Recently, international wealth management firm Julius Baer set up an office in Belfast and became the first Swiss brand to place a permanent operation in Northern Ireland.
The firm’s fifth UK office will be home to two relationship managers and a senior wealth planner.
Politics and the emerald isle
Northern Ireland has generated massive amounts of headlines due the political stand-off over the future of its border with the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit – a highly contentious situation with no clear resolution.
But this doesn’t appear to be putting firms off putting down roots.
So, it begs the question: why has Northern Ireland become so valuable for wealth management and financial planning companies?
Jonathan Dobbin, senior relationship manager in Belfast at Julius Baer, told International Adviser: “We have seen a shift in wealth creation thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit that is evident in Northern Ireland.
“As well as this, multi-generational family businesses are still a core part of the Northern Irish economy, with 75% of the top 100 companies being family owned.
“Given the breadth of our clients and their unique circumstances, financial planning needs do vary dramatically with diversification of risk (by asset class, country and currency), tax efficient wealth structuring for retirement and estate planning and investing for growth being some of our more frequent requests.”
Julius Baer had a team in Northern Ireland for 18 months before the office opening.
It expects to grow more in the sector, as Dobbin said the office will “undoubtedly expedite” development of its operation and it will “always consider opportunities” for acquisitions.
“The opening of our permanent office is a clear signal of our commitment to this market,” said Dobbin. “We are confident that, given the huge growth in this region, the response we have had from clients, prospects and the professional community and the exceptional people we have hired that growth will be significant for Julius Baer in this region.
“Over the coming months and years, we will continue to invest in talent and our local presence to support this growth.”
Acquisition is a key route for firms to expand, but how easy is it to grow organically by hiring local professionals to offer wealth services?
Dobbin added: “We are seeing a real shift of professionals, having spent time working in London or internationally, returning to regional cities across the UK, including Belfast.
“We are regularly approached by local talent and graduates who recognise that working for an international brand from Northern Ireland is attractive.”
The opportunities on offer are not just visible to Julius Baer – with firms like Mattioli Woods also seeing the promise Northern Ireland has to offer.
Murray Smith, group managing director at Mattioli Woods, told IA that the recent acquisition of pension advice firm SSAS Solutions (UK) is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Northern Ireland is not going to be a one-off,” said Smith. “We see opportunity in the Northern Ireland marketplace, which is healthy but seems to be augmented over there.
“We are looking to build out the pension business in NI and go beyond to incorporate the wider wealth management proposition to that sector.
“This is will mean two things – organic growth and acquiring businesses to join the party there.”