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How Equilibrium restructured to target £2bn AUM in 10 years

Gaynor Rigby, managing partner of Equilibrium, tells Rob Kingsbury how the firm restructured in its ambition to hit £2bn AUM within a 10-year business plan

When Colin Lawson, founder of Wilmslow-based Equilibrium, devised a plan for the company to grow its ambitions from targeting £1bn assets under management to targeting £2bn, he also knew that things within the company had to change.

So in 2010 he brought in Gaynor Rigby, initially on a 35-day consultancy, to review the company and tell him and the board exactly what was required to achieve that ambition.

Rigby had previously been working in Toronto for Strategic Coach, helping owners and entrepreneurs to grow their businesses whilst maintaining a healthy work/life balance and then set up her own business consultancy S2PG.

That initial engagement turned into a permanent position with the company, because as Rigby explains, running a financial planning firm in an industry that is continually changing, means you have always to be looking to adapt and grow. “You have to be developing all the time.” She is now managing partner of the company.

Like many advisory firms, Equilibrium had grown organically from a small practice and had reached a certain size and become very busy. While the culture it had worked when it was smaller over time it had become diluted and less efficient because there was no underlying structure, Rigby explains. “At the point I came in to Equilibrium, it was working but there was no consistency in the way it worked. It needed a more defined structure to enable it to grow in a sustainable way,” she says.

Hence, her task was to identify the structure needed and help put it in place.

Her first week at the company Rigby says she spent talking to the paraplanners, the advisers, the partners and management about what they did and how they did it. “I wanted to find out what they felt was working and what wasn’t working, what they liked and what they didn’t like.”

Then she looked at the structure of the company, adviser targets, the remuneration and benefits packages, the team set up and communication.

All of this was done within the strongly held view of where the company wanted to be in 10 years’ time – well on the way to the £2bn mark.

Restructuring the business

Having set the £2bn target the task was to reverse engineer how Equilibrium would get there, starting with a 10-year plan, Rigby explains.

“Broadly speaking, we looked at how many assets we would need to win each year and what that would mean in respect of turnover, staffing and structure. We then looked at how we would set about doing it starting with three-year periods.”

With the 10-year plan fleshed out, Rigby worked with the management team to put in place the right structure, expectations and targets, which could be achieved realistically in order to get the company to where it wanted to be.

The targets for the advisers, for example, came off the back of the projected numbers. “We aligned adviser targets to pay and bonuses, we introduced detailed reporting on the numbers, and we put in a structure for identifying prospects,” Rigby says.

A major part of the reorganisation was to change the structure from one where a team of people supported a particular adviser, to having each team support a particular group of clients.

There is now a specific implementation team, focused on making the new client experience as smooth and efficient as possible, as well as teams that deal with existing clients. Each team is made up of client managers, who cover the paraplanning and administration roles, and who are responsible for their own bank of clients within the team structure.

There is also a heavy weighting of client managers to advisers, (currently 30 client managers to six advisers) with the client managers as the day-to-day contact for clients in the office and responsible for dealing with client enquiries, thereby freeing up the advisers’ time to focus on reviews and winning new business.

“We also introduced a leadership structure,” Rigby says. “Previously, there had been the partners and everyone else underneath. We created team leaders to give more structure to the company and also to improve the communication flow.”

With the team leaders in place, there was a natural feedback stream between advisers and client managers, “and it also provided a way for people to put forward their ideas to help the company grow and develop,” Rigby explains.

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The right people

Of course, as a service company, you don’t get to £2bn AUM without the right team in place. Success in a flexible, dynamic and rapidly growing business, Rigby says, is about having the right kind of staff with the right attitude. As such, she adds, she is “looking for people who come with batteries included”.

It is important that every member of staff is “able to see what the clients’ needs are and how, to meet those needs, we may have to adapt some of the things that we do or the ways that we work.

“I consider our staff our greatest asset and my philosophy is to create an environment that attracts a certain kind of person who is able to grow and develop their potential within the ultimate goal of providing a great service to the clients.”

Creating that environment within the firm meant looking at things like salary, incentives, holiday entitlement and also getting each individual engaged with the company, its ethos and where it wanted to be in 10 years’ time and more.

That culture is reflected in the project work within the company, Rigby says. “When we have projects we don’t just pick the team leaders to be involved – we select from across the firm and create multi-functional project teams.

“We choose people for their strengths and what they bring to the project. That way the culture spreads throughout the company and you’re not just using the same group of people all the time. It gives people the chance to show what they’ve got.”

Also, historically, Rigby explains, people had been given salary increases when they passed exams but that didn’t necessarily result in the application of the knowledge and skills they had learned. “We put in place a means for people to earn more money where they created value and added to the business.

“It was saying “we’re all in this together, show us what you can do, show us why we should pay you more”, and then we will.”

The restructuring of the company has paid dividends, Rigby says. “It was about putting in place a strong structure, putting some targets in, starting to hold people to account, introducing team leaders. We looked at where people were doing a great job, where they needed to change or had areas they needed to focus on. We looked at how they could make more money and we started a long conversation within the company about creating value.

“We now know how much we need to bring in every 12 months in order to get us to our target. We know also how many support staff we need behind that, the capacity of our advisers, what marketing we need to do bring in the business and how to win that much business. So in terms of managing the process, we know we can hit our target.”

Look out for next week’s article where we focus on the annual targets Equilibrium has set, why it changed its marketing and its back-office software as part of the restructure and how it has grown the business while still achieving a 99% client retention rate.

Equilibrium Facts and figures

Founded: 1995. Celebrates 21 years this August.

Staff: 58

Number of advisers: 6

Number of client managers: 30

AUM: £526m

Turnover: £5m+

Number of clients: 816

Client retention rate: 99%

Visit the Equilibrium website

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