40 Years of BpH Wealth- Reflecting on My Journey

The history of BpH Wealth

Michael doing a speech
Speaking at a BpH event

In 1984, I found myself at a crossroad of life. I was already a Chartered Accountant and had a high-level of experience running a manufacturing and selling organisation, employing more than three hundred staff. Manufacturing had fallen out of favour in certain industries. Clothing was subjected to a vast price increase for exporting companies; the value of the Pound Sterling had doubled overnight as interest rates reached 18% to “squeeze inflation out of the economy”.

The sheet was clean, so I could adopt my guiding values and apply them to where I went next. I was vastly experienced from having run a very comprehensive trading company. With my professional qualification, I set myself up to give advice on group pensions. At the time this was a much-neglected area. Half of employees were not provided for, relying solely on the State pension, which was far from adequate. 

I also had had four dependents to consider. I supported my widowed mother, my wife, a mature university undergraduate, my daughter, an undergraduate at York and my son just finishing school and aiming to become a doctor.

A Fresh Start

My rules were, briefly:

1.  To do something which relied on my brainwork, not the performance of many employees.

2. To maintain the high ethical standards I had developed through my accountancy studies.

3. To always put the client first. Simply, to only give advice I would be happy to give to my family.

4. To not rely on banks for funding. I had found they provide an umbrella when it is sunny but withdraw it when it rains.

5. To treat any employees with respect.

This 400 year old book was written by Charles Butler, “The Father of British Beekeeping”

So, I set out on my new course, working initially from home, where I could continue my personal interests as well as found my new business. These included active gardening, beekeeping, antiquarian bee book collecting, helping my family and friends wherever needed and, within my ability, cricket and rugby.

It started as a lonely way of working as I had been used to a multi-layered set of colleagues. However, I soon began to make good new friends and colleagues through the wonderful flock of clients that accepted me as their adviser. This was a revelation and occurred right from the start as I visited companies and explained how I could add value to their businesses, frequently from my own experience.

So, as they say, I was able to hit the ground running, with no preconceptions of how to build a new business. I simply applied my set of principles and a lot of hard work (something I had always been used to).

A Very Different Time

The financial services sector, now arguably one of the most heavily regulated in the UK, was vastly different back then. There was no regulatory authority policing financial services and no defined qualifications to be able to give advice. The mantra in the “city” was “my word is my bond.” I soon found this gave a green light to many, self-appointed “experts”. Many of these worked three days a week and spent the other two on the golf course.

In 1987 the first financial regulator, FIMBRA, came on to the scene amid howls of protest from the cowboys, who seemed to be in the majority. In particular, they did not like the “Financial Adequacy” rule which said they should have £10,000 personal capital (around £27,500 today). I, on the other hand, thought a regulator was long overdue. As a Chartered Accountant, I yearned to see some professionalism introduced into practices of insurance companies and their salesmen.


Simon & Michael
Simon and I having a stroll

By the end of my first year, I had made some fine clients, many of whom have accompanied “my journey” and I still help today. Only the “I” has become “we”.

I employed a secretary before too long. Then, after four years, I asked Simon Brown if he would like to work with me, an opportunity he jumped at in 1988, he was 21. He worked for Sun Life and replied to me, that of the 400 companies he helped, mine was the only one with which he would like to be associated. We clicked.

The week Simon joined me, we upped roots from my home office and moved into Oddstones House, our present home. I particularly liked it as, in addition to ample accommodation, it boasted a nice little garden and good-sized car park. These are both rarities in the centre of Harpenden.

Our client base continued to grow apace. When I gave assistance to small and medium sized companies many of the staff and executives asked for my help. The individual side of advising came into being and formed the basis of our present practice.

Becoming Qualified

Oddstones House, our current home
Oddstones House, our current home

Qualifications were initially not required or not available, but these emerged from the CII (Chartered Insurance Institute) in the 90s. I had always thought while being a Chartered Accountant was a splendid foundation to our work, it would be nice to demonstrate that my skills extended to my present occupation. So, I rather naively and eagerly applied to take a set of four exams in one week.

The CII sent me a set of four manuals, one for each of the advanced exams they had introduced. I set to work in my evenings, much as I had done all those years earlier when I qualified as an ACA. This time though I was well-versed in the subjects and was delighted to find that what the industry wanted was what I had been doing all along. 

In the end, the pensions booklet was delayed by a few weeks and so this was sat after the other three subjects. Again, hard work paid off and I passed all of these. I believe I set an example to my growing team of colleagues who realised, if I could do it, they could too. 

A Firm of Firsts

A few years later, Chartered status was granted to individuals who met the required standards. I was invited to the very first graduation ceremony, held with much pomp and pride at the Guild Hall. This was a high point for me and enabled me to set a standard for the other advisers to follow.

I am rather proud to say BpH has sponsored ten Chartered advisers so far. A good number are on the way. In 2008, when firms became eligible for Chartered status, we were also in the first batch to achieve this. In 2015 we committed ourselves to an even higher standard, becoming the first firm in the UK to be certified by the Centre for Fiduciary Excellence.

Simon has helped us move into the high-tech realms, a far stretch from the first crude word processor I acquired in 1985. We were among the first firms to ensure our charging structure incentivised quality advice, rather than making sales. We broke away from the commission-based model to a genuine advice-giving setup in 2003. This was 9 years before this became compulsory.

We continue to build on the basis I founded. I am immensely grateful to my wonderful team of colleagues who now form part of the BpH work family. I do not think we have strayed far from my original founding principles.

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