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Profile: Telford Mann boss on how an MBO raised the firm’s profile

When grown-up children fly the nest to stand on their own two feet, their parents can take pride in a job well done. And although the apron strings have been cut the bond remains. It is similar for advice firm Telford Mann and its joint managing director Jon Telford, and the relationship with its former parent, accountancy firm Moore Stephens.

Having started out in 2004 as Moore Stephens Financial Services – a small part of the accountancy firm – it has grown funds under management to around £460m and embraced its independence after a management buyout last year.

Next year, Telford Mann will move to a three-storey 9,000 sq ft office it is building on a 1.2-acre plot of land a mile-and-a-half away from its current base in Corby, Northamptonshire.

“The plot is too big for one building, so we’re building an annexe. The focus of that is a health and wellbeing centre for staff and the local community. We see ourselves as part of the community. These days our clients are based all over but most are in Corby, Kettering and the surrounding areas,” says Telford.

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It is a far cry from the early days when Telford and fellow joint managing director Jilly Mann ran it from the attic of the accountancy firm’s Northampton office. Telford says the advice firm’s relationship with the accountancy practice has always been good, with plenty of support – three of Telford Mann’s directors are partners or former partners at Moore Stephens.

However, the management buyout and subsequent rebrand means it has been able to launch its own initiatives, such as a share save scheme for staff, which would not have been possible under the Moore Stephens brand.

Telford has previously spoken to Money Marketing about his experience of rebranding the firm and how, given the choice, he would rather have kept the Moore Stephens name. The accountancy firm still has a stake in the advice firm, but once it no longer had a controlling interest in it, Telford and Mann had no legal right to continue using the name.

Hopefully we’ll see referrals from other accountancy firms who won’t be scared off by the Moore Stephens name

But Telford is someone who manages to see the positives rather than dwell on the negatives.

“It has enabled us to create more of a profile and hopefully we’ll see referrals from other accountancy practices who won’t be scared off by the Moore Stephens name,” he says.

Given the demand for advice is outstripping supply, particularly as pension freedoms have left many confused at retirement, Telford believes the industry needs to do more to attract new recruits.

Recruitment has been a challenge for the firm and Telford feels it has been exacerbated by being based in rural Northamptonshire.

“It’s easier to recruit if you’re in London as there will be lots of people commuting in,” he says.

“These days, we’re less inclined to take on experienced advisers. We prefer to take on people who are perhaps new to the industry that we can mould and train up to work within the business.

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“In a lot of advice firms it’s the advisers who get all the attention, but that’s not the case with us. We take people on at the first level as administrators or paraplanners and invest time and money to get them to the standards we want. As they pass their qualifications their salary goes up. The more knowledge they have the more valuable they are to us, so they deserve a bigger salary.”

Telford started his own financial services career with Associates Capital Corporation, an American finance company, in the mid-1980s.

Prior to joining TSB as a financial adviser in 1988 he turned down a commission-only role with Allied Dunbar, because he didn’t want to rely on selling life and pension policies to his friends and family.

By 2002 he had joined Standard Life as a corporate pension consultant which invested a lot of time and money in training. However, promotion opportunities were limited, so he applied for the role at Moore Stephens after seeing an ad in the local newspaper.

“When I joined there was only one employee: my secretary,” says Telford. “It was a very small practice and had a few existing clients, but it was the potential that attracted me.

“The link between the accountancy practice and the IFA business was important. If you look at different sorts of clients some have strong ideas and are happy to do everything themselves. They will look for the lowest possible cost. But clients of an accountancy practice pay someone to do their tax returns. They already see the value in paying for professional advice.”

For Telford, technology has been the biggest game changer in financial services over the past 20 years.

“It has empowered advisers” he says. “Previously, the big life and pensions companies and the banks controlled the financial services industry. The way they controlled it and gained market share was through commission. They thought that huge commission equalled higher business.

“That was the wrong way to operate, because it encouraged advisers to win business and not look after their clients. With technology and the growth of platforms, those big companies were no longer able to completely control the distribution of financial services.”

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That said, the downward pressure on costs over the years is something Telford believes is in danger of going too far in relation to pensions.

He is concerned that paring costs down to the lowest possible figure may result in something that is cheap but not such a good deal in terms of value for money.

“The problem is the industry is obsessed with charges and for charges to be as low as possible. That is not necessarily the right solution for all clients,” he says.

“I’m not suggesting we go back to the charges of the mid-1980s, where there were 5 per cent bid/offer spreads, policy fees and initial units. But if charges are too low, it doesn’t provide much room for ongoing service after other costs are taken into account.”

Five questions

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

Be bold and overcome your inhibitions. Most of us are shy and self-doubting, which stops us achieving what we’re capable of.

What keeps you awake at night?

Nothing much; I’m usually out like a light.

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

Mifid II.

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

Get out more and engage with advisers. Lots of firms are doing good things the FCA doesn’t know about.

Any advice for new advisers?

Always try to see things from the client’s perspective. The best advisers understand what goes on in a client’s head, so they can give better advice and explain things in a way that clients understand.

CV

2004-present: Joint managing director, Telford Mann Pensions & Investments

2002-2004: Corporate pensions consultant, Standard Life

1996-2002: Branch manager, Zurich International Life

1992-1996: Branch manager, Frizzell Life & Financial Planning

1988-1992: Financial adviser, TSB

1984-1988: Branch manager, Associates Capital Corporation

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