Neil Martin Talks to John Spiers, CEO of Crossover Wealth Manager EQ
You get the sense from John Spiers, founder of Bestinvest and now CEO of EQ, that he’s going to enjoy being at the helm of his new vehicle.
EQ? That’s ‘Emotional Quotient’, and it’s the rebadged financial planning arm of Truestone, which Spiers bought in October 2014. At that time Truestone had an estimated £500 million of assets under management and a staff of 45. And it’s now a stand-alone, full service wealth management and financial planning firm – with a full re-launch happening in May.
The company has just announced a number of top level appointments, with many of Bestinvest’s stars crossing over into new roles at EQ.
The Bestinvest incomers at EQ are Mike Neumann (previously director of investment management at Bestinvest); Andrew Rees (formerly associate director and investment manager); Katharine Lindley (Bestinvest’s director of financial planning, and a multiple prize winner); Sophie Muller (associate director and fund research analyst) and Kate West (senior investment administrator). And finally there’s Daniel Bland, who moves from his previous role as investment manager at Quilter Cheviot.
Okay, we had to ask the obvious question. What does Bestinvest think of losing five of its senior staff? Back came the equally obvious reply: “You’d best ask them that.” Okay, point taken….
Moving on quickly, Spiers admits that he was very pleased to be able to recruit such top staff: “I’m flattered that such top people are joining me. It’s starting to feel very interesting. I’m absolutely delighted to have been able to assemble such a strong team to support the launch of this company.”
“The people we’ve hired today are all well known to me, and I know they are the right people to launch this service. It’s a tremendous vote of confidence in EQ.”
Two Organisational Arms
As you’d expect, EQ will have two main divisions. But instead of the conventional management/advisory split, the company has gone for a vertical segmentation. On the one hand, EQ Wealth will focus on a bespoke investment service that offers face-to-face financial planning and is aimed at private clients, companies and charities with lump sums of £750,000 or more. And on the other, EQ Direct will be providing a low-cost discretionary service which is aimed at those with £15,000 to invest, or around £1,000 to save.
Spiers points out that the new approach will allow EQ much greater customisation of portfolios to cater for individual client preferences and tax optimisation. The aim, he says, is always o deliver clients’ long-term investment needs by allowing them to build a portfolio that is customised to their needs.
Owned By Its Staff
EQ describes itself as a different kind of company in more ways than one. It is owned by the staff, and it has no external shareholders. Which means that it can be built, says the company, around delivering clients’ ambitions, rather than having to compromise to meet short-term targets.
The lack of shareholders might relieve the staff of EQ of being answerable to outsiders, but does it put pressure on the staff when having to fund further growth themselves, or guard against a lower fee turnover?
Spiers is adamant that this is a better position to be in: “We are very fortunate, in that we don’t have to please external investors. The business is in a positive position and I have no intention of selling it. If we need funds for acquisitions, or other deals, we will raise it internally. We can focus our attention on the clients.”
EQ, whose 50 staff will be based in new offices at Centennium House, aims to have a highly ethical approach and will, it says, base its business on achieving the highest standards of integrity, client service and investment returns.
The advisers are mostly chartered and the company has the same status. Spiers said that around 45% of the equity will be released to staff in the future to act as an incentive.
Going Back A Long Way
Spiers’s record with Bestinvest goes back as far as in 1986, when he started the company – selling it in 2007 to 3i, which made him a reputed £100m. By 2008 he had re-joined the company, but he left again when Permira became the new owners.
That EQ is independent and master of its own destiny is crucial for Spiers. He believes that the time is now right for a change as to how people are advising on managing their finances and wealth. He says that people are wary of the bigger financial institutions who do not always put their client’s interests ahead of their own.
The Ethical Imperative
But Spiers also believes that being ethical is more than just attaching a label to your marketing. He is committed to continuing to develop EQ’s socially responsible vehicle, the Positive Impact Portfolio, which currently has assets of £20m under management.
The company has also created a charitable institution, the EQ Foundation, which plans to raise money for good causes nominated and supported by both staff and clients.
The Way Ahead
Spiers is confident that he can cater for the growing number of people that he believes are demanding a new kind of wealth advice, one that matches the times. He is disappointed that, at the very time when regulation has made financial advice only available to the very well-off, people are in need of guidance more than ever.
EQ, he says, is meant to fill the widening gap and provide a genuine alternative within the financial services sector. His aim is to make quality advice more accessible. The focus, he says, has to be on offering value for money products driven by the efficient use of technology. It has to be all about concentrating on maximising returns.
Perhaps some idea of its growth plans comes within the official announcement of the appointment of its new staff. It said about its new offices which are opposite the Shard: “…on a 10 year lease with capacity to double current staff numbers.” So there we are. How’s that for confidence?