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The MM Profile: Philip Milton

Religion and business go hand in hand for this motorcycling Devon-based adviser, who believes that some unscrupulous advisers are blinded by the lure of commission and are giving the financial market in general a bad name. Interview by Paul McMillan

Restaurateur, gallery owner, stamp dealer, Christian bookshop owner, property landlord, Rotarian, and local Conservative association treasurer. Somehow Philip Milton also finds time to run his successful adviser firm.

The one-man Barnstaple business empire, self-confessed country bumpkin and managing director of Philip J Milton & Company, can often be found on his motorcycle travelling between meetings with clients and looking after his varied business and social interests.

Milton left school at 16 to join Lloyds Bank. He says he benefited hugely from this early experience making him a stickler for good record-keeping and a full paper trail that has protected him from the regulatory trouble that many advisers have experienced.

He says he is appalled by the number of advisers that he believes still do not provide adequate paperwork despite well publicised misselling scandals.

His ire is also targeted at what he sees as unscrupulous behaviour from advisers churning funds for the sake of extra commission when it is hard to see the benefit to the client. “This behaviour is quite simply immoral and wrong and is giving all financial advisers a bad name. The FSA needs to get more heavy-handed with these guys.”

He advocates a commission cap and wants the FSA to do more work analysing individual advisers and their correlation with high commission levels, which should have to be justified to the regulator.

Milton left Lloyds after seven years, reaching the post of senior clerk. His time working as a financial planning officer at the bank convinced him that the “wonderfully attractive proposition” of advising people on their finances was the job for him.

Moving away from a direct-sales environment, Milton says “I gathered myself together and off I went”, setting up his own company in 1985.

The firm started small and was run out of Milton’s parents’ living room, with his foster sister working as PA. Turnover for the first year was about £6,500, which Milton says was enough to allay initial worries over profitability.

After 18 months, he moved to an office in Barnstaple and then, after upgrading again, moved to part of the premises used by the Christian bookshop he also runs.

Milton says his Christianity goes hand in hand with his work as a financial adviser and is the driver behind his anger at what he sees as the lack of morality in advisers blinded by commission. He says it underpins the principal theories of the firm and he would not tolerate staff practices solely motivated by personal greed.

The company now owns a number of buildings in the area and there are three advisers and 21 staff in total.

Milton says the firm is looking at buying companies if the right company comes along, sharing his values and work practices, including buying books of business from firms meeting the criteria.

He is also looking at plans for a possible flotation, but says the goal would not be for the money or vanity but to reward staff for their long-term loyalty.

Away from financial advice, Milton’s restaurant, The Old Custom House, takes up much of his time. It was opened in 1999 and occupies a Grade II-listed building. Milton says the restaurant is not as busy as it needs to be but acts as good marketing for Philip J Milton & Company. A client from Epsom in Surrey recently held his 70th birthday celebration at the restaurant.

He says worries over how much cutlery needs to be ordered or menu changes is great escapism from the world of financial advice and believes the restaurant is a good way for a “Barnstaple boy” to give something back to the community.

The same can be said for the gallery owned by Milton, which requires constant funding to keep it going. The gallery focuses on encouraging local talent by giving artists a chance to display their work.

The gallery comprises nine rooms, covering all types of art, including painting, sculptures, modern art, ceramics and textiles.

Milton says the standard of work on display puts to shame many better funded and higher-profile galleries, and he admit to being one of its best customers.

Milton can trace his North Devon lineage back hundreds of years and would not dream of living anywhere but the countryside.

“My eyes have always been open to what is going on in terms of nature and conservation, whether it be spotting a rare moth or butterfly or shooting a pheasant.”

He says he only hunts animals to eat or for conservation reasons and is teaching his four children to understand this cycle of nature.

He recently showed his 11-year-old son to skin and gut a rabbit he had shot, describing it as a great bonding experience. Milton says it is frustrating that many people do not understand the country way of life but it is for other reasons that he has had run-ins with animal rights protesters in recent years.

The firm has shares in Huntington Life Sciences, the firm which has been targeted by animal rights groups, and members of staff have faced intimidation.

Milton says he stands by his principles and refuses to back down. “These people have no willingness to look at the other side of the story, their minds are warped into such a narrow view of the world.”

Politically, Milton is something of a blue sheep of the family as an active member of the local Tory party, including acting as treasurer, although his family history is dominated by Liberals.

“I have a view of the world that says why don’t you just get on and do it that fits in with Conservative ideals,” he says.

Born: Barnstaple, North Devon

Lives: Georgeham, North Devon

Education: Braunton Comprehensive – left school at 16. Financial Studies Diploma (MBA), ACIB, CFP, AFPC, FCIB and FPFS.

Career: 1978-1985: Lloyds Bank, 1985- to date:Philip J Milton & Company

Career ambition: Acquisitive growth/flotation

Life ambition: Progress – to influence positive change in people’s lives, both individually and collectively

Likes: Christianity, family, shooting, badminton, conservation and nature (especially moths and butterflies), local history, and local postal history, Rotary, politics

Dislikes: I hate dishonesty, time-wasters, stupid and kneejerk laws, inequitable legal judgments and decisions. I hate rip-off merchants and financial salesmen who sell products because of the commission

Favourite film: Zulu or other such action like A Bridge Too Far

Favourite album: It has to be my stamp album. Otherwise, my musical tastes are not life priorities but err on the side of classical (especially piano) and jazz

Favourite book: The Bible I suppose. Otherwise, I can become engrossed in a non-fiction work, such as nature or good magazines

Hero: Abraham Lincoln or William Hague

If I was not doing this job I would be: “An MP, if voters would have me. Or bored.

I have also been or am: Holiday business owner, landlord of many properties (and restorer/conservationist)


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