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Richard Craven

B ellowing down the telephone from Jamaica, Richard Craven manages

the difficult trick of being loud and deeply opinionated without

being offensive.

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&#39s 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&#39s lost in the midst of time” – he says he has loved being in the

business, despite the FSA&#39s 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&#39s 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&#39s 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&#39t 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&#39s 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&#39s 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

February 1993.

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&#39s 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&#39s 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.”

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