Money talks

Servo Private Wealth’s CEO James Mallinson shares his expertise in wealth management and running a successful business

We’re all looking for financial stability in life, and beyond that, to protect, preserve and grow our wealth. If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, you’ll want to maximise your efforts and success, paving the way for the future of your organisation or venture.

Wealth management is central to achieving this. In essence, it revolves around making important decisions about your assets – looking at financial investments, tax planning, estate planning, succession planning and other financial matters.

Sussex-based wealth management firm Servo Private Wealth, which works with wealthy families, high net-worth individuals and entrepreneurs, companies and charities, is on a mission to make the world of finance and money simple and easy to understand. “We want to enable business owners to reach financial independence as early as possible, and to enjoy their life without ever having to worry about running out of money,” explains CEO James Mallinson.

Using detailed pictures and software, Servo shows business owners exactly how much money they need, or will need to generate, either through a business sale or extraction of profit, in order to be financially independent. This covers all aspects of their lives – be it short-term money or objectives such as cash and borrowing; medium-term goals like putting their children through school, saving tax, investing in property, stocks and shares; or longer-term, such as planning for retirement or passing wealth onto the next generation.

The team provide independent advice and guidance, as well as the implementation and management of savings, investments, pensions, insurance and tax-efficient trust structures, and work best in conjunction with other professional advisers, such as lawyers and accountants.

Servo Private Wealth was established in 2019. In three short years, the company has enjoyed exceptional levels of growth – a testament to its resilience through tough economic conditions. So, where did the journey begin?

James worked in the City for all his career, holding several interesting positions all built around helping clients – mostly business owners – and managing their investments and wealth. In 2018, he had a change of direction, moving to a completely different role at a larger firm. “Six months into this new role, my brother tragically ended his own life, which sparked a period of reflection and soul searching,” says James. “After carrying out some ad-hoc consulting work, due to restrictive covenants, I realised that I missed doing what I enjoy the most – working directly with clients, learning about them and helping them achieve their goals. From this, Servo Private Wealth was born.”

‘Servo’ means to protect and/or serve in Latin. James has instilled this ethos throughout the business, as well as with clients. “Life is short; we only have one. The sooner clients can begin enjoying it and spending more time doing what they love, without having to be paid for it, the happier they are likely to be. There’s no point being the richest person in the graveyard, so why not do good with your money by either spending it on yourself, your family, or philanthropic causes.”

For James, the Servo team – and their clients – are like a family. “With us, it’s personal,” he says. “We need to get to know our clients’ hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears, and have conversations with them that often they don’t even share with their nearest and dearest. I’m hugely proud to be able to support six different families with their livelihood and be working with circa 100 different business owners on their finances in such a short space of time.”

However, it hasn’t been plain sailing for Servo Private Wealth. The firm applied for FCA registration in mid-2019, but this didn’t get approved until March 2020, so during that time, the team couldn’t work with any clients or generate any revenue. It had roughly two weeks of trading and trying to drum up business before the whole of the UK went into lockdown. Servo had zero clients, zero revenue and zero external investors, and suddenly the only way of meeting people, having conversations and networking got closed down overnight.

The pandemic, for obvious reasons, made the last three years incredibly difficult – especially as the business was so young. James explains: “We were offering virtual consultations, but people were reluctant to discuss their circumstances for the first time in this fashion as it just doesn’t set the right tone and is difficult to build the deep levels of trust that are needed when discussing money.”

To overcome this, Servo created a variety of initiatives, including care packages for clients and prospects, with tea and biscuits (based on the idea of having a virtual tea and coffee with the team). The company also developed a monthly newsletter which provided clients with a high-level overview of the critical issues in the market whilst being quick and easy to digest, and conducted regular ‘check-in calls’ over the phone with contacts to let them know they were still there and keen to support them.

Ultimately, James believes that being agile, flexible and creative helped the business grow and thrive. “I wouldn’t recommend starting a financial services business right at the beginning of a global pandemic, but here we are three years later and in great shape. I’m really proud of what the team have achieved and how we’re positioned for the future.”

Servo’s success was recently celebrated at The Sussex Business Awards when the company won the coveted ‘Small Business of the Year’ accolade. “To be a small business with just under £500k of turnover still in our first three years of trading and having started right at the beginning of a global pandemic, let alone winning an award, I feel, is an achievement in itself,” says James. “Winning the award isn’t a feather in the cap for me. It shows to our staff and clients, who took a risk in joining or working with a startup, that they made the right choice in who they trusted with their livelihood and finances.”

The team are currently working with a number of business owners operating across a range of industries – from construction, groundworks and education technology to fitness, food & drinks manufacturing, professional services and IT. Some are in their 30s and 40s going through the initial stages of establishing or growing their business and need help with protecting the shareholders or extracting profit over the next couple of decades, whilst others have an eye on their exit and need to know what their “number” is to structure the business efficiently for sale.

A recent highlight, James points out, was helping a business owner save over £5 million of tax by looking at their situation differently, being imaginative, working collaboratively with their accountant, and using Servo’s extensive experience to structure their assets in a more efficient way. “We’ve also won the trust of a number of sceptical business owners and experts in the market who have had their fingers burnt by product salespeople from financial services in the past,” he adds. “When we’ve questioned why they decided to work with us, they’ve answered simply that they trust us, feel that we’re not selling them something, and they value the advice and guidance we’re giving them on their overall financial position.”

I ask James how he perceives the present business landscape, and he explains: “As much as there are national, international and global headwinds, the landscape for entrepreneurs and businesses is the same as it has always been; in every economic cycle – be it boom or bust –there will always be opportunities and challenges. Those challenges might differ, but successful people and firms spot where they will have a competitive edge and will adapt to take advantage of them. Listening, learning, adapting and changing to flex with whatever the market throws at you will ensure you’re more likely to survive.”

His advice to business owners is to surround yourself with the right advisers and peers – be it people like accountants, lawyers, financial planners or other business owners, and be prepared to ask for and pay for advice. “Sadly, many business owners know the cost of many things, but don’t understand the value,” states James. “If a business is going to struggle due to the economic environment, don’t put your head in the sand and hope it’ll improve. Seek advice and help as early as possible. Understanding the P&L and finances is vital. Ignore the numbers at your own risk!”

Servo Private Wealth has some exciting plans in the pipeline for 2023. The top priority is moving to new premises to accommodate the company’s expansion. “On top of providing us with a permanent home that we can be proud of, this larger space will allow us to host more meetings with clients at our offices,” says James. “We’re also hoping that, as part of the move, we’ll be able to bring our pets into the office as having them around us reduces stress and gives us all comfort – not to mention someone who can clean up any dropped crumbs!”

This year, Servo will be chiefly focusing on team growth and development, including offering employees training and support with their financial studies, as well as building relationships with its growing client base, which has come off the back of a great number of quality referrals. The firm has also recently begun its journey to achieve B Corp certification. Having a sustainable business, James says, is central to Servo Private Wealth’s values, ethos and objectives.

Overall, James is very happy with how business is going, and the future is looking bright. “We feel like we’re still at the beginning of a marathon and are only really getting out of the blocks and starting to run. Our main objective is to grow our client base and increase awareness of our services amongst the business community in Sussex. We want to be in the top three names that people think of if they are a business owner looking for a recommendation of a trusted source for independent financial advice.”

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