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Profile: The man behind Bellpenny’s independent advice arm

John Male on why remaining independent was key to agreeing to Bellpenny acquisition deal

BIA Financial Planning joint managing director John Male

It has been an eventful six months for John Male. He started the year as managing director of EFG IFA and within a couple of weeks was in the same role at a new firm. But the now joint managing director of BIA Financial Planning had not jumped ship; he and fellow managing director Peter London did not even need to move desks.

The change was the result of an acquisition, with former parent company EFG Private Bank selling the firm to consolidator Bellpenny. The deal saw Bellpenny’s total funds under management boosted to more than £3.5bn thanks to EFG IFA’s £650m and 800 active clients.

Unlike other Bellpenny acquisitions, which have all gone down the restricted route, BIA’s independence was never in doubt. In fact, it kickstarts Bellpenny’s independent advice arm.

Male says: “It was important for our advisers to remain independent and they wanted this very much as part of any acquisition. We found a great partner in Bellpenny, who were prepared to listen to us and respond accordingly even though they were using restricted panel offerings.

“The process of being sold and talking to acquirers brought into focus the fact there are a lot of labels around that clients might not understand. You’ve got independent, restricted, restricted whole of market. There’s a lack of clarity about what they all mean and I think that’s an area where there’s room for improvement.”

Bellpenny chief: FCA review not behind independence mov

Speaking to Male about what comes next, there is a sense that being part of a smaller parent company more focused on the UK advice market can really help it grow, but only after a period of careful deliberation about what is going to benefit BIA and its clients.

“The aim is to work out how we can take advantage of scale with Bellpenny, review our service to clients and see what we can do to improve our technology. A lot of this is attractive.

“But we need to carefully study some of the things Bellpenny does that can enable us to make improvements.”

Male has experienced similar changes before over his career, so is well aware of the challenges and opportunities that emerge from an acquisition. He can list several different companies as employers on his CV but much of this apparent activity is due to the firms he has worked for being bought and sold.

EFG IFA was formed in 2011 when the two firms owned by EFG Private Bank – EFG Platts Flello and EFG Ashby London – were merged. However, Male’s connection with the firm can be traced back to 2002, having worked at Platts Flello before it was acquired by EFG in 2003.

He had also worked at Deloitte & Touche Wealth Management, which sold part of the private client business of its Birmingham and Nottingham offices to Platts Flello in 2002.

The ability to run a steady ship amid ownership changes that could potentially cause disruption owes a lot to the consistency of the team.

“We have nine advisers at the moment and all have been here since 2007. I’ve worked with Peter [London] for 10 years. We’ve had a settled management team and that helps the business as we understand who does what and how we can benefit from their particular expertise.”

Like many others in the industry, Male did not have a burning desire to get a job in financial services while he was growing up but he did know he wanted a career that involved helping people.

He believes studying history at degree level equipped him with the skills a financial adviser needs to do their job.

“When you study history you do a lot of reading; you’ve got to analyse information and be certain of its source, debate the issues, evaluate them and put it into context for people to understand. It’s similar to what a financial adviser does. We have to research, question, analyse, debate, reach a conclusion and consult with the client to make a decision.”

In his final year at university, Male applied to various insurance companies and accepted a role with Friends Provident as a trainee broker consultant.

“It was an exciting time to be in financial services. There were lots of developments in the market. Friends Provident was way ahead in terms of technology, which was starting to come in towards the end of my time there.”

Male is adamant the industry must embrace the changes happening today as a result of new technology. He points to the fact it has facilitated a whole new generation of consumers who buy products and services in a different way.

“Look at the example of buying a car. You’d traditionally go to a car showroom and deal with the dealers. But now the manufacturers don’t need the dealers, they deal directly with the end consumer. That is going on in our industry as well. More people are purchasing direct in a commoditised environ-ment thanks to a greater use of technology.

“But we’ve always faced challenges in the industry; we just need to adjust. I don’t see a time where people won’t want face-to-face advice but there is a generation coming through who won’t be reliant on it.”

Male says the industry must respond to the need for advice among those who have been “disenfranchised” by the RDR and do more to communicate awareness of longevity risk to pension savers.

“Now people can take whatever they want from their pension from age 55, it’s our responsibility to highlight the need to have enough money to support themselves for the rest of their lives.

“People underestimate how long they are likely to live; it’s a real concern. The probability of living into your 90s is higher than clients expect, and it’s the role of the adviser to make sure they understand that.”

Five questions 

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

Focus on clients and do the right thing by them.

What keeps you awake at night? 

Making sure we adapt to change. We need to make sure we identify emerging trends and evolve.

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

The widespread increase in transfer values of final salary pension schemes.

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

Work on finding a way for financial advice to reach more people.

Any advice for new advisers? 

The same advice that I was given: do the right thing by your clients.

CV  

2017- present: Joint managing director, BIA Financial Planning

2011-2017: Managing director, EFG IFA

2002-2010: Director then chief operating officer, EFG Platts Flello (formerly Platts Flello)

2002: Financial adviser, Deloitte & Touche Wealth Management

2000-2001: Paraplanner/trainee adviser, then financial adviser, LEBYG

1993-2000: Trainee consultant, then broker consultant, Friends Provident

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