St James’s Place (SJP) chief operating officer Iain Rayner has told International Adviser that the wealth manager was interested in setting up a UAE venture in 2015.
This comes several weeks after IA exclusively revealed that the company received approval from the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) to open an office in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).
There has been much speculation over the last decade that the firm was planning on opening an office in the UAE – and Rayner confirmed that SJP was looking to the idea several years ago.
He said to IA exclusively: “I don’t think it’s a secret that we did some work in 2015 looking at the UAE as an opportunity. But it did not happen.
“Then, we did some work over the last 12 months revisiting that. Our impression is that things have changed. We’ve obviously taken the decision to go into the DIFC so we’ve been dealing with the DFSA. From our side, it has been a really positive professional engagement since we since we had the initial discussions 12 months ago.
“It’s an exciting one for us. We have only been live for a couple of weeks. We’ve had really good engagement. We’ve got a quite interestingly large number of people who are already having conversations with us. The demand in the region for financial advice is clearly high.
“We got about 20 partners/advisers licenced on day one, and they’re a good group of highly qualified people. They’re people that worked with us, either in Asia or in the UK.
“Our clear plan was to launch with this cohort of 20 or so people. We have a number of other people who are interested in going so I’m sure we will scale the business.”
Follow the leader
The DIFC has become the talk of the town over the last couple of years – with many Dubai-based companies seeking the DFSA licence to enter the international centre.
But, slowly, there have been companies further afield which have been attracted to the DIFC – and are now looking to set up operations in the UAE.
Rayner has warned other UK wealth firms about how they approach setting up the UAE market.
“If you’re a UK business, you’ve always got to think carefully about how you might want to expand internationally,” he said. “We’ve obviously been on that journey for the last 10 years or so. I think it’s a strategic mistake to think that you just take a UK model, and can put it in the UAE, or in Singapore, or Hong Kong.
“Dubai is an exciting place. Everybody who spends any time there can see that. It’s ridden the highs and lows since the global financial crisis very well.
“It feels like it’s only going one way to me. It’s a really interesting hub in a region where there are some really interesting economic things going on. I think it feels like a great opportunity, both in Dubai, the UAE and around the Gulf Cooperation Council.”
Rayner also added that he believes “competition is great in Dubai” and “competition keeps everybody sharp and focused”.
Growth plan in UAE
The SJP COO has growth in the UAE on his mind – but more organic growth.
“I don’t see us doing an acquisition,” Rayner said. “My preferred approach is greenfield because I think you can then establish from day one with your own culture, people, principles, and way of doing things. I prefer that.”
“You can never say never about acquisitions, but that’s not the way that we’re thinking. The reason for that is you’ve got to transition everything. We’ve obviously transitioned the Henley business, which is the foundation acquisition for us to be Asia, to something which is now distinctly SJP Asia, but they’re big projects.
“When I think about Dubai, I can see lots of opportunities for people who maybe work for other organisations who might want to come and have a chat about working for us, but at this stage, I’m not thinking about acquisitions in the Middle East.”
Academy and investment arm
One part of the SJP growth plan in the UK is its impressive conveyor belt of newly established adviser through its academy.
IA asked Rayner whether SJP will utilise its academy to help expand its UAE operation.
“I don’t see us building a version of the academy in the UAE in the short term,” he said. “But I think there is an opportunity to potentially bring some of the people that are going through the SJP Academy in the UK into Dubai.
“The thing I’m really conscious about that is I want the Dubai operation for SJP to be a very high standard operation. I think we’ve started with a high-quality group of people that we have an enormous amount of faith and confidence in.
“I wouldn’t want to bring too many people at an early stage of their career into Dubai, that feels wrong to me. But I think there will be an opportunity.”
Rayner also discussed how SJP’s investment arm will feature in its UAE unit, which will be part of the SJP Asia division.
“The SJP Asia Investment Management proposition, which I describe as a cousin of the SJP one, lifts a large amount straight out of the UK funds and some of the wrappers, including Rowan Dartington.
“But we have to put local tweaks and nuances on it. I think the journey we’re on is to develop further local tweaks and nuances both in Asia and the Middle East.”
Lastly, Rayner also discussed what is next for SJP outside of the UK.
“The board and shareholders at SJP want me to make sure we are working in Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong, and turn this into a fast-growing profitable business.” he admitted. “I’m very focused on making Dubai work. Having said that, this is a growth opportunity. I think we see a corridor from London, down through the Middle East and down into southeast Asia.
“I think that’s the way we think about this project. We could in time have satellite offices around those HK, Singapore and Dubai hubs, if we continue to execute our plan successfully.
“We could have other satellite offices around Dubai and other GCC countries, and this is a similar principle around Hong Kong and Singapore. That’s the way we’re thinking.”