In September 1990, a fresh-faced adviser arrived at the offices of Arthur Bown (Leicester) and promptly declared the company name too old-fashioned.
“It doesn’t say what we do!”
He had it changed to the snappier Arthur Bown Financial Services and some thirty years later, Jim Aitkenhead is still here.
Earlier this month, he celebrated this remarkable personal milestone by treating his founder clients to a spot of afternoon tea. Here, Jim explains the motivation behind that generous offer. He shares too, his thoughts on the industry, and on the bright future of HA&W.
A big thank you!
“The original plan was to invite people to afternoon tea in person, but unfortunately Covid-19 put paid to that,” says Jim. Instead, a letter went out inviting his founder clients – those with him since the very start of his career – to place an order for delivery.
“I was lucky enough to receive afternoon tea as a present during lockdown and it struck me as a brilliant idea and a great way to say thanks to the clients who have been with me since the start.”
Many of Jim’s clients are retired and have been shielding since the start of lockdown. For these clients, their afternoon tea evolved into something bigger.
“With coronavirus restrictions lasting for so many months, some clients used it as an opportunity to meet up with loved ones. A couple of clients saw their children for the first time in months. Others invited friends over to share their tea with them.”
“For many, it was their first social gathering since lockdown started and a great excuse to indulge in something denied them since March.”
And how was the initiative received?
“Everyone loved it – after all, who can’t resist afternoon tea?”
Thirty years and counting
When Jim first arrived in 1990, Arthur Bown (Leicester) was in trouble.
The previous incumbent of his new post had over-traded and written a lot of bad business. This was the end of the ‘Roaring 80s’ and Jim well remembers the “crazy markets, the crazy business.” But the situation here at Arthur Bown was different.
“After three months with the company, I thought we were going bust. There was more money going out than coming in, but we muddled through and from there went from strength to strength”.
There has been a great deal of regulatory change during the last 30 years, and Jim has been there to witness it all. But the biggest change has been within the industry itself.
“I was working in the profession when the Securities and Investments Board (SIB) was introduced. The SIB later became the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and more recently the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
“The increase in practice and procedures for compliance purposes has been huge. Every time regulations are tightened there are worries and grumbles from those within the profession.”
But that’s not something that has ever worried Jim.
“If you were doing a decent and honest job you never had anything to worry about – except maybe a bit more paperwork!”
“Thirty years ago, three-quarters of advisers were like used-car salesmen. Now the profession is in the hands of qualified people. It’s been a sea change, and one for the better.”
So, what does the future hold for Jim and HA&W?
Back in the early 2000s, Jim was one of the highest qualified advisers in the UK, taking exam after exam into his late 30s and early 40s.
Having built up a raft of technical knowledge, Jim recently studied for – and subsequently sat – his first exam in nearly 20 years. It was on the topic of financial planning.
“Even aged 59, there’s always something new to learn,” he says. “And I actually feel mentally sharper.”
“The industry changes so rapidly it’s unrecognisable to how it was 30 years ago. The products are much better, and the investment solutions are drastically improved – they’re lower cost and more comprehensive.”
Last year Jim took a step back.
Chartered Financial Planner Alasdair Walker took on a larger role within the company, becoming Managing Director. “Alasdair represents the future,” explains Jim. “He has the drive and the vision – an appetite and determination to push the business forward.”
No longer taking on new customers, Jim is more than content with looking after the 150 or so he’s already got. And he plans to go on looking after their interests for some years yet. He has set a retirement date and plans to leave the company in his late 60s.
“It’s a great career,” Jim reflects. “I get to collaborate with some amazing staff and meet great clients. I still enjoy the job I do very much.”
“It’s uniquely interactive. You need to know your customers very well in order to be effective, and that involves understanding elements of their personal – as well as financial – lives.
“Being a trusted adviser means building long-term relationships with your clients and that’s the biggest pleasure of the job”
When Jim bought the business from former partner Peter Martin (incidentally still a client of Jim’s, as is Neil Harpham, the man who originally hired him) turnover was around £200,000 a year. Eight years later, that figure has risen to £850,000.
With three advisers on staff and a potential fourth on the way, HA&W is going from strength to strength.
Or as Jim puts it, “The future is bright!”