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Guardian Wealth Management Qatar Report

A little over a year ago Guardian Wealth Management made its first foray outside of Europe with the opening of an office in Qatar – a decision that may come to be viewed as a very shrewd move given how much talked about the country is in international IFAs circles at the moment.

Great potential is seen in the oil and gas rich nation due to the influx of investment and skilled expat workers on the back of its successful bid to host the football World Cup in 2022, and some believe it is poised to be as lucrative a market for advisers in years to come as Dubai is now.

“Qatar is a country with one of the largest percentage of expatriates, with 86 out of every 100 people having been born elsewhere,” says David Howell, co-founder and chief executive of Guardian.

“Take into account the influx of professionals and workers that will be needed to execute the country’s plans to host the World Cup in 2022 and the potential for our regulated company in Qatar is obvious. Estimates are that the current population of 1.7 million will double in the next two years, with around 100,000 expatriate workers of a position and wealth to require quality financial advice for their period working in the country, and potentially beyond.”

So, it seems Guardian’s decision to gain authorisation in Qatar showed great foresight, in their very first move outside Europe, a progression that is set to be followed with further international growth within the next 12 months.

Adds Howell: “Historically, as a firm we have just concentrated on the UK and Europe, but now we have expanded into the Middle East and also have plans for the Far East. We want to become a genuine international financial planning practice.”

When it launched in the mid 90s, Guardian’s focus was on the UK, and, like many international businesses before it, the move into providing offshore or cross-border advice was dictated more by circumstance and chance than strategy.

Howell says: “Many of our clients were beginning to leave the UK to take up employment either permanently or temporarily in the EU, and specifically with the United Nations.

“Rather than lose them, it made sense to follow them to the countries in which they were working and to ensure we met their financial needs as expats abroad as well as at home in the UK.”

These UN workers were scientists, explains Howell, who had become clients through the “usual channels” – they were based in and around Yorkshire and, requiring financial planning, found their way to Guardian’s door.

Initially, an office was opened in Brussels under the supervision of the Belgium regulator the CBFA, where the UN has a large presence, from which it liaises with the European Union. This was followed by a further outpost in Geneva, as a member of the OAR-G self regulatory group,, also as a result of the UN client base.

By virtue of these offices, Guardian was able to offer fully regulated financial planning services for other British expats in Europe, and grow its client base within the UN as well.

“We were invited to present at various UN organisation’s seminars and give presentations to international bodies. We haven’t looked back,” says Howell, who adds that the firm also retains a large UK client roster.

He founded the firm in Yorkshire in 1994 as a one-man band operation called Keystone Consultancy then in partnership with John Hasberry, Guardian chief operating officer, began expanding the business internationally.

Some 15 years later the business has 57 advisers on its books, variously based in the UK, Switzerland, Belgium and latterly Qatar, almost £170m under advice and in excess of 5,000 clients.

Howells himself went into insurance broking “at the tender age of 18”, working for a company called Provident Mutual, based in Leeds. He later found himself in Perth, Australia, having successfully applied for a job within Allied Capital Group, part of Inscape.

On returning to the UK, he worked alongside Ken Davy, the highly respected founder of the SimplyBiz network, a figure who, along with an uncle who was a businessman and entrepreneur, inspired Howell to strike out on his own.

“I worked for Ken for eight years but I decided I wanted to drive my own destiny, create something myself and make a difference in financial planning – to create a legacy if you like.” With such a legacy in mind, Howell says it is his now ambition to create an offshore IFA business that is free from the negative perceptions that surround some other firms in the sector.

“As a company headquartered in the UK, one of the premises on which we have built the business is with consideration of FSA rules and guidelines in whichever jurisdiction and at whatever level of regulatory development. Just as we would if we were in the UK, we look to operate at the highest level of business practice and to give our clients the best advice.”

As part of its commitment to high standards, Howell says Guardian is currently in the process of becoming chartered by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII).

The CII, an IFA -and broader financial services -professional standards and education organisation, also runs an examination programme designed specifically for advisers (ISO22222. See box below), which Guardian UK IFAs are required to achieve.

“We use the CII as our benchmark qualification and all our advisers are fully qualified to provide the level of advice they offer. As a business we support them in expanding their qualifications and attaining higher levels of qualification. That makes sense from the individual adviser and the business perspective,” explains Howell, a onetime chairman of the Leeds branch of the Institute of Financial Planning.

He says becoming CII chartered is currently only a UK goal, but explains he will look at doing the same for the international operations when the time is right.

And Howell stresses that, regardless of the geographical location of an adviser, the same standards are applied throughout the business.

“For example, we adopt thehighest principles and guidance around matters such as knowing your client, anti-money laundering checks, reasons why documents and so on. All this makes good sense and helps support the advice we’ve given a client, so they know how a financial product or investment fits into their financial plan.”

Being a UK FSA regulated business means Guardian must also adhere to the rules of the forthcoming Retail Distribution Review regime, which will outlaw product commission and impose on the UK one of the most stringent financial adviser compliance regimes in the world. Guardian is prepared for the RDR, and is “applying the principles across our international operation,” says Howell.

Though Howell says RDR “principles” will be applied, his overseas advisers will continue to be paid by product commission, provided their clients choose such an arrangement – something that will not be possible in the UK from next year.

Howell defends this position by saying all clients are offered a choice over how to pay for Guardian’s services: “If you are transparent about your advice and how you get paid, then the client can decide how they prefer to pay you – whether they want to write a cheque, pay a fee, or for us to take commission from the product.

“As long as the client is aware of the situation, there is no problem with commission.”

His stance on commission aside, Howell says the RDR is a good thing for the financial advice industry. “There will be a wide range of positives to come out of RDR,” he adds, explaining that it will help restore public confidence in advisers, foster greater professionalism among them and lead to more respect being shown to advisers by business introducers such as lawyers and accountants.

And the chief executive, who is also chairman of the bench of his local magistrates’ court, believes the message and example Guardian can bring to the expat market in terms of following UK regulatory principles is compelling, and one he next hopes to bring to the Far East, where there are plans for a new office.

Singapore is the most likely destination for a new office, says Howell, who he has met with the local regulator, the MAS, and is now looking into finding the right people for the job.

“We have very clear plans for rapid growth of the business and this will be through acquisition, merger and hiring of high calibre, appropriately qualified, financial advisers to help expand the business in key areas. Guardian Wealth Management will be the firm to watch in 2011. “

Facts and figures

Established: 1994

Number of Advisers: 57

AUM: £167m

Number of Clients: 5600.

Services Offered:

  • Savings Plans
  • Lump Sum Investments
  • Education Fees Planning
  • Inheritance Tax Planning
  • Retirement Planning
  • Personal Financial Planning
  • Life Assurance

ISO 22222 Financial Planner Certification confirms a financial planner’s conformity to the international ISO financial planning standards. The Certification is a personal award and applies to individual Financial Planners.

The standard defines six steps of the personal financial planning process:

1. Establishing and defining the client and personal financial planner relationship.

2. Gathering client data and determining goals and expectations.

3. Analysing and evaluating the client’s financial status.

4. Developing and presenting the financial plan.

5. Implementing the financial planning recommendations.

6. Monitoring the financial plan and the financial planning relationship.

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