Obituary: Alan Steel, hugely successful financial adviser and crusader for consumers
Knowledge, integrity, innovation, fairness, and fun are the five strands of corporate DNA which are at the very heart of the hugely successful financial wealth asset management business, Alan Steel Asset Management which takes its name from its founder and chairman.
This corporate DNA features prominently in every piece of the company’s client marketing literature and website. These bold claims might have been difficult to live up to for any traditional business but not for one whose founder lived by them every day of both his working and personal life.
Alan Steel sadly passed away, peacefully, aged 74 in the Forth Valley Hospital after a short illness. Many readers of this newspaper will fondly remember Alan for his witty and wise regular personal finance column in these pages. A column which ran for 27 years. Many of those readers went on to become clients of his independent financial adviser business which he launched in his hometown of Linlithgow as long ago as 1975.
A business that has grown substantially under his, and his managing director Steve Forbes, innovative guidance to become one of the largest independent and most successful financial advisers in the UK.
A business that today employs 41 staff and manages clients’ assets worth more than £1.5bn, was three times voted the best investment IFA in an UK industry wide poll and where over 85 per cent of new clients are referrals from happy existing customers.
These facts alone will stand as a wonderful legacy to Alan’s highly successful lifetime of work, but it was his total commitment to a strict adherence to these same DNA strands when acting in the wider financial community where his passing will create an even greater industry void.
After leaving Edinburgh University with an honours geography degree Alan originally trained as an actuary with Scottish Widows but in his own words: “He discovered that he had a personality” So that career was obviously not for him! Instead, he wanted to make a real difference in what was then, back in 1975, a bland and unregulated Wild West financial services marketplace.
The UK stock market had reached an all-time low that it has never seen since. A time when new investors were very few and far between. Undaunted, Alan set about building a huge personal bank of industry and investment technical knowledge by immersing himself in business books to give himself a competitive edge. This thirst for “knowledge” never left him and inspired many of the articles that he wrote for this paper. This increased “knowledge” allied to his original actuarial training ensured that, unlike most in the industry, he better understood and identified the flaws in the technicalities behind some of the financial scandals of the 1980s and ’90s long before they reached the attention of the media.
Such was his passion for the other strands in his corporate DNA such as “integrity” and “fairness “that it drove him to expose these scandals to a much wider audience, one which was way beyond his own customer base.
He was the first person in the industry to expose the huge Equitable Life scandal and the first to shout down the poor value represented by endowment mortgages. He went on to expose the smoke and mirrors that would eventually lead to the poor performance of one the industry’s then bestselling investment products – the with-profits bond. And his affinity for maths enabled him to publicly challenge the workings of the split capital investment trust. Workings that subsequently proved to be totally flawed
All four of these are now recognised as amongst the biggest financial product scandals of all time. It is therefore to Alan’s enormous credit that he singlehandedly challenged them all in public before anyone else.
He became a regular commentator in all the UK financial press and broadcast media where he always put his points across in a language all readers, viewers and listeners could understand, a communications skill almost unique in this industry And he always did so with the consumer’s best interests at the heart of everything he wrote or said. And he did it all with a wonderful sense of “fun”.
Those of us privileged to receive copies of his regular “Letter from Linlithgow” each month would laugh out loud at his writing, especially when he often referenced his Grannie McKay’s sayings to make a very important point.
He had a wonderful dry wit and great comic timing. He was very much in demand as an after-dinner speaker and proudly claimed to be the only individual ever to give the main speech in the same year at the two significant historical events that were local and always very dear to him – the Linlithgow Marches and the Bo’ness Fair. When asked what his life was like outside financial services he would simply say “Family, music, my moothie, Ibiza, red wine and Oliphants pies [The local Linlithgow baker].”
That was so typical of the man. So successful and innovative in business but still so very humble. He was kind, loyal, generous, honest and a thoroughly decent man.
Alan always remained totally true to his working-class upbringing. But, unknown to most, he was also a significant financial benefactor and quietly, behind the scenes, he gave great financial support to many local institutions and events.
The financial services industry is traditionally very light on true unique characters and legends. Alan Steel may sadly prove to be the last of them.
He leaves behind his wife Fran, son Malcolm and daughter Catherine together with son in law Dylan and daughter in law Helen and his five grandchildren – Hannah, Cameron, Jackson, Frankton and Daisy whom he doted upon.
Steve Forbes, who has been managing director of ASAM since 2005, said: “I, and many of my colleagues, called on Alan in our previous industry roles and we were always so impressed with his vast technical knowledge, the camaraderie of his staff and, of course his humour that when the offer came to join him, we all jumped at the chance.”
"Together we wanted to help him try to make his dream of retirement financial independence for all Alan Steel Asset Management clients come true. And many of us have now been doing just that for over 20 years. He was a genius, of that there is certainly no doubt, but he was also a great visionary. Several years ago, he deliberately stood back from the day to day running of the business and assumed the role of company chairman. He couldn’t keep away from the office, of course, and each visit was always a breath of fresh air.
"His sudden passing has certainly hit us all very hard, but we take great comfort from the fact that his corporate vision and DNA are forever installed in all of us here in Linlithgow. Upholding these ideals now and well into the future will be our lasting tribute to a truly unique individual.”
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