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Citywire article on: Why qualifications reign supreme in the Roman city of Bath

Article taken from New Model Adviser South West newsletter, 14 August 2017, written by Ian Horne

For this edition of the New Model Adviser South West newsletter we turn our attention towards the stunning city of Bath. With its Roman baths, incredible architecture, and picturesque surroundings, the city understandably presents itself as a prime location for financial advice and wealth management businesses.

‘It’s a great place to run a financial advice firm,’ confirms Tom Annear, head of business development and marketing at Epoch Wealth Management. ‘A lot of wealthy people are based in and around the city.’ This opinion is shared by Sean McCabe, chartered financial planner at Centurion Chartered Financial Planners. ‘It’s a beautiful place,’ he says. ‘People enjoy coming here.’

There are other reasons for wanting to be based in Bath, however. ‘It’s a good centralised area for financial services,’ says McCabe, who can call upon the local offices of Quilter Cheviot, Brooks Macdonald and Novia, to name just a few. ‘There’s a great support network,’ he adds. It makes sense to assume that most IFAs would enjoy having DFMs and platform providers on their doorstep

In terms of clients, Annear says that the local economy has provided a healthy stream of clients. Epoch’s client bank reflects this, containing a significant number of pre and post-sale entrepreneurs. ‘We’re agnostic as to who we take on,’ he says, explaining that his clients work in a variety of sectors including recruitment, marketing and pharmaceuticals. McCabe has taken a different route, predominantly working with solicitors in the personal injury and later life space, while also handling referrals from existing clients.

Besides the hearsay and historic structures, there are statistical reasons to be confident that Bath is an ideal place for advice. Firstly, the Office for National Statistics has shown that earnings for the region are above the national average. Sure, the difference for those working in the city is a mere 90 pence per employee per week, but living costs are not extortionate and you can buy a posh bag of crisps for that. Also, when looking at Bath as a place of residence rather than work, the Bath average leaps to £41.50 per week above the national average.

Bath is a pleasant place to live and the indicators suggest that wealth managers and IFAs can write plenty of business in the region. However, the reality is not as simple as that. ‘People will always want to work in an area where there is opportunity, whether it’s real or perceived,’ says Annear. Although Epoch and Centurion are both reaping the rewards of the real opportunities that exist, this comment makes me wonder how much of the allure of Bath is superficial.

Digging into the numbers again, there are a few signals that an adviser can not simply stroll into Bath and make their fortune. Firstly, only 9% of the population in Bath is retired, relative to 13.4% as a national average. Meanwhile, student numbers are high, and account for over half of the economically inactive population in the city. There is nothing wrong with a young and vibrant town, but these demographics do not necessarily make life easy for an adviser with a conventional proposition.

It is also hard to overlook the competition in the area. There is no shortage of advice firms in Bath, and it would seem that this has driven up the qualificational standards of local firms. Annear makes sure to mention that Epoch is the only CISI accredited financial planning firm in Bath, as well as being one of the several CII chartered advice businesses in the area. Meanwhile, McCabe turns my attention to Centurion’s chartered status, four chartered financial planners, and 3 SOLLA accredited/qualified pension specialists. Being successful in Bath is possible, but make sure that you have a strong proposition.

‘Our competition comes mostly from smaller IFAs,’ says Annear. ‘They are more of a threat because of quality. The larger firms generally are not as qualified.’Although most of Annear’s clients are not what would technically be classed as ‘sophisticated clients’, he explains that they are successful and savvy people with a solid understanding of what value looks like. ‘They can be hard-nosed, and would not appreciate old-model pre-RDR advice.’

People often visit Bath to take a look at how things were done in the past. Nonetheless, there is plenty on the horizon for forward thinking IFA businesses looking to the future. Centurion is currently looking to expand its internal offering, having recently concluded its merger of Centurion Wealth Care and Centurion Wealth Management into the current business. Epoch, on the other hand, is looking to move forward with its new cash flow tool, I4C.

Looking at Bath as a place to live and deliver financial advice, it is easy to recognise the appeal of being based here; being successful in this city is certainly something to aspire to. Nonetheless, there is no denying that Bath is a badly kept secret, and companies here need to go the extra mile to prove their value to clients. This is an added frustration, perhaps, but creates a fantastic environment for the delivery of high quality and innovative service.

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