CEO Of Berry Asset Management Has No Desire To Rest On His Laurels

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 5 March 2012


Jamie MacLeod, CEO of UK-based Berry Asset Management, has already achieved a long business record in the financial services industry, but he's far from done yet. He talked to this publication about how he intends to push the firm forward.

Berry Asset Management, which is part owned by Switzerland’s Bordier & Cie, may not have been as noisy in its public profile as some of its wealth management peers, but its chief executive, Jamie MacLeod, is determined to give this firm a higher profile. MacLeod joined Berry in 2010 as CEO, buying a 20 per cent stake in Berry from its Swiss owner.

MacLeod came to the job with an impressive track record. He founded Skandia Investment Management in 2007, after joining Skandia Group in 2002. He has been in the industry for 25 years, starting off at Laurentian Life/Unit Trust Management in 1986 during the heyday of the Thatcher years, then moving on to join Scottish Widows Fund Management in 1990. His career has also seen him work in senior roles at Investec Asset Management.

Recent investment performance by Berry has been robust. But as ever, past performance is no guide to future returns. So what is MacLeod's strategy for the future at Berry? WealthBriefing recently caught up with MacLeod to ask him about his strategy for Berry Asset Management, and get his views on the industry and wider economy.

Where do you see Berry Asset Management at the moment in terms of its business development?

I am far more interested in the way we manage and work with our existing clients. New clients are important, but we set no targets. New business is neither the priority nor the principle driver for Berry. If you do the best thing for your existing clients and do that well, the rest will look after itself.

What has been achieved so far, and why do you think you are at your current position?

I believe we have achieved a tremendous amount and moved the business forward significantly over the course of the past 12 to 18 months. We’ve redefined our client proposition, reshaped our management structure, and invested in people at all levels. We’ve relocated the business from Chelsea Harbour to St James, bringing us closer to our clients and our introducers, and in partnering with SEI, we’ve put in place a market-leading and world-renowned back office. That was a significant financial investment, not the cost-saving outsource some might assume. Some people hadn't heard from Berry for years, and are pleased to see us being a bit more active within the industry.

What are your plans in the next few years?

Our plans for the years ahead are little different to our plans for today – to look after our existing clients to the very best of our ability, and to ensure we keep them fully informed regarding global macro events and the way in which we are managing their portfolio. We will also look to enhance our partnership with our parent, Bordier & Cie.

When would you say your firm has reached its likely optimum size?

There are some businesses where scale, tipping point and optimisation are absolutely clear; the private client industry is not one of them. Looking across the financial services spectrum, we see very little correlation between the scale of a business and the level of respect which it commands. The most important part is the quality of the client offering and service and if that ever starts to reduce then we have perhaps gone past our optimum size.

What do you want Berry to become as a business and why?

The priority remains ensuring our clients want to maintain and build their relationship with the firm, and that our staff are happy, fulfilled and content.

Our prospects will be shaped by numerous external factors, some of which we are closer to than others. The macro impacts of regulatory change and capital market levels will influence the whole sector, not just Berry Asset Management.

You have said you are looking to distribute your services more widely and get the message out. How do you intend to do this?

The process is only just beginning, but our Anglo/Swiss culture allows us to be very, very long-term in our thinking, planning and execution. Jamie Berry has been managing private clients for more than 30 years, my Bordier partners (and their ancestors) for more than 150, so it’s important that we do things properly, and take our time. In Bordier we have third generation employees from the same family, and fifth generation families in the management team.

The Retail Distribution Review is having a significant impact on the industry already but it is not the only regulatory force shifting how firms like yours operate.  Could you elaborate a bit on how the RDR/other changes are affecting your business?

The RDR represents a tectonic shift for retail financial services; as with so much geological activity, you occasionally see it or hear it coming, but you are often still mightily surprised by its impact. The architects  of the RDR are under a great deal of pressure and lots of strings are being pulled to influence the way it eventually appears, and I feel confident we will see further change before January next year.

Whilst the RDR has created opportunities for some, Berry has been running a successful discretionary fund management service, working closely with private client introducers and investment intermediaries for more than 30 years. The RDR will impact our business and our industry, but it comes at a time when our industry is coming to terms with something perhaps far more awkward, a sizeable shift in investor sentiment. Some commentators have become vocal in questioning the equity vs cash risk return profile, and ask whether equities are providing adequate compensation for the associated market risks.

What sort of risks, challenges does your business face?  What has been the hardest thing to get right in the last few years?

The biggest risks we face are principally external:

1.  Political inaction and an inability or reluctance to address the fundamental issues. 

2.  Capital market levels in bonds, equities and commodities.

3.  The inflation call - increasing or decreasing?

4.  Whilst we fully support the RDR, increased regulation and ineffective regulatory policy could become an evolving challenge.

5.  Investor attitudes to equity and bond market investing, and the downward pressure that creates on costs and margins.

While successful, it has been a  challenge implementing improvements for our clients during this period of extreme volatility – that allied to the challenge of managing client portfolios against market gyrations brought about by political forces, unable to deal with events from eurozone debt to social unrest. That has created quite a cauldron of issues for private investors.

How would you characterise the UK's wealth management industry at the moment?

This is the time when the best advisors will flourish, and my hope is that private clients will seek out those most capable of doing the best job. To source all of your financial requirements from one institution – from current account banking, to deposit banking, to mortgage lending and investments – isn’t the prudent choice for investors. The one-stop-shop is possibly nonsense in financial services, and investors should look to access specialist services from a range of providers, where you can access best-of-breed products and services.

What is the biggest shortcoming and how can it be dealt with?

In the wealth management industry we have seen too many institutions pushing internal products, perhaps in their interest rather than that of their client. My hope is that investors will become more discerning and feel more confident in challenging the recommendations which are sometimes made.

What is more, the notion of "cross-selling" in large salesforce-orientated  businesses is flawed.  Firms must value clients for their singular relationship, not as a multiple cross-selling opportunity for over-eager sales advisors. I believe advice is best provided by advisors and investment management by specialist investment managers, and at Berry we provide fee-based, bespoke portfolio management services, nothing more. We don’t offer financial planning, we don't sell life insurance, deposit accounts, or our own products.

We’re a support act for IFAs and other introducers such as lawyers, accountants and trust companies. The introducers do all of the holistic planning, all of the important understanding of risk, commitments and liabilities and wheel us in to support them.

Any other comments you want to make?

2012 is going to be a year of significant decision-making for wealth managers. The big calls will be inflation, deflation, the euro and global growth. These are massive decisions and critical investment calls for wealth managers, but this is the time to build enduring relationships, with the right clients and introducers, and those who get it right will prosper mutually as the political and economic environment, markets and investor sentiment all improve.


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