Technology is enabler in Martin-Redman Partners’ growth plans
In 2012, Ben Sear and two fellow partners set up Martin-Redman Partners, to offer clear, fair and simple advice. Three years down the line, Ben talks to Adviser Business Review about the company’s growth plans, the importance of technology and why he believes the advisory community could benefit from adopting a more collaborative approach.
Adviser Business Review: Three years after setting up Martin-Redman Partners, how has the business grown?
Ben Sear: We are still in the early stages of growth and it’s only really been this year that we’ve been able to focus on marketing the business and growing our client base. The first two years were somewhat of a firefighting exercise for us, as we looked to get set up and directly regulated. When we made the decision to found the company, we had to move very quickly so we joined a network. We did consider becoming ARs with other IFA firms, but the costs were too high for us at that point in time so we made the decision to join Financial Limited. In hindsight, it was both a good and bad decision – at the time the fees and the support we received suited our needs, but we had concerns about their standards. Luckily, we were only there for a year before we struck out alone.
We were fortunate in that we started the business with a core number of clients, but we have since grown that number to 181 and have made an effort this year to build on that number and increase our marketing efforts.
ABR: How do you plan to grow your client base?
BS: We’ve started blogging and are using social media to get our name out there – Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – and we have a network made up of Cambridge businesses which posts our copy on their website. In addition, we recently set up our own networking event. We bought web technology which enabled us to compile a list of target businesses and do a mail-shot. So far, we’ve had one meeting in a local pub, attended by 9 individuals, which we see as a promising start. We plan to hold a free meeting once a month on a very informal basis. For us, networking is all about peer-to-peer ideas. Events I have attended in the past have been very sales-driven, with people only attending to get leads but we wanted to create a free event in a relaxed setting whereby people could simply share experiences and learn from each other. It’s good to have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss ideas.
ABR: How would you define your target client?
BS: We are a very open business and don’t have a strict selection process in place. We target everyone interested in true financial planning. We would never turn away someone simply on the basis that they don’t fit a particular ‘type’ – the only reason we would turn people away is if we felt they could do the work themselves and our fees would erode their gains.
I know of firms who no longer service clients because they don’t fit their ideal client type, but I think it’s important to have loyalty to your clients. Some might say we need to adopt a more focused approach, but as a firm we wouldn’t want to be too hard-nosed.
That said, an area we would like to focus on is attracting younger clients. At the moment, around a quarter of our clients are 65 plus, and that’s an area we need to address so there is more of a balance.
ABR: How does your fee structure work?
BS: We worked out our numbers out on a time/cost basis. They are probably slightly under where they should be, but we operate a system whereby we assess the initial advice work that needs to be done and quote accordingly. We set a fixed fee and hourly rate for items like arranging pensions or investments – we prefer that approach to percentage-based charging for that initial work, as we feel that is more equitable for all clients. Then we charge a percentage of assets for ongoing service, depending on the level of service the client wants to take. We offer three types of service – self support, planned support and integrated support. Charges are, respectively, 0.5%, 0.75%, 1%. The majority of our clients fall into the second category and while we would like to build the number of clients receiving integrated support, we would never recommend a type of service we didn’t feel would be in the client’s best interests.
ABR: What role does technology play in your business?
BS: Technology is very important to us. We all work remotely and technology enables us to do our job wherever we are, which is crucial. One of the partners, Julian Martin-Redman, is extremely hot on technological developments and previously established online share dealing sites Xest and Stock Academy so it’s been a passion of his for a long time. We created a breast cancer critical illness app (pictured), which provides individuals with a protection policy and we believe it’s the first of its kind. The app offers a live quote and the premiums are very low. We are also working on a number of client-facing apps, which are currently in development.
In our view, technology is just another way for people to engage with advisers. It certainly shouldn’t replace the role of an adviser but it should be able to offer clients answers and help them access information.
ABR: What is the biggest opportunity for you as a firm?
BS: I think auto-enrolment has huge scope. We want to work with business owners, and potentially the employees of the business. It could be a great way of bringing in new, younger clients. However, we only want to work with business owners who truly care for their staff. We have turned down work before where it’s clear the employer wants the cheapest package and has no interest in protecting their employees. For us, that kind of culture doesn’t sit well with what we stand for.
As an industry, I think there is the opportunity to work closer together, and be more open with one another. I question why advisers see each other as competition instead of learning from one another? There is enough room for all of us and if we acted collectively, we could have more of an impact. Individually, we grumble about the regulator and costs and so forth, but little can change unless we come together united on certain matters.
ABR: What is the plan for Martin-Redman Partners going forward?
BS: We want to grow steadily and organically. We currently have around £38 million assets under management and recurring income of around 70%. Ideally, we would like that figure to increase to provide us with greater stability as a business. We look for like-minded people to work with us, someone who would share our vision of financial advice. We took on another adviser this year and plan to do the same next year, with the aim of bringing on a new adviser every year thereafter. We don’t want to push too hard as we don’t want to risk losing our culture. Ethics and company culture play a huge role for us and if an adviser wasn’t happy with the way we work or our fee structure, we would suggest they go elsewhere.