But with determination and a lot of support from very experienced colleagues, the boutique firm Westminster Asset Management has opened its doors at the International Finance Centre and is now keen to prove what a life-long experience in wealth management has taught Darren and his team.
A former chief executive in Jersey of Brooks Macdonald, Darren left the £13.7 billion group after five years and, after acquiring a small Jersey investment business, he set up his new asset-management firm in June.
It was not his first time launching a new investment firm and his experience goes back to the former St Helier stockbrokers Le Masurier James & Chinn who were part of the Bank of Bermuda group. They were eventually taken over by HSBC whose asset-management business Darren then managed for a further three years. In 2007 he set out on his own and launched the successful DPZ Capital, which grew to nearly £500m in assets before Brooks Macdonald came along. They bought it in 2014 and doubled their assets in the Channel Islands with Darren as chief executive of Brooks Macdonald International.
The latest venture builds on his experience in both small and large investment firms, and Darren is convinced that often small can be beautiful and have advantages over the larger firms.
Focused on meeting the needs of clients, Darren thinks this can sometimes be achieved better when you are a smaller, independent firm. Big wealth managers tend to be keen to grow even bigger, driven by the need to increase operational efficiency, and so are almost totally focused on acquiring new assets.
Westminster’s approach is slightly different, and as a relatively small organisation can provide that focus on clients’ needs, having built in efficiency at the beginning. That is achieved by integrating the latest technology, which can give them an advantage on those big firms still searching for the right solution.
This is being demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic where many big asset managers claim that the need for staff to work from home has not affected efficiency.
‘It’s pretty clear to me from dealings with larger companies that the idea of everybody working from home and service levels staying the same, is absolutely nonsense,’ Darren said. ‘I believe that there is always going to be an opportunity for firms who genuinely put service and client needs at the top of their list and have a concentration of expertise specifically to meet those needs.’
Darren describes bringing his team together in a new venture just as Covid-19 struck as ‘challenging’, but he also said it was a useful opportunity to review the business plan and perhaps find a better way of doing some things.
Most crucial for a new firm starting out in wealth management is the team, and that is where Darren’s long experience has also been an advantage. He knows the skill sets he requires to do the job he wants doing and he knows people with those skills.
In Westminster’s case, Darren is joined by Peter Lucas, who has 30 years’ experience of running discretionary portfolios with Ashburton, RBC and Rathbones and is now Westminster’s investment strategist.
The other key hire was Jonathan Overland, who founded Stanhope Capital’s Jersey office and was previously head of private clients and charities at Lazard Asset Management in London.
Gary Briggs joins the team as an investment manager and brings experience in global equity, options and derivatives. Head of compliance is Claire Southam who has 26 years’ experience at AIB Bank and Capita Fiduciary, and head of operations is Paul Soares, a former business development manager at LGT Vestry and head of investor solutions at Brooks Macdonald. Richard Luke is a non-executive director at Westminster and director of WGT Ltd.
The kind of private clients Westminster deals with are in some ways similar to the staff who are all ‘on a path to ownership in the business’.
Those clients put a very high value on capital preservation because the assets often consist of a business or enterprise built up over many years, which cannot easily be replaced.
Darren believes that Westminster’s skills also help those clients live off their capital and meet the spending needs of their family while preserving their wealth. This is achieved by a range of investment methods including cost-effective investing directly into bonds and equities rather than in other managers’ funds. That still leaves a lot of options to benefit from scale without becoming a large wealth manager themselves, Darren says, running the risk of losing some of the client focus which is their primary aim.
Darren believes there is another important quality that Westminster can bring to the party and that is empathy. In Darren’s experience good wealth managers who are also entrepreneurs have an empathy for their clients and want to find ways to help them get around their investment problems.
‘One of the reasons I’ve been driven to establish firms from scratch is because we have a great empathy for the problems that clients have and we concentrate on trying to solve them,’ he said.