B ellowing down the telephone from Jamaica, Richard Craven manages
the difficult trick of being loud and deeply opinionated without
In the Caribbean to secure funding for Money Portal, the acquisitive
distribution company of which he is managing director, Craven is
waxing lyrical about his love of music and his passion for fishing –
the other reason he is in Jamaica.
Hoping to catch a marlin or wahoo of “roughly equivalent weight to my
secretary”, Craven is also trying to snare a big fish with pockets
deep enough to finance his grand plan for Money Portal. “We want to
be the UK's leading execution-only discount broker within 18 months.
It depends on the market and funding but we should have bought seven
very well known names by the end of March.”
He has already bagged two – HCF Partnership, where he was a partner
for eight years, and Willis Owen. They were officially acquired two
weeks ago for undisclosed sums and immediately gave Money Portal
funds under management of £750m. Craven hopes to increase this
to £2bn by the end of the year.
Although it has taken him three years to reach this point, Craven
retains huge enthusiasm for his project, which he has sweated blood
over since his quest for backing began.
He will not name the firms he eventually hopes to have in the Money
Portal stable but points out that most investors will not be aware of
the parentage anyway. “There are people with egos the size of hot-air
balloons who have self-named companies no one has ever heard of.
Aside from Hargreaves Lansdown, no one is building brand recognition
in this sector because they are not spending enough money. Our
companies will retain their brands.”
Craven left school as soon as possible to enter a stage management
and lighting course at Mountview Theatre School in London, where the
likes of Amanda Holden learned their trade. After graduation, he went
travelling, which led to a six-month stint with a drama troupe in
Germany. He says it taught him more about life than 15 years in
financial services ever could.
On his return, he enrolled at Amersham High School to study economics
and economics history – or “studies to commit suicide to”, as Craven
puts it – before becoming a “tea boy” at Heath Crawford Finances in
the mid-1980s. He eventually rose to director, forging a number of
strategic alliances that led to a merger and the creation of HCF
Partnership in 1995.
Although he claims not to remember much over the last 15 years –
“It's lost in the midst of time” – he says he has loved being in the
business, despite the FSA's best efforts to marginalise the
intermediary sector. “It has been absolutely fantastic. It has been
the best business in the world in which to make money. But the FSA
has been making it harder for people to get advice, which has led to
massive consolidation. That is why I believe in two years there will
be big wholesalers like us and everything else will be super-IFAs.”
W hat really fires Craven's prodigious enthusiasm is the prospect of
shaking the investment industry out of what he describes as its
complacent slumber. Once he secures the funding and critical mass for
Money Portal, he wants to use its clout to strong-arm fund managers
into cutting their charges and says he will try to persuade them to
cap funds which he believes are too big to control.
Ever pushing, he is also in discussions about adopting
performance-related annual charges and is about to embark on an
“extremely aggressive” naming and shaming campaign.
“A lot of fund managers stroll around with their noses 45 degrees in
the air wearing their expensive pinstripe suits but they just cannot
deliver. Investors need to know in no uncertain terms what funds they
should not be investing in. We are there to give them the information
they need to decide what they want.”
He is also critical of some IFAs, believing that many of the smaller
players lack expertise. He gives the impression that he would not
shed a tear if some of them were to go to the wall under the weight
of the FSA's regulatory bureaucracy.
But grudging respect is never far from the surface. “They are some of
the most agile people around. They come up with a cunning plan that
gets shot down. They come up with another and the same thing happens.
They just keep going.”
Given his propensity for paradox, it is perhaps no surprise that
Craven describes himself as a “paranoid neurotic” – neurotic about
the regulatory changes which always seem to be lurking round the
corner and paranoid about their impact.It is perhaps just as well
that he has a family to take things off his mind. Married for 18
years to wife Jackie, they have three children, who double as his
crew when he ventures out deep-sea fishing – something he gets to do
more regularly now they are older.
He also loves rock music – “reminds you that the world does not
revolve around the FSA” – and attends the gigs of his many musician
clients. He won't say who they are but, if you had to guess, you
might plump for Metallica rather than the Lighthouse Family.
Mention football, though, and you are glad you are not in the room
when he spits: “I despise football. It's for people who want to go to
some cathedral-like place to adore men with skinny white legs.”
However, cricket is a passion, on which he has an interesting theory.
“If England continue to boycott matches like we have in Zimbabwe, we
will do better. It's quite a shrewd tactic.”
Born: March 18, 1965.
Lives: Halton, Buckinghamshire.
Education: Beckets School for Young Gentlemen (“It should have been
done under the Trade Descriptions Act.”), Amersham High School.
Career: Worked for a drama group in Germany in 1982 before going to
college. Joined Heath Crawford Finances as a “tea boy” before
becoming a consultant in 1987, then a director in 1991. Oversaw the
merger of the company with two other firms to create HCF Partnership,
a broker with execution-only and IFA arms. Raised initial finance to
establish Money Portal in 2002 before buying HCF and Willis Owen in
Career ambition: “To build, grow, create a stink for the opposition,
sell the business and live in Jamaica.”
Life ambition:”Better not say – that one's a bit borderline.”
Likes: Fishing, cricket, drinking, business, family.
Dislikes: “Constant bad press for what is a decent end of the industry.”
Peers say: “He works very hard, he's quite manic. He is ambitious but
great fun and is always doing things for other people.”
Car: A Porsche 996, which he recently ploughed into a hedge. “I am
embarrassed by my lack of prowess in it. I should be in a Beetle.”