entitlement is too important to sacrifice for things like going to your child’s school assembly. We think everyone should be treated like adults, so everybody keeps their own spreadsheets and takes note of the hours they have worked – we don’t double check them,” she says.

And Maher is confident this way of working has paid dividends.

“It helps so much with team spirit. Everyone knows we all need that flexibility and everyone works together. All this business about strict 9am starts and stressed employees who have left a child sobbing at the school gates is ludicrous.

“The quid pro quo is that, when I need something done urgently, staff volunteer to work at home and I’ve had the responses I have needed at 10pm at night. I’ve never needed to ask anyone; they always volunteer.”

Like many advisers, Maher followed the broker consultancy route into advice. After becoming an IFA  in 1990, eventually running a small team with her own bank of clients, she first thought about launching her own firm two years before she set up Acumen in 2006.

 CV

2006-present: Managing director, Acumen Financial Partnership

1993-2006: IFA, David Roberts and Partners

1990-1993: Partner, K B Financial Services (Southport)

1986-1990:  Financial services manager, Hodge Halsall Russell and Sutton Solicitors

1983-1986: Senior consultant, Royal Life

1981-1982: Life inspector (broker consultant), Equity & Law Life Assurance

“I wanted to build a company that focused on clients and good value. I have always believed there is a fair price for everything – if you charge too much, clients are dissatisfied and if you charge too little, you don’t get the job done properly. I wanted the company to be transparent and didn’t want advisers to compete with each other, fighting for clients. It needed to be advice-led as opposed to sales-led.”

Profile: Equanimity MD: ‘The FCA has done nothing to instil public confidence in advisers

The RDR summed up everything Maher was working towards at Acumen. However, she is concerned at the number of organisations still behaving in a pre-RDR way.

“There are too many still hiding charges from clients and not making it clear what people are paying for,” she says.

“The British Steel scandal has painted the industry as untrustworthy. It’s worrying when you get jackals trying to lead people in the wrong direction just because it’s financially lucrative.

“People who need advice are frightened of it. They are frightened of making a mistake and they tar everyone with the same brush. The damage is immense because we’ll now never see so many of these people.”

On a brighter note, Maher has ambitious plans ahead for Acumen.

“We’re in process of taking on another adviser and merging another firm with ours. We’re always interested in talking to people with the same values. We’re never going to sell to a consolidator. Sometimes people have sold out for what they’ve thought was a good deal and the consolidator has dismantled everything they’ve built up over their careers in front of them. No amount of money would be enough for us to let that happen.”

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