Balmoral bringing young blood into financial planning

Balmoral founder Stuart MacDonald with Debra Tracy of Direct Partners and the wealth manager's new recruits. Picture: Contributed

Balmoral founder Stuart MacDonald with Debra Tracy of Direct Partners and the wealth manager's new recruits. Picture: Contributed

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The managing director of Balmoral Asset Management has vowed to keep bringing fresh talent into financial planning as the industry comes to terms with a drive to raise professional standards.

Stuart MacDonald, who founded the Edinburgh-based wealth manager in 1999, said: “When I set up the business, it was me and a graduate trainee and an idea. We’ve now got 11 advisers, 16 support staff and a structured graduate training programme.”

When you’re taking financial advice it should be like going to see your doctor

Stuart MacDonald

He added: “Back in 1999, this was not a world that many people would have envisaged, but when you’re taking financial advice it should be like going to see your doctor – you’re dealing with someone who’s highly qualified, ethical and has your best interests at heart. When you speak to a financial adviser it should be the same.”

MacDonald told The Scotsman that clients should approach financial advisers with a “healthy degree of scepticism”, and their first action should be to ask if they are chartered – a proportion that he said is heading towards 20 per cent across the industry.

“The retail distribution review (RDR), which happened at the end of 2012, was helpful in clearing away the very worst at the bottom end of the market, but it was pretty unambitious in its scope,” he said.

“The current minimum standard is the equivalent of doing one year at university, but I don’t think that’s adequate when you’re looking after someone’s life savings. Ultimately you want to get to a situation where advisers have a level six qualification, equivalent to an honours degree.”

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Since the RDR was announced in late 2008, at least 13,500 advisers have left the industry, which had an average age 55 before the shake-up took effect. Although many saw the impending upheaval as a trigger to retire, the average age of an adviser has not changed, although MacDonald pointed out that the figure at Balmoral stands at 36.

He added: “It just shows you the dire shortage of advisers. I find it staggering.”

Balmoral has implemented a formal four-year graduate training programme, with the current crop of first-year trainees arriving from a broad range of degree courses – one studied journalism, another engineering and one maths.

“We’re looking for people with analytical and people skills,” said MacDonald. “An understanding of economics would be helpful but we’re giving them that education.”

The firm has built strong links with Edinburgh’s universities, and is looking to renew a ten-year commitment made in 2009 to provide financial support for the brightest students.

Professor Simon Clark, head of the School of Economics at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The partnership allows the best-performing students to be rewarded for their academic achievements and also provides them with a useful insight into the type of industry they may wish to work in once they have completed their studies.”

Shona Barrie, recruitment and admissions manager at Heriot-Watt University, added: “We are proud to have a long-established working relationship with Balmoral Asset Management. Currently, Balmoral proactively drive and support our best-performing third- and fourth-year students with significant financial prizes.

“The opportunity to join their team as a trainee wealth management specialist is a privileged position and one that we hope will springboard our graduates into a prominent and rewarding career in wealth management.”

Balmoral has also started bringing in apprentice school leavers to supplement its support staff, and has just taken on three new recruits with help from Edinburgh-based training provider Direct Partners, led by director Debra Tracy.

MacDonald said the company now plans to expand its physical presence to four locations over the next three to five years, with cities including Aberdeen, Dundee, Manchester, Leeds and London in its sights.

“In the meantime we want to continue growing the talent pool, because a lot of these 55-year-olds will be retiring and I can’t see demand for advice diminishing.”

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