Where do you go for good advice on your personal finances? This is a question
that even professionals in the financial services industry find difficult. An
increasing number of individuals and small to medium-sized companies are turning
to their accountants for advice and there isn’t always a neat answer.
According to Datamonitor there are between 100 and 200 firms offering wealth
management or private-banking services in the UK. But most investment managers
and brokers require the individual to have at least a couple of million in free
assets to invest before they are even vaguely interested in running a portfolio
To make life even more difficult, it is virtually impossible to pick an
investment manager on track record since neither private client stockbrokers nor
private banks publish any performance statistics. Unless the firm has in-house
unit trusts with published performance statistics, you have to take their word
for it that they are good at investment.
‘Unless you have got at least £10m, you can’t get good advice on running a
portfolio of equities,’ says Peter Hargreaves of independent financial adviser
‘If you think about it, why would a top investment manager want to manage
private clients’ money? You wouldn’t expect the likes of Anthony Bolton (the
hugely successful investment manager of the £4.8bn Fidelity Special Situations
fund) to take on your personal portfolio. All the good fund managers get snapped
up to run big mutual funds or institutional money.’
Hargreaves Lansdown manages some £4bn for clients, mostly in mutual funds,
has an in-house stockbrokerage, advises big and small companies on everything
from pensions to investment and was one of several firms to handle the retail
marketing of privatisations for the government in the eighties and nineties.
It has 490 employees of which 40 are consultants registered with the
Financial Services Authority. The firm works on commission and fees.
‘Many of our high net worth clients come to us because we advise on corporate
pensions, and as part of the deal, we can also give free advice to senior
executives,’ says Hargreaves. The firm has just advised Nomura on its corporate
pensions and is also the largest purchasers of annuities in the UK, acting for
WH Smith, Sainsburys, BT and Woolworths.
And Hargreaves says the firm is cheaper than most of the competition. ‘We
restructured our business 10 years ago in the good times. As a result we are now
able to work on very small margins. We have the cushion of trail commission from
£4bn of investments on which we have advised.’
But Hargreaves is quite clear that accountants are going to have to take more
interest in tax advice linked to investments. ‘When the new pension rules take
effect next April, all accountants will have to understand the implications
because virtually without exception, their clients will need pension advice on
SIPPs and on how to protect their occupational pension benefits,’ he says.
Hargreaves Lansdown claims to be the fastest growing SIPP provider in the UK
and like others is gearing up to cope with the huge interest that the new
pension rules are generating.
The biggest difficulty in recommending any firm which offers personal
financial advice is that it is virtually impossible to find it all in one place.
Some of the big financial planning practices claim to be able to do everything
from investment advice to mortgages, and Inheritance Tax planning to household
insurance. But as with all things, you will probably get best advice from a
You will probably need one firm to advise on investments, possibly another to
act as a pension and employee benefit consultant, and perhaps an insurance and
mortgage broker too.
For example, Charcols, Savills Private Finance and Chase de Vere Mortgage
Management and are among the best and largest mortgage brokers, able to
negotiate favourable terms for their clients, many of whom are high net worth
individuals, or have unusual requirements because they run their own business or
The average deal at broker Savills Private Finance is over £300,000 and
clients wanting mortgages of several million are commonplace. ‘The biggest deal
we have done on a single property was a £14.7m mortgage on a central London
home,’ says Melanie Bien of Savills Private Finance.
But none of these firms are big in investment management or pensions. ‘When
clients ask for investment services we refer them to private client stockbroker
Killik & Co,’ says Bien.
Similarly, Hargreaves Lansdown, which is big in investment advice if you are
looking at unit trusts, pensions, and execution-only stock broking services, no
longer offers insurance broking. ‘We found that it just didn’t fit with the rest
of our business and so we agreed to a management buyout,’ Hargreaves explains.
‘But we still do some household insurance.’
Investment broker Patrick Connolly of John Scott & Partners has built
ties with firms of accountants. ‘We get 50% of our business through professional
introducers like accountants and solicitors,’ he says. ‘But we are a fee-based
IFA and work with the professionals on a reciprocal basis – we get referrals
from them in return for which we refer investment clients for tax or legal
John Scott & Partners also advises large and small corporates and has two
household name life assurers on its books, where it advises employees, as well
as a big publisher and a national parcel delivery service. ‘Sometimes we pick up
the corporate business because we are already advising senior executives,
other times we get the employees as clients because we have been called in to
advise the firm on employee benefits and pensions,’ Connolly explains.
