We talk to an example of a substantial regional UK wealth management firm that earns a good living in the West Midlands region, handling clients' often complex needs as well as helping them navigate pressures such as inflation.
Rising taxes and inflation are among the forces holding clients’ attention and they want help, a wealth management firm based in the UK’s West Midlands region says.
With prices on average rising at annual rates around the 8 per cent mark and governments hiking taxes to handle post-pandemic shortfalls and other costs, those who hold assets of any significant size are potentially in the firing line. Volatile markets also give managers much to handle.
These are challenges that Andrew Gillett, head of wealth management advice at BRI Wealth Management, relishes.
“For our clients, the rate of inflation is a concern in relation to the ability (or lack of) of generating a real return on their investments,” he told WealthBriefing in an interview. “Clients are also concerned about the increase in tax rates, especially those that own and run their own companies. The freezing of allowances, increase in corporation tax and the hike in both employer and employee national insurance are certainly challenging.”
“We always try to introduce financial planning to all our clients. Without understanding the longer-term goals and objectives of a client, it is impossible to advise them on an appropriate strategy, whether this is about suitable products or underlying investment strategy. It is also the case that the efficient arrangement of a client’s affairs can often make more of a difference to them achieving their goals than the underlying investment strategy, if one is needed at all. We want to introduce more planning to our wider client base over the coming years. This will include introducing cash flow planning to our discretionary clients over the coming years,” he continued.
BRI was founded in 1968 and the acronym “BRI” stands for Brooks Road Investments. The company changed its name to BRI Asset Management, which was then superseded by BRI Wealth Management in 2013. The current shape and structure of the company was established and developed by Simon Boardman-Weston who acquired the company in 1991 and now oversees the business as chairman. The firm has 43 employees and two non-executive directors. The overall amount advised on across the firm is around £520 million ($653 million), with £380 million in its internal discretionary fund management offering and an additional £140 million held within external financial planning related products or on platforms.
The firm is an example of the sort of regional UK players that, while they may not get the heavy media attention showered on blue chip companies and big banks, are an important part of the wealth management ecosphere. The Midlands has a crop of such firms, amongst which is Sorbus – a private investment office based in Stafford – recently interviewed by this news service. In March, for example, Cazenove Capital opened a new Birmingham office.
Asked to explain the investment philosophy of BRI, Gillett said the firm always considers the downside risk as well as upside rewards for investors.
“We invest across a range of asset classes and can advise as part of our DFM proposition on direct UK equity but use funds for our international exposure. As you would expect, we always have one eye on liquidity. Through the financial planning side of our business, we have access to the entire universe of funds and solutions but frequently use multi asset passive and active funds on behalf of clients as well as our own Managed Portfolio Services (MPS) solution when appropriate,” he said.
Being a smaller wealth manager than some of its rivals creates opportunities for BRI, Gillett continued.
“Many of our competitors will not buy a new fund or will need to see it grow to a certain size (e.g. £100 million) or have a particular length of track record (e.g. three years) before investing,” he said. “Because of our size and the amount we hold under management, we are more flexible than some of our competitors. We can take part in new offerings to the market without these restrictions if we feel comfortable with the management and due diligence on the arrangement, which often means we can access new themes before our competition on behalf of clients.”
"Some recent examples would be our investment into the Regan Sustainable Water and Waste Fund or the Seraphim Space Investment Trust, both of which we invested in for clients at launch,” he said.
BRI’s services, which are typically aimed at private clients, charities and trusts, has investments for companies and intermediaries.
“We have clients nationwide, but the core of our clients is located around the Midlands with a focus on the Warwickshire and Worcestershire regions. The largest proportion of client funds are held by those between the ages of 60 and 70, as with most wealth management organisations, but we are looking at ways to appeal to a younger demographic in the coming years,” he said.
“Most of our new clients come from an introduction from an existing client or an external professional such as an accountant or solicitor, although increasingly potential clients are contacting us directly for an introductory conversation,” Gillett continued.
This news service recently mulled on whether the definition of “high net worth” needs adjusting as inflation erodes monetary values, which subsequently leads to questions of what the minimum investment sizes need to be for a person to be a profitable client.
Gillett said there were no minimums required for client onboarding at BRI. However, for discretionary investment management clients who require a more bespoke service and portfolio, he said it was not appropriate at lower investment levels "so we would like to see at least £350,000 for this type of service.”
“That said, we have many clients who have more investable wealth than £350,000 when there is no requirement for this service and their solutions are provided by third parties using alternative whole of market solutions. For more modest size clients, we will tend to use external financial planning arrangements. As we act for many families, this can also mean that we take on younger relatives who are not so wealthy as part of our overall service to the family,” Gillett said.