The Big Interview: McCrea Financial Services MD Douglas McCrea

Douglas McCrea explains why the pandemic has only served to reaffirm the core values of his financial services business and its push for growth.

The business is going from strength to strength after 21 years, the MD says. Picture: contributed.

As the coronavirus crisis and subsequent lockdown impacts all of our lives and forces many of us to ponder our financial futures, Douglas McCrea, the founder of one of Scotland’s best known financial planning firms, reveals what makes him tick, why sponsorship has played such a big role in the company’s success over the past two decades and where the business is heading in this brave new world.

The pandemic has failed to halt hiring at the firm. Just last month, McCrea announced the appointment of Veronica Thomas and Chris Bain as independent financial advisers. Thomas brings more than 25 years’ experience in financial services, and has served as an associate director at Portfolio and Pension Management.

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Bain is a former senior financial adviser and MD at EIS Financial Services, where he spent 22 years. Bain said of his appointment: “I’ve been hugely impressed with the professionalism which is a big part of the ethos at McCrea. The company’s reputation is excellent, and despite the welcome being via video conferencing, it’s been no less warm. I think relationship building is critical when it comes to giving good financial advice, because to know and understand your client’s circumstances is vital; that’s something I really enjoy and am looking forward to building on at McCrea.”

The firm's approach is 'let’s get on with it and deal with anything quickly and move on,' the businessman adds. Picture: Craig Watson.

The firm, which was formed in 1999 and whose services include retirement planning, pensions advice and planning, savings and investments, mortgages and re-mortgages and tax planning, has been a long-term sponsor of the PRO14 rugby club Glasgow Warriors.

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Tell us a bit of background to the founding of the business.

I think it’s safe to say that being self-employed was always on the cards. I was very lucky over the years working with some fantastic people learning a great deal and also making my fair share of mistakes which you learn even more from.

Even in the early years I always seemed to be the one who ended up organising things – 50 people on a bus that broke down three times going to Wembley in 1986 springs to mind! It got to the stage where rather than working for someone else it was time to do my own thing.

My wife was expecting our third child at the time and that was an interesting conversation. “I’m going to give up my secure job and set up my own business,” I said to my wife, who simply asked me if it would work. “I’ll make sure it does!” The business is going from strength to strength after 21 years. And yes, Fiona is still here after 31.

What have been the main challenges to growing the business over the years?

Not many spring to mind and that’s possibly down to how we treat any challenges or bumps in the road when they appear. The culture is very much let’s get on with it and deal with anything quickly and move on and that has held us in good stead over the years.

And what about the present challenges around Covid-19? Is it still possible to be thinking about growth or is it simply a case of survival?

Yes – growth is still possible. Since March we have taken on two experienced financial advisers to help cope with workloads and the new enquiries that we receive. The priority is, of course, the wellbeing of our staff as well as clients, and also providing the ongoing advice and reassurance that clients have come to expect from our staff.

Before lockdown, in the space of a few days we moved all our staff, their IT equipment, office phones and half the stationery cupboard to their homes. This has helped greatly to ensure we are available for both existing clients and also any new clients.

We have a great team, who have risen to the challenge; it’s one of the reasons we are proud of our Investors in People (IIP) Platinum accreditation, because it reflects that we have worked really hard to create a great working environment which we have done our best to reflect even with home working. It’s fair to say we were well prepared for most eventualities although we didn’t think it would be a pandemic.

You have been heavily involved in sponsorship, how important is that looking ahead?

Sponsorship has long been an important part of the marketing mix for the business and has proved particularly effective for brand awareness and client engagement. All of our sponsorships started out at a very local level with a focus on supporting grassroots and local community sports club which tied in with our own scale and size at the time.

Take, for example, our sponsorship of Glasgow Warriors, which started more years ago than I care to remember when they played in front of a handful of people at Hillhead. They are now one of the real success stories for sport in Glasgow. It’s fair to say we’ve both grown considerably as the years have gone on and we feel the ethos and ambition of both parties reflects well.

We are equally committed to ongoing support of our local and community clubs including West of Scotland Cricket and Hillhead Jordanhill Rugby as well as Warriors as we look ahead. Like everyone, we will need to work closely with all our partnerships to ensure they remain mutually beneficial.

Are people taking their financial futures seriously enough?

I think the vast majority of people take their financial affairs seriously but for me one of the main issues is that when people hear the words financial adviser or financial planner, they don’t really understand what we can do to help them.

At McCreas we view everyone as unique with their finances. Our starting point is to turn over the pieces of their financial jigsaw and then discuss how that picture fits in with the persons plans now and also looking into the future. At times, the picture/jigsaw only needs TLC; it’s only very occasionally that open-heart surgery may be required.

Once we adjust the jigsaw to suit the client the trick then is to review this regularly to ensure it continues to be suitable for the client and their future planning. When all this is explained clearly, this helps people look at their finances as something that is really important, especially when they can now see what they have in a clearer picture with our help.

Where do you see the business a decade from now and where do you see yourself a decade from now?

In the past five years we have doubled in size both in turnover and staff numbers. When we look at this growth as well as factoring in the number of new enquiries we receive annually (normally over 200) I would expect the business to be bigger in many ways.

The important point is that this can only be done if the current standards and levels of advice are maintained. We pride ourselves on the friendly professional service we provide to both new and existing clients and it’s paramount that the high standards we have set are at least maintained if not improved on.

As a business we are continually looking at ways to improve what we do, and the staff have really bought into the culture of improvement in the business. As the business owner there is real satisfaction reading the testimonials we receive on our website. These very seldom mention products or figures – they are very much about the services and the people, which for me is what a good business should always be about.

For me, in ten years’ time I’m not getting any younger and the plan by then will be to be leading a slightly (or greatly) less hectic life enjoying our beautiful country and hopefully keeping my hand in with a few charities and sports.

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