Blacktower Financial Management has recently seen a change at the top, with founder John Westwood becoming group chairman and recent hire Gavin Pluck stepping up to group managing director.
Following the announcement of Pluck’s promotion last month, International Adviser caught up with him to talk about his plans for the firm, growth strategies, and the challenges that Brexit, the ever-increasing regulatory environment, and the recovery from covid will bring to his role, Blacktower and the cross-border advice industry.
Pluck spent most of his career as a managing director at Guardian Wealth Management focusing on the sales, recruitment and strategy sides of the business across Europe for over 17 years.
At the beginning of 2021, he was brought into Blacktower as group director to take the company into more jurisdictions.
And, six months later, he and Westwood have managed just that.
Pluck revealed to IA that Blacktower will be expanding into Switzerland and the UAE in the next few months.
He said: “At the moment we have solid foundation across the EU and the UK; we’re also directly regulated in the US.”
Switzerland and the UAE are “key areas for me and markets that I know well”, Pluck said. A Swiss licence will be first, followed by the UAE, “which won’t be far behind”.
“These areas are imminent and are regions that I have been very focused on with John Westwood over the last six months and we are looking forward to announcing those updates soon.”
But his geographical ambitions do not stop there.
“There will also be licensing that we’re looking at further afield, just to ensure that we can accommodate business, and we’re able to do business, and we’ve got boots on the ground, in certain regions, such as Canada and Australia.
“Key to that will be ensuring that the advice is in line with the local regulatory bodies, in all the regions.”
A major driver of the advisory firm’s expansion plans has been its organic growth in the last year or so.
Pluck said that the company grew by nearly 35% in terms of onboarded advisers across Blacktower and the Nexus network.
“A lot of growth has been very reactive due to Brexit, the implementation of Mifid rules, and tightening of pension rules, and our very robust back office framework has been able to accommodate such an influx of advisers,” he said.
But one of his plans, as he takes on the reins of the business, is to shift that growth from reactive to proactive.
Pluck continued: “I believe we should now apply more proactiveness in terms of our recruitment strategy and how we move forward by raising the barrier to entry, stepping up our training programme and encouraging professional development across the group.
“If you think of how we’ve increased numbers without having an active recruitment strategy, it excites me to think where we could go.
“And that’s where my skill set, I think, really lies in terms of bringing in the right individuals. That will be the short- to medium-term goal, increasing the Nexus footprint, and focus on onboarding good quality Blacktower advisers.”
But it doesn’t stop there.
Pluck told IA that, on top of expanding the company’s footprint and workforce, Blacktower is also on track to roll out its own centralised investment proposition.
This will include its Channel Islands-based DFM joint venture, Nexus Portfolio Management, and the Nexus Sicav funds.
He said: “Having worked with various businesses and understanding the industry’s investment propositions that are currently on offer, I see this as being one of the most attractive investment propositions available.
“My stance has always been that advisers need to feel comfortable with their recommendations to clients and this is very much in line with Blacktower’s ethos, and as long as we’re working within the right parameters and advisers are working to the correct investment mandate, we’re comfortable with accommodating good business.
“There’s a lot of work that’s already being done on costing, as we’re obviously in a very price sensitive market. But, more importantly, it’s about the results that have been produced against our clients’ appetite for risk.
“I think the key to the success of this will be communication and an understanding of the investments, ensuring that every adviser and every client is getting regular investment and market updates and easily accessible information on the performance of their portfolios.
“That’s something that I’m working closely with the investment manager and the marketing department on. Getting this right will be paramount to the group’s success.”
Back to basics
As the world starts to recover from the pandemic, Pluck believes there are certain issues the cross-border financial advice sector needs to address.
He said that, with Mifid requirements, serving cross-border clients “will continue to be an issue for many and a challenge for the industry as a whole”.
But Pluck believes now is the time to go back to “basic, solid financial advice”.
With the spotlight on so many specific areas, such as pension transfers, there has been an increase in technical knowledge but a lack of general advice.
“So many advisers have been going for the lower hanging pension fruit, because it’s there,” he said.
“Now there’s been a tightening up, I actually believe one of the challenges will be to reskill advisers to go back to some basic financial planning principles; with the technical awareness and knowledge that’s been enhanced, I think this will make a better, fully rounded adviser across our industry.”