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Building an adviser business – Sheriar Bradbury

Acquiring client banks has helped Sheriar Bradbury build Bradbury Hamilton into a financial planning business of £200m AUM but in the past six months he has changed tack, looking at what is the most profitable course of action, he says

Adviser Business Review: Since inception, what strategy have you employed to grow Bradbury Hamilton?

Sheriar Bradbury: I started up on my own in August 1993 at a time when there were a few key things happening in the advice market I could take advantage of; the impact of the 1988 financial services regulation was starting to take effect, the average age of an IFA was 54, exams were to become a more pressing requirement and compliance was increasing. At that time, the key to building my business was to stay ahead of the game and understand what the changes would mean for the financial advice market.

When I first applied for registration, my business plan was to build Bradbury Hamilton by employing more advisers. However, I realised early on that it would be easier to build up my business and client base through acquiring existing client banks from advisers looking to exit the market. Acquisitions soon became an integral part of our growth strategy and to date we have acquired 48 client banks. As a result, I soon discovered that administrative staff were key and my strategy changed accordingly. I currently employ seven advisers and a very heavily built up support team, which has proved vital to the success of the business. It took a few years to realise; the trigger point was the acquisition of a firm in 1999 that had gone into liquidation. At the time, I had just five staff but a new database of 10,000 people and we really struggled with the sheer volume of enquiries, unfortunately missing out on a lot of business opportunities. I was forced to very quickly take on extra support and it made me appreciate just how vital administrative support is to growing a business.

While it’s crucial to have a business plan in place, you must be able to respond quickly to changes. That particular acquisition taught me a big lesson and left me much better prepared for the future growth of Bradbury Hamilton.

ABR: Will you pursue more acquisitions going forward?

SB: Acquiring client banks has been a very important part of the business and has substantially helped our growth over the years. However, for the past six months, our focus has shifted and we have not been actively looking, preferring to dedicate our time and effort to our existing clients. You can get a huge ego and want to continue to acquire business after business to build an empire, but I don’t believe that approach would be in the best interests of Bradbury Hamilton or our clients.

We have a fair few clients now, so we can afford to be much more strategic in our approach. Previously, I wasn’t always that selective as I was still very much finding my feet, but now I am much more particular and really look at the quality of the client base.

ABR: What do you consider are the key ingredients to building a successful financial planning firm?

SB: You have to have determination. It’s all very well enjoying the good times, but you have to appreciate there will be hard times. I believe advisers should be more heavily focused on the clients that pay the most. Historically, there’s been a desire to service all clients equally, despite the fact that some will earn you next to nothing. If you’re going to be a successful business, then you must have a commercial focus and concentrate on those who will be most profitable to you. That said, the service you offer to all clients must be of the highest standard. To survive in this business, you need to establish good relationships and provide an innovative service. Clients will expect you to come up with new ideas and ways of managing their money and you must deliver.

Finally, all IFA firms must have a tight compliance system in place and this is something I would really stress. Compliance is one of the major things that could hit you hard and ruin your business. I would recommend having both internal and external support and avoid anything risky at all costs. Don’t try to be too clever or get involved with things you don’t understand.

ABR: What’s your strategy for Bradbury Hamilton going forward?

SB: For the past six months we have taken a break from looking at acquisitions, instead focusing on improving our systems and client service, and looking for opportunities within our existing client base. We are a profitable business and my thinking first and foremost is ‘what is the most profitable course of action’. Taking this approach, rather than looking for new client banks, has really paid dividends for us a business and I’m very much enjoying the client work and coming up with new advice solutions.

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