Driving into Wales has become more attractive since the removal of the Severn bridges toll system in December. Will this add to the region’s growth?
Rugby and St David’s Day are the things that bring people together in Wales. However, from a financial services perspective, it is difficult to think about the region’s community spirit without remembering the defined benefit transfer crisis that emerged in 2017.
Aware of the damage that has no doubt been caused to public confidence in the profession, advisers across the region are keen to show they are nothing like the bad apples who profited at the expense of the Port Talbot steelworkers.
“As a business, we try to help as many people as we can – we want everyone to become more financially aware,” says Craig Palfrey, managing partner of Cardiff-based Penguin Wealth.
“We built the business originally to help people move into retirement and to help with their estate planning.
“We spoke in public, wherever we could, on the issues that people face in retirement and how to protect their wealth for the next generation.”
One of the positives in the region highlighted by advisers is the removal of the toll system that had been in place at the bridges over the River Severn between England and Wales until the end of last year.
The move was expected to boost the Welsh economy by an estimated £100m and some advisers say it is already bringing more people to Wales, contributing to rising house prices and creating opportunities for businesses, which can only be a good thing for advice firms on the lookout for more clients.
However, Magenta Financial Planning managing director Gretchen Betts has some reservations, pointing out that it is now cheaper for people in Wales to commute out of the area for work and back again, just as it is cheaper to commute in from outside. This may have implications for advice firms when recruiting.
“Wales is competing with Bristol as a finance hub. Competition is high when we need paraplanners because there are a lot of jobs but not a lot of good people. Will we see more people commuting from Wales to Bristol? Equally, will more people be willing to travel over the bridge into Wales if they don’t have to pay a £6 toll before they get to work?” she says. “We will have to see how that pans out.”
Many advisers in the region have clients around the UK, not just locals. They say locals’ needs are no different to anywhere else in the UK, with a strong demand for retirement and inheritance tax planning, for example. However, with perhaps less affluence than London and the South East, locals in Wales may experience those issues from a slightly different angle.
“Some of our enquiries may be from people who have come into money who have never dealt with it before, and we also have a high percentage of people going through divorce,” says Betts.
Like Magenta, Newport-based Heron House Financial Management does not restrict itself to local clients. Liam Fowler, a financial planner at the firm, says: “We have clients from all over who may work in London and people who have returned to the countryside in Wales to retire.”
Fowler points out that farming is an important industry in Wales and says many of Heron House’s Welsh clients have come through managing director Saran Allott-Davey’s farming background and connections.
“Farming is so diverse and although an understanding of it is not our role it helps to have some knowledge of it. As a young adviser in the early stages of my career I found that very challenging,” he admits. “But I was able to speak to some of our advisers who do come from that background and learn about milk prices and cattle.”
Palfrey says that in the past 12 to 18 months, Penguin Wealth has focused more on the business market.
“We recognised that more and more businesses are starting up in South Wales or moving to South Wales. Was this linked to the bridge toll being removed? Possibly. Is this linked to the Welsh government focusing on the professional services sector in South Wales? Probably,” he says.
Palfrey adds that Cardiff is also attractive as a cheaper place to set up a business in terms of office costs, lower starting salaries and two big universities that turn out students with good degrees.