In 2006, Angela Maher, Managing Director of Acumen Financial Partnership, incorporated a small financial advisory firm in Maghull. Little did she know that within the space of 12 years her firm of Independent Financial Advisers (IFAs) would grow to manage £240 million of assets, employ 17 permanent staff members, move to a purpose-built office in Burscough and takeover a Pilling-based financial advisers. This is the story of Acumen’s journey from start-up to success story.
A ‘grown up’ firm of Independent Financial Advisers
“I literally started with nothing,” admits Angela. “Not a single client.” Upon leaving her long-term role at a solicitor’s, Angela approached her network of industry contacts and eventually began offering financial planning to the partners of a local firm – who, incidentally, are still under Angela’s care.
“That’s where Acumen started. I was self-employed at that stage but ended up working with quite a big insurance firm locally. I was there for 13 years and, at the end of that time, the firm was going to be bought by someone with no connection to the financial services industry. It was a nanosecond decision to go and set up my own place,” admits Angela.
So it was that Angela launched her “baby” – Acumen Financial Partnership – in 2006. “When I set it up, I wanted to avoid all the things that I’d seen were going wrong in financial planning,” Angela continues. “Practices that I didn’t like or feel comfortable with. All of these issues, from approaches that didn’t deliver a great experience for the clients to the way staff were treated, I wanted to do differently.
“So I decided to set up a ‘grown up’ firm, where clients would come in and be greeted by advisers who wanted to be there and had some control over their own lives.” Angela’s answer was to put the ‘human’ back into Human Resources, empowering and trusting her staff, contrary to the culture of some firms where staff were expected to “beg permission to go early to pick up a child from school or to go to a sports day,” as she puts it.
Fee only IFAs that build relationships
Angela was also adamant that Acumen would swim against the tide of the arm’s length, commission-based practices that were prevalent in many local IFAs at that time. “We didn’t want to work on a commission basis,” she says. “So we set fees. We wanted to keep in touch with the client, have a relationship with them and look after them.
“A lot of firms at the time would see a client, set them up with a piece of business and hope to not see them for five years while the client’s investments recovered from the hit they had taken from the front-end commission. I wanted to make sure we had an ongoing, relationship with the client that they paid for in a clear and structured way and delivered insightful, well thought out practical advice that really added value for our clients.”
During these early days, Angela was Acumen’s only full-time employee, supported by two part-time staff, both of whom liked the sound of her firm’s progressive values. Word spread and the firm grew rapidly, taking residence in a former dental practice in Maghull. In 2008, with a colleague’s fast-approaching retirement, Angela knew that she needed a young, ambitious co-Director to help her oversee the rapid expansion of the business.
That year, former Barclays Financial Planning Manager, Jon Landy, joined the team. Despite starting his tenure with Acumen in the toughest of economic climates, right in the midst of the global financial crisis, Jon made an instant impact. At this point, Jon was self-employed and contracting for Acumen. However, in 2012 he joined full-time, taking on a directorship. By 2016, Jon had taken a 35% stake in the business and the growing team took residence in their brand new Burscough offices.
“Having Jon fully engaged in the business made a big difference to the business,” Angela recalls. “We’re focussed on the same goals now, which has made a big difference. We had the right people, the right premises and the right website. It all came together perfectly.” So much so, in fact, that Acumen’s management of client assets increased dramatically in the ensuing 18 months, rising from £100m in 2016 to £180m by mid-way through 2018. This currently stands at £240 million with the takeover of Pilling-based advisers, Wyre Investment and Financial Management Ltd.
Making financial matters ‘understandable, accessible and transparent’
At the heart of Acumen’s success is those very same core values that were enshrined by Angela, embraced by Jon and are now engrained in everything that the business does. “We’re dealing with complex matters and we want to make it accessible for people,” says Angela. “We’re not trying to make people think we’re terribly clever. We just take very complex theories and make them understandable, accessible and transparent for people. We want people to trust us. It’s a ‘what you see is what you get approach’ that’s been part of the deal from day one.
“We want to be seen as having unshakeable integrity,” she adds. “If there’s a right way to do something, that’s what we’ll do. If there’s a right fee to charge, that’s what we’ll charge. We’ve always wanted things to be transparent and provide really good value. There’s always been a litmus test for us and that is “ Would you do this investment for your mum?” If you wouldn’t do it for your mum, then you shouldn’t do it for a client.”
Find an Independent Financial Adviser
If you’re looking to find an independent financial adviser, or you’d like to learn more about Acumen or any of our services and products, then call 0151 520 4353, email [email protected] or visit www.acumenfinancial.co.uk.