George Critchley has an interesting vantage point in the financial services sector – one that spans full financial advice, online advice and discretionary fund management.
The chairman and founder of Lancashire-based IFA firm True Bearing Chartered is also managing director of Bread and Butter Advice – an online advice firm Critchley founded in 2013 – and senior partner of discretionary fund manager Pennine Wealth Solutions, which he established in 2011.
Given his involvement in online advice, Critchley is surprisingly wary of relying on technology to cater for the mass market.
“Technology is the way to fill the advice gap but it worries me to death,” he says.
“I believe in authorised financial advice. I’m not wedded to it being face-to-face but you should speak to a qualified person with knowledge. Automated online types of service worry me – it’s not financial advice. There’s such an opportunity for people to buy the wrong thing without protection from the regulator,” he says.
Before the RDR was implemented, Critchley predicted the new requirements would make full financial advice more expensive.
He says: “For IFAs, only clients in the top 10 to 20 per cent are economic on a face-to-face basis. What about all the rest?”
Critchley’s solution was Bread and Butter Advice, a firm providing online and telephone advice from qualified advisers, mirroring True Bearing in many respects.
“The only difference is they don’t deal with clients face to face,” he says. “Bread and Butter is still distributing advice but in a different way at a lower cost. It costs roughly two-thirds of what an IFA charges.
“But the problem is people don’t know you can get real financial advice online.”
The cost of advice on an invest-ment of £40,000 would be around £800 with Bread and Butter Advice and £1,200 with True Bearing.
Critchley says Bread and Butter’s clients appreciate the flexibility of the service. “We have a client who is the managing director of a firm in London. He works from 7am to 7pm every day. He said to us: ‘It’s 8pm, I’m sitting here in shorts having just eaten my tea and I’m talking to you about my finances. In 45 minutes I’ve sorted out what I need to do.’”
Even before entering financial services in the early 1990s, Critchley was no stranger to building businesses. In the 1980s he set up two firms in the health and fitness industry, eventually selling the first to his business partner.
“I realised I was doing 90 per cent of the work for 50 per cent of the profits and my partner didn’t want to be bought out,” he says.
The second firm, a health food business, did not provide enough income to support Critchley’s young family so in 1991 he attended an Allied Dunbar recruitment seminar and joined the firm, staying until his move to Lincoln Financial Group in 1997.
Three years later, Lincoln sold its UK subsidiary and made Critchley redundant, at which point he set up IFA business Inter Alliance Preston.
“Inter Alliance was a Plc with offices across the country and they were all businesses in their own right,” he says.
When most of the Inter Alliance franchises were found to have bank overdrafts, creating substantial composite debt, the Plc decided to restructure and asked Critchley to sell it Inter Alliance Preston, one of the few profitable franchises.
“That gave me a dilemma but I decided to sell to the Plc,” says Critchley. “As part of the deal I was offered the job of regional director but I [soon] realised I preferred managing my own small business.”
So Critchley set up True Bearing.
With pension flexibility in the news following the Budget, True Bearing has arranged fewer annuities than normal since the Chancellor’s announcement, says Critchley.
Nevertheless, the firm has found most people opt for an annuity once they understand the tax implications of choosing any of the alternatives.
In 2012, Critchley retired from giving advice and moved his focus to business development. In creating Pennine Wealth Solutions back in 2011 – a range of DFM model portfolios for advisers – he sought to design a DFM that gave clients value for money and clear communication on the performance of their investments.
True Bearing does not place its clients automatically with Pennine. “About a third of money goes into Pennine and two-thirds goes elsewhere,” says Critchley. “We use SEI as well and for bespoke services we use Quilter Cheviot.
“We don’t shoehorn clients, we work carefully. We have different solutions and check clients have the right one.”
Never a fan of advisers selecting funds for their clients, Critchley says it has become difficult from a regulatory perspective for advisers to manage clients’ investment portfolios themselves.
“If we don’t have all our ducks in a row as to what we did and how we did it, we will be in trouble,” he says.
A long-time irritant to Critchley over outsourcing to DFMs is the distance that typically exists between clients and fund managers.
“So we created a service that took away everything in the middle and put the client and fund manager face-to-face,” he says.
“Every 13 weeks there are client seminars. The fund managers present to clients face-to-face, whether that’s a little old lady with £5,000 in an Isa or
a businessman with half a million.”
In its early days, Pennine’s fund managers found the sight of more than 100 investors daunting.
“It makes them think long and hard about what they’re doing and works fantastically,” says Critchley.
“If there is poor communication or none, investors keep flitting and never make money.
“The factor that determines whether the client gets what they hope for is the timescale. If they invest for long enough, they generally get there.”
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
For things to change, you have to change and for things to get better, you have to get better.
What keeps you awake at night?
Thinking about new things we can do at True Bearing.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the past year?
The changes to annuities as a result of the Budget announcement.
If I was put in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Just talk so that we could understand each other. I’d explain what goes on behind the scenes in an IFA firm.
Any advice for new advisers?
Go for it – it’s a great career.
2013-present: Managing director and founder, Bread and Butter Advice
2011-present: Senior partner and founder, Pennine Wealth Solutions
2003-present: Chairman and founder, True Bearing Chartered
2002-2003: Regional director, Inter Alliance
2000-2002: Practice director, Inter Alliance Preston
1997-2000: Senior branch manager, Lincoln Financial Group
1991-1997: Financial adviser, Allied Dunbar