The firm has £550m of discretionary funds under management and unlike
Hargreaves Lansdown, is prepared to run portfolios of shares for smaller
investors with upwards of £100,000 in free assets.
But while asset allocation will be agreed individually with a mix of
equities, gilts and bonds, property, venture capital funds and so on, the equity
and bond content will be pooled with other clients and managed as one portfolio.
What you are getting is an in-house mutual fund. ‘Most of our clients are in a
fund of funds,’ Connolly admits.
John Scott & Partners has 200 employees, of which more than 50 are
consultants, registered with the FSA. Fees range from £207 an hour for a full
review by a consultant to £92 an hour for a para-planner and £70 an hour for the
administrative assistants who do the paperwork.
Both John Scott & Partners and Hargreaves Lansdown produce a range of
publications dealing with everything from SIPPs, to asset allocation and even
shareholder perks, one of Hargreaves Lansdown’s most popular publications.
Most of the large accountancy practices have in-house financial planning
divisions and investment management subsidiaries providing fee-based advice and
this is a fast growing area of business. The difficulty here is that individuals
can baulk at minimum fees, which can be as high as £5,000 a year.
Smaller firms of accountants may also be concerned that if they recommend the
financial planning and investment services, they will lose the tax and
accountancy brief. This is not a problem with the IFA firms, since only a few,
like Rathbones, offer accountancy services, and minimum fees are much lower and
can easily be less than £1,000.
One of the best known in offering a range of specialist financial services to
high net worth individuals is accountant Smith & Williamson, the eighth
largest practice in the country. It has more than £6.5bn of clients’ funds under
management, making it one of the largest private client investment managers.
But Smith & Williamson typifies the problem for anyone wanting to find
everything in one place. While is manages a large amount of private client
money, its two actively managed UK growth unit trusts have been below average
Grant Thornton is typical of the bigger practices moving into personal
financial planning. ‘We are holistic financial planners,’ explains Ann Bristow,
who heads the firm’s operation. She feels accountants are in a strong position
to offer personal financial services on the back of tax advice.
With 28 certified financial planners, the firm can offer a wide range of
services. It has recently appointed five new experienced advisers to its
financial planning practice on the back of growing demand and a 20 per cent
growth in fee revenues for 2004/2005. ‘The firm now has more CFPs than any other
advisory firm in the UK,’ says Bristow.
‘We have an in-house investment management team and we are able to produce an
asset allocation model which reflects the individual’s risk profile. But if a
client wants a choice, we organise a beauty parade of potential investment
managers. Many clients are referred from the accountancy practice,’ she says.
‘And many run their own businesses.’
Given the fragmentation of the market in financial advice, where do you
start? Taking a personal interest is probably the best course of action. ‘We
find that many clients who have run their own businesses want some involvement
themselves when it comes to managing their money,’ says Hargreaves. Many make
use of the cheap execution-only stock broking facility, which the firm offers.
Given that less than a third of professional investment managers ever
outperform their relevant stock market benchmark index, you might as well make
your own mistakes – or invest in an index fund. Many professional investment
managers effectively run an index fund with 80 per cent of the money, and
actively manage only 10 or 20 per cent.
Private client stockbrokers pay lip service to individual investment
management, but many offer only discretionary portfolio management, where the
broker manages the portfolio.
Few will take on new advisory clients unless the portfolio is at least
£500,000 to £1m, and up to £100,000 you will generally be recommended to hold a
selection of mutual funds to give a spread of risk. However, a good private
client stockbroker will be knowledgeable about mutual funds.
Just one half of UK practices have implemented a pricing structure around auto enrolment implementation and advice - with many suffering increased costs
Deloitte's north-west Europe foray; BDO, Smith & Williamson investment paths; Shelley Stock Hutter; and Wilkins Kennedy discussed by editor Kevin Reed on our Friday Afternoon Live broadcast
Accountants should alter their perspective on auto-enrolment to maximise business opportunities, according to Eric Clapton.
Kevin Reed discusses whether new accountancy group Cogital can rival the Big Four...and its likely direction of travel