How I’m building my business: Carl Lamb, Almary Green
Founded in 2001, Almary Green has grown from a local IFA to a regional firm with a growing national identity. Adviser Business Review talks to managing director and founder Carl Lamb about the opportunities and challenges he’s faced in building his business
“If an adviser came to me today and asked about setting up their own business, I would tell them it can be a long and lonely road and they should think about it very carefully,” says Carl Lamb, managing director and founder of Norwich-based Almary Green. But while he admits the journey to building an IFA firm from scratch can be a tough one, the success he has enjoyed over the years has exceeded all his expectations.
The company, which is about to celebrate its fourteenth anniversary, has grown from one member of staff to 53 employees and 15 advisers, acquired four other businesses and is in the process of buying a fifth.
“Setting up my own business was a leap of faith. Although I knew what I wanted to achieve as an adviser and I have stuck to my guns over the years, I never expected to be where I am today,” he says. Carl credits his success with “living and breathing” the company and believes the single most important part of being a business owner is involving himself in every aspect of the business and understanding it inside out.
Prior to Almary Green, Carl spent 13 years as a senior consultant at Equitable Life, which helped shape his own approach to running a business. He says the mistakes made at Equitable Life reaffirmed his belief that the client should always come first.
“My ethos has always been to put the client first, no matter what. Without our clients we would not have a business so we respect their opinions and they are at the hub of everything we do. I was very proud to be a new model adviser before the whole concept even took hold; we were upfront with our fees and were honest and open with our clients.”
Carl believes his unwavering principles played an important role in attracting new clients and expanding the business. Unlike many of his peers, Carl made the decision to operate an open-door policy, believing anyone in need of financial advice should be able to find it.
Scaling the business
But while Carl was able to build a steady client base he says it took about five years to reach a point where he could scale the company to the next level and make his first acquisition. He believes one of the greatest misconceptions is the time it takes to grow a business.
“You have to be very committed and know from the outset that it could take a long time to bear fruit. The first few years are consumed with trying to carve out a place for yourself in the market and finding the right people to help you take your company forward.”
Indeed, one of the greatest challenges Carl faced in the first couple of years was recruitment. “As a start-up you lack the reputation you need to attract good advisers. I made two mistakes early on but they taught me a very valuable lesson. I need staff who share my ethos and vision for the company. People who only care about getting rich quick are coming to the wrong place.”
Finding the right people for the job remains of paramount importance to Carl and a key element of his growth strategy. He has shunned an autocratic style of management, preferring to involve every member of his staff equally. He calls frequent team meetings, which every member of staff attends, and says all topics are open for discussion. The company comes together for a family day in the summer and at Christmas and socialises regularly. In return for staff loyalty, wages are generous, there is the option of flexi time and the company has a shared bonus pool.
Almary Green also has a graduate training programme, which Carl believes helps set it apart from its competitors and lays the foundations for future growth: “I’m a staunch supporter of training and qualifications; as an industry we need to be working harder to prepare the next generation of advisers,” he says.
Carl’s devotion to offering the highest quality advice saw the company achieve chartered status, which he refers to as the “pinnacle” of his success, and says it has helped Almary Green in its bid to gain a more national identity.
Investing to expand
The key to expanding beyond his local region has been down to investing, both in himself and the business, he says. As well as sponsoring local events, and writing a weekly column for the local paper, Carl has advertised since the third year of business and employed the services of a PR firm to position him as a commentator on financial issues in the national press.
Adopting a more corporate identity has had a knock-on effect on the company’s growth and aided his aggressive acquisition policy. He now receives various advances from interested parties, most of which he rejects unless they fit the company’s growth path.
Indeed, being financially prudent has always been a key part of Carl’s growth strategy. From day one, Carl was determined to start the business debt-free. He invested £100,000; a decision he credits with helping him to achieve today’s success.
“Starting your own IFA practice from scratch can be a very costly business, not least due to the huge regulatory costs. Unless you have a solid financial base from the outset, you can get in over your head very quickly. Having a financial buffer is crucial. I have made it my policy to keep a six-figure sum in the bank.
He says the cash is used to pay charges such as FSCS and fund his acquisition stream, without placing financial strain upon the company.
“Any adviser looking to set up their own business should factor in the ever-increasing regulatory and PI costs.” Carl cites the regulator as the single biggest threat to IFA firms and says the FSCS charge is one of the greatest financial burdens on the company and could result in the failure of firms less financially stable.
But Almary Green’s bank balance is not simply devoted to the costs of running a business. Carl believes a lot of the company’s success stems from his desire to become a fully integrated part of the community. He set up charity awards in 2011 to reward local charities and in 2014 wrote cheques totaling over £10,000.
It’s an approach he thinks should be replicated by regional firms looking to make their mark.
“The position we are in today is thanks to local people and businesses and I think it’s important we give something back to the community. I’m very proud of our work within the local community and have striven to become part of the fabric.”
Visit Almary Green website