AFTER more than 20 years in banking, helping with cross-border families and businesses, Clive T Wright decided it was time for a move.
The changes that had happened in the banking industry made him feel that it had become harder to look after his clients in the same way he had previously. He also wanted the opportunity to run a business. Having been head of private banking in the Channel Islands for Kleinwort Hambros, he wanted a new challenge.
So why Vistra?
‘We’re a big firm here but quiet, and Vistra internationally is one of the largest financial services providers in the world, across all disciplines. So for me, with my background, I’ve worked in Africa, Middle East, as well as the UK and Europe – it was an ideal fit.’
Vistra Jersey has doubled in size over the past five years and currently has just under 100 staff, with a further 25 working in the group office. Its growth has been mostly organic, with just some small acquisitions, and Mr Wright is aiming for further growth.
‘By 2025, we want to more than double in size. I want to be a big business, but I want to be a big business that keeps the same level of service and expertise for the clients. We win lots of business from competitors, or other locations and it’s not down to price but expertise and, primarily, it’s down to service. We’re seeing a lot of big clients starting to move around saying, “Well, I moved in because it was cheap and within a year I realised actually I don’t want cheap, I want a fair price but what I want is expertise and I want great service. I’m prepared to pay for that”.
‘I think there are lots more opportunities for us. Asia and emerging markets are growing faster and faster. And you’re seeing a tipping point now, partly through geopolitical risk and instability. Some people are looking at more safe havens. But more, you’re seeing the market mature faster with technology. Clients want to send their children to the UK or Europe to be educated. They want to buy assets, both personal and business assets, and Jersey is a great place to structure.’
Mr Wright sees opportunities not just from Asia, but also the Middle East, North America and Latin America. One thing he is not concerned about is Brexit, as he sees the Island’s stability and position outside the UK and Europe as a big asset – a view his clients share.
‘There was a lot of concern about Brexit but actually, when you look at Jersey or the Channel Islands from a funds point of view, the big institutional retail funds left a long time ago and moved to Dublin. What we see here is more of the small-mid cap size in the main, and the people behind these tend to be more private individuals and families. Because they’re very entrepreneurial, and far more proactive, they look at things like Brexit, which can be disruptive, and see it as an opportunity.’
So does Mr Wright see growth in the Channel Islands’ funds industry?
‘Yes, we’ve seen some areas which have slowed down a little. Capital markets have slowed down significantly, but then you’re seeing the Jersey private fund vehicles become far more popular, so the private monies or backers are coming in. You’re seeing a shift in behaviour and a shift in size, but we’re still seeing a lot of activity from a local point of view.’
He praises Jersey’s transparent regulatory environment as well as the proactive moves by Jersey Finance in looking for new markets and launching new products. The overheads of compliance and the like has meant the industry is seeing more consolidation, but he thinks that is a good thing because smaller firms are merging into international businesses.
‘It’s actually helping the Island as well through its businesses plugging into international networks automatically through its ownership structure.’
If Brexit isn’t a challenge, what does Mr Wright think the finance industry needs to be wary of?
‘The challenges I see are technology and consumer demands because, once you get to a certain size of scale, not just from a service provider point of view, like Vistra, but from a client point of view, it’s about cost. It’s about technology and platforms. You’ll see some providers reducing the workforce and investing into platform solutions. That means short-term, this will have some impact in terms of employment, but long-term it means that businesses like ourselves want to invest in the higher paid, more technical roles.
‘We’re lucky at the moment, there are lots of jurisdictions which have failed to keep up with Jersey’s standards, but some of them might start to catch up. So you might see a little bit of a challenge. And you could end up with a post-Brexit UK changing its legislation to become more of a finance centre and start to challenge the Channel Islands a little bit more.’
Vistra Jersey is starting to get more visual. It has sponsored Jersey Finance events and Locate Jersey initiatives this year, but for Mr Wright, the priority is to get the structure of the business right and that includes investing in its staff.
The firm is looking at career succession development plans and wants not only to attract young people, but give them a reason to stay in the business.
‘We’re seeing a lot of people who just want to do the exams and think that’s enough. But actually, it’s about skills, knowledge and experience. So we want to offer that to people who come to work with Vistra. It’s not just about passing an exam, it’s about actually getting practical experience of using the qualification and the knowledge – that’s the invaluable bit.
‘For me, it’s not about me, one individual leading; it’s about the team that I’ve got here with me. I’ve got a really strong, experienced, broad and diverse set of individuals. The most diverse teams are the most successful ones. We are launching a continuous process improvement programme. We want the staff to feel that they’re part of the business, that they’re part of shaping it.
‘So you might have someone doing the same thing for ages and you have somebody who sits next to them and says: “Why are we doing it like this?”. You see that particularly with technology, where younger people come in who adapt very quickly but more mature people like myself, might take another year to adapt to it. But then, on the other side, I’ve got more practical experience so I can inform and educate some of them. Between the two, we can come up with something pretty dynamic.’
Mr Wright is not just talking about continuous learning; he is studying for his ICA diploma in governance, risk and compliance, and believes it is up to managers in businesses to ensure they keep up to date.
He also thinks that the move by regulators to hold individuals to account more is a good one.
‘I think it is long overdue because the reality is that the board is ultimately responsible for the conduct and culture of a company. Sometimes individuals of a company can fail to act in an appropriate way. Shareholders put a lot of trust in people, as do employees, so I think it is an important standard. It’s a difficult challenge for me, as a director or principal person of a company, but that’s what you’re paid for. So, I think it’s a positive.
‘The code of conduct and the regulations are guidance for how to run a business successfully. Why wouldn’t you do it? It tells you how to look after your clients, how to act with integrity, how not to break the law. Who wouldn’t do that?’