Investec W&I brings in former Barclays women's boss to drive growth

Alexandra Newlove, 04/12/2020

Investec Wealth & Investment (W&I) has brought in former Barclays stockbroking boss Barbara-Ann King, thewealthnet can reveal, as the firm looks to sharpen its business model and grab a larger market share.

“I like a challenge,” says Ms King, who joins as chief commercial officer, and wants to transform Investec W&I from a discretionary investment manager to a more “holistic” service, targeting wealthier clients alongside expanding its existing six-figure account base.

Of course, Investec W&I is already a respected firm which matches or outstrips its listed competitors on several metrics.

Over the last decade, assets under management (AUM) have more than tripled, up 303 percent from £12.8 billion to £38.8 billion, according to PAM Insight data.

Rathbones, meanwhile, has seen AUM growth of 294 percent (£14.6 billion to £43.0 billion), while Brewin Dolphin’s AUM was up only 175 percent over the decade (to £43.8 billion).

And despite a slight decline in profitability in 2019, Investec W&I is very strong from a balance sheet and net equity perspective.

Ms King agrees there is much to like about the firm’s strong foundations – “but there’s an opportunity to do more,” she says.

“I like fixing and building. We have a fantastic brand and high-quality people. We have a good, stable discretionary investment business that has grown up over the years [via M&A].

“We’ve had a good year in a tough climate, but there’s an awful lot more opportunity to take a bigger share of the market.”

A new chief executive, Ciaran Whelan, took over in May from veteran Johnathan Wragg, who had spent more than 20 years with the firm, including more than 10 in the top role. Part of Mr Whelan’s vision, helped by Ms King, is to deliver more group-wide services to each client, meaning the wealth business will look to work more closely with the bank’s other divisions – including the private bank.

Most of W&I’s clients are in the sub-£1 million segment and targeting higher-net worth clients will mean a heightened focus on wealth planning, with the firm currently employing around 50 “very talented” financial planners, compared with more than 100 at competitor Brewin Dolphin.

Ms King says the planning offering will be expanded through external hiring as well as the training of some existing investment advisers, who number 350.

“We want to lead a lot more with advice and become a lot more holistic – it’s about having that wider conversation with the clients,” Ms King says.

“We’ve got less than 3 percent of market share and the UK has a deep bench [of potential clients]. I think with the experience we’ve got, and the people we are hiring in, we can think a bit bigger.”

Ms King trained as a lawyer before being headhunted by Citi to set up its alternatives department.

She was the global head of alternative investing for Citigroup by the time she left in 2006 to take a similar role within Barclays, where she moved on to head the stockbroking business, before forging a new role as the bank's ‘global head of female clients’ where she assisted bankers and advisers in engaging women.

She left Barclays in 2014 and has since worked for Porcelain, a family business focussed on communications, where she held a myriad of roles including a focus on M&A and restructuring.

Ms King says that at the time she headed Barclays stockbroking, only 7 percent of her clients were women, while her own research showed women were the lead decision makers in more than 80 percent of households. This seemed to her to be a desirable situation for neither client families nor advisers.

“We based the programme [at Barclays] on upping the focus on financial education, which is of course relevant to all clients… just like lawyers, we in financial services use ‘a terminology’ and the programme was about helping people understand the more complex ideas.”

It also retrained advisers to look at families “as a totality – but I still think there is work for the industry to do there”.

And when it comes to work to do, Ms King also cites diversity on the staffing front, though says during her first two months in the job she has found Investec is already making a significant effort.

“We have pretty good gender diversity but like most firms, not enough women in the very senior roles, and we have very poor ethnic diversity at the senior levels. Part of the solution is widening the scope of how you look for talent, putting pressure on recruiters, [and] using your own network.”

Investec W&I recently hired its first black investment manager – “but, only the first” Ms King says.

While Ms King has been in the office as much as possible – restrictions permitting – during her first two months in the job, like most C-Suite wealth managers she is looking towards a future with more remote working across the firm. But, she emphasises that wealth management is “a people business” and that juniors gain a lot from being around more experienced peers.

Ms King will also look at the lessons from Investec’s failed ‘Click & Invest’ project, which shut down in 2019 after two years. Ms King said some elements of digitalisation in the client journey were now “a hygiene factor”.

“We have to think carefully about that client journey… We’ll reinstate elements, but will we go ‘full robo’? No.”

Ms King and Mr Whelan want to create a relatively non-hierarchical leadership structure, where they are “approachable and available”, Ms King says.

Client retention and profitability will obviously remain key concerns in Ms King’s first year, but also staff wellbeing, particularly following what was a challenging 2020 for many.

“The focus on emotional health and well-being here is amazing and I haven’t seen that anywhere else. If we come out of the year with our people feeling good, that’s a great result.”

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