At that point Paul Beard was with the UK insurance company Allied Dunbar, where he had been for almost a decade. Many of his clients were in the entertainment industry in London. (Allied Dunbar later became a part of BAT industries, which in turn was devoured by Zurich Financial Services.)
“By setting up my own advisory business, I thought I would be able to maintain and hopefully strengthen my contacts in the music and entertainment world,” Beard says today.
The strategy worked, and Beard’s new company was soon thriving, signing up clients from new areas of the entertainment world, including record producers, TV and radio presenters, small record companies and associated businesses.
As Alexander Beard grew, many of the company’s entertainment clients moved abroad, particularly to the US, Beard recalls, obliging both him and his company to develop an ever-higher degree of international expertise.
By 1995 the first overseas office had opened its doors in Kuala Lumpur, and by 2005, Alexander Beard had become one of the few UK-
based advisory firms to have established a full-time, licensed presence in the US, which it did in San Francisco, near the epicentre of America’s music and entertainment industry.
In the meantime and since then, Beard has opened and closed a number of overseas offices; acquired several rivals’ operations; launched and sold off divisions; and entered new lines of business that have presented themselves along the way.
Most of these recently have been in the international space, and several have been created in response to a lack of products for expatriate Americans, as well as for Britons who move to the US, Beard says.
One of these, for example, is a UK pension product that Alexander Beard created specifically for those of its British clients who have settled permanently in the US, which the company calls AMVEST.
Launched six months ago, AMVEST is a type of self-invested personal pension (Sipp), but it invests in funds that are denominated in US dollars, and clients receive advice on it from one of the company’s own registered investment advisers (RIAs) based in its San Francisco office.
Its benefits, says Beard, include the fact that 25% of the fund may be taken as cash from the age of 55, potentially tax-free, although this is an area of some discussion at the moment; existing Alexander Beard clients are not charged transfer fees if they move their pensions to an AMVEST account.
Because AMVEST is a type of Sipp, it remains a UK pension fund, so if the US at some point enables UK pensions to be transferred into such US fund structures as IRAs or 401(k)s, it would be possible at that point.
“It wasn’t complicated to set up, but it was hard work, because a lot of people wouldn’t talk to us about it; they didn’t want to go the extra mile, didnd’t want to be bothered,” Beard says.
“Dimensional [Fund Advisors, the Austin, Texas-based asset manager] was willing, and it deserves a lot of credit for that.”
One of the hallmarks of Beard’s management style is that he is quick to try new things, and equally unafraid to ditch them if they don’t work out.
This is evident in a corporate timeline on the firm’s website, which shows it has made nine acquisitions since 1987, one merger and one joint venture, and in the process, has moved into areas such as advising professional sportspeople, international schools, internationally- active charities and estate planning.
Beard says he thinks the true acquisitions figure is closer to 11, and adds that a couple more currently are “at various stages of discussion”.
During the 27 years it’s been in business the company has also entered, and left, Malaysia, the Isle of Man and Cyprus, as they no longer fitted the direction in which Alexander Beard was going.
One area of business that has taken off and is now the company’s fastest-growing operation is employee benefits. Launched in January 2007, a company division that specialises in this sector helps companies to manage employee benefit packages for UK and EU-based employees who work for international companies.
International schools are a major component in this area. Alexander Beard provides schools with a retirement plan that enables them to offer their teachers and other employees a chance to put money away for their retirement. It currently has 1,100 active members and about $20m invested, Beard says.
Alexander Beard got its start in this area in 2005, when it acquired Midian Investments, which had been in the business of providing pensions and healthcare products to the international education community. The acquisition gave Alexander Beard the sole rights to market something called the International Schools Retirement Plan, its flagship product.
In 2008, it acquired another firm in the sector, Junos, and from it, signed up two individuals, Janet Jenkinson and Leslie Stevens, who continue with Alexander Beard, and now run its international schools division.
A similar scheme exists for the charity sector, which it launched about two and a half years ago, Beard says.
No master plan
Beard says he didn’t set out to create the multi-faceted international business he now oversees, but simply “took it in the direction it seemed to be going, and looked at opportunities as they’ve arisen”.
“Take employee benefits, for example. We saw that a number of big American companies, particularly in Silicon Valley and on the West Coast, had small groups of employees in the UK and Europe who weren’t getting the services they required from the larger employee benefits companies they were using.
“So we set out to offer them a service, and it’s taken off.
“One of the new areas we’ve been working on is helping expatriate Americans who are being told they must transfer their 401(k) pensions from the US institutions that have been looking after them. We have a product that deals with that.”
For now, at least, there are no plans to add any more offices or branch out into new lines of business.
“We want to concentrate on developing the business the best we can, from the offices we have,” Beard says.
IA Fact Box
Name: Alexander Beard Group (named after one of the founder’s sons)