IT’S far from being all bad news about financial services in the North East. Yes, there’s Northern Rock. But there’s also the like of Brewin Dolphin, moving to bigger and better premises in Newcastle and recruiting 15 more staff to take the force there up to 315 - as befits its growing business. Questions asked of this group arise out of curiosity, not concern.
Like, why change a successful brand? Wise Speke, which joined the Brewin Dolphin Group 10 years ago, has traded successfully under its name for 105 years, but now comes wholly under Brewin Dolphin’s name. The decision must intrigue the facetious.
Spoken aloud, the words Wise Speke imply a fount of knowledge, whereas Brewin Dolphin might conjure images of a grizzly bear and a playful fi sh. Lots of advisers in other sectors would surely love a name like Wise Speke.
So what’s in a name, as Shakespeare asked? Charles May, head of office at Brewin Dolphin in Newcastle, smiles at the imagery.
“I know. It took a lot of thinking about. Initially I was against it and, when asked to be head of office, I went away and thought about it, talked to everybody here, and we realised it was the way forward.
“We believe all activities under one name safeguards the future and helps us grow from our existing very strong base. We believe Brewin Dolphin to be an excellent organisation, and it seems to make sense as we move forward. Other Wise Speke offices are changing also.” Have clients reacted? “Inevitably. But an awful lot when we made the announcement said: ‘We’re terribly sorry but totally understand.’ Inherent within Wise Speke are about six or seven North East names, so they are used to it. My connections go back ore than 50 years. My father was senior partner here, and I am certain he would have approved of the name change. He was forward thinking, as we must all be.” Indeed, Brewin Dolphin is even older, dating from 1762. Many firms south and north of the Scottish border have since merged into Brewin Dolphin.
Today, besides being investment managers and investment bankers, the firm has a major financial service division. It is the largest private client investment manager in the UK, with more than £21bn of funds under its wing, and 39 offices in the UK that include 20 staff on Teesside and five in Cumbria. Newcastle is its third largest operation, and includes Brewin Dolphin’s investment banking business for the entire group – “a huge fillip for the region,” says Charles. The 15 new jobs are just the sort the North East wants, he points out.
And out of Newcastle’s existing 300 people, 200 worked for Brewin Dolphin anyway, since the investment banking is branded as Brewin Dolphin, and all middle office and support staff are Brewin Dolphin. As you read this, total relocation has been taking place within central Newcastle to the upmarket Time Central development, near St James’s Park. This also gives 41,000sq ft, about a third more space for growth than the evacuated three and a half fl oors of Commercial Union House that was home for around 30 years. Investment management will remain the main activity: more than £2bn to grow for local, national and international clients.
“Almost all the money is run on discretionary basis, with decisions made on the client’s behalf,” says Charles, indicating perhaps the extent of public confidence in a financial company that has stood a 255-year test of time. Charles explains: “It’s not just buying stocks and shares. All sorts of products are involved. The variety of things we can buy has grown enormously. We also work very closely with the financial services side, who help plan people’s pensions and retirement schemes. We have more than 35 people working on financial services – the biggest force of its kind, we think, in the North East.” Investment banking also flourished last year, notably with fl otation of the Eaga Group, another North East success story with its market capitalisation of £450m, 4,000 employees and a contract of more then £500m just won to help the BBC achieve a total digital switchover in broadcasting.
“This is local business and we are proud to have been with Eaga from its start and through its continuation and expansion. I say, let’s concentrate on some of those local successes, rather than some of the other stories,” Charles suggests, alluding to Northern Rock. He has met scepticism in the City recently about capabilities in the North East.
“It’s not just the immediacy of the matter,” he says of the Government’s controversial and enforced takeover of the Rock. “It’s the bad image it has given this whole region. So it’s not direct harm, but indirect harm we are up against. The direct harm is clear to see. The indirect harm will take some time to get into a perspective.” At Brewin Dolphin, a campaign is planned to tell more people what the group can do for them.
“In some ways, our successes have been a best-kept secret in the North East,” Charles says. The entire group is tightly knit.
Clients everywhere, for example, can benefit alongside institutional investors from fl otations that Brewin Dolphin is directly involved in, and staff are very proud of the award recently for its performance in the Alternative Investment Market. Meanwhile, the fi nancial services team can advise employers on pensions and, with an administration team in place, offer a one-stop shop.
“One of our great strengths throughout is that clients are treated as individuals and given a tailor-made service for their portfolios. Unlike some competitors, ours is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Charles.
“Competition is always strong in every aspect of our business. But every good business thrives on strong competition.”
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