When you think of big, industrialised cities in the UK paving the way in finance you’d be forgiven for having London spring to mind first. But not far behind and 125 miles north is a strong competitor; you guessed it, I’m talking about Birmingham. Despite its second-best reputation with many Londoners, the city has proved a strong contender in playing the role of a crucial hub to advice in the midlands.

Advisers tell us that being an hour and a half’s train ride from London has helped make Birmingham a great base for providing advice across some of the UK’s wealthiest cities. ‘We’re on the main train line, so I spend more time in London than Birmingham sometimes’, says managing director at MPA Financial Management, Phil McGovern. But the surrounding area itself is also saturated with wealth. ‘We’re outside the city about 10 miles away, we’re in Warwickshire, and we get a lot of quite wealthy people around that neck of the woods near Stratford that possibly work in Birmingham,’ he adds.

In 2015, 6050 people moved from London to Birmingham, illustrating that the city itself is a place to be. It is also rich in booming business; with 17,473 new businesses born in 2016, 2017 is set to be another thriving year. The city has seen a 13.5% increase in economic growth rate and with the abundance of business and steady economic growth the pool of potential clients keeps on growing. ‘The city has grown and grown over the last 15 years,’ says partner at Suckling Waddington, Gary Cowley, ‘they’ve put a lot of infrastructure into Birmingham and it’s pushed the economy.’

The city boasts a longstanding relationship with finance professionals, as it has historically been a sanctuary for investment and insurance companies. This has, in turn, churned out fantastic financial advisers. ‘There’s a lot of experience here. If you look around the IFA market in Birmingham, a lot of people are ex-insurance or investment companies and have attracted lots of professional connections, as well as a lot of businesses,’ confirms Cowley. The area brings in big business too. ‘At the moment we’re doing a lot of DB transfers at Jaguar and Land Rover,’ confirms McGovern, who works with large employers in other sectors too.

Brum also holds some historic significance in the IFA world as it is home to the Cellar Club, founded in 1974 by Paul Etheridge. It is a group of independent financial advisers that came together to share business ideas and best practice. Cowley gleams with pride as he tells me, ‘there were two or three original members, and we still meet today. It’s one of the best clubs going in terms of the quality of the people there.’ Not only are there many firms dotted around the city but there is also a wealth of experienced financial advisers, proving both quantity and quality are winning factors.

But experienced advisers are not where the talent stops. Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe, with under 25’s accounting for nearly 40% of its population, and this has been key in bringing in the next generation of advisers. With 10 universities in the West Midlands alone, four of which fall into the top 30 rankings of the Guardian’s University League Table, the young guns are also displaying their talent. ‘I’ve got six graduates,’ explains McGovern. ‘I’ve taken them on over the last couple of years. Three are on the PFS Adviser Apprenticeship scheme, and the other three will be booked onto the one that starts in September.’ The plethora of universities has been useful, as Cowley explains that firms are ‘using that as a starting block and they’re being very successful.’

Whilst some outsiders might turn their nose up at a Brummie accent, there is a definite charm that comes from the Midlands. I could not say I was surprised to find this plays a bit of an underrated role in the world of advice. Cowley touches upon possibly the most integral cog in giving advice; ‘It’s all about client service, and I think we are down to earth with a professional edge and we look after people. It is a culture thing. Come to Birmingham, we’ll buy you a beer and we look after people. It’s definitely something that’s bred; I always say it’s come from your mum and dad and that type of culture, the ethos, of looking after people.’

The culture has proved important in attracting clients too. ‘Our business has been going since 1973 without a single advert to get a client, without a single request for referral but we get lots of referrals because we do a good job and we are good at connecting with people,’ says Cowley. McGovern cements this as he explains they do business in a similar way. ‘We don’t advertise, so it’s all referrals. We’ve got a lot of clients in London, I’ve got quite a lot in East Anglia, in Norfolk and Suffolk, and it’s all been referrals.’

The Brummie charm, alongside its economic expansion, has shown the city as a leader when it comes to advice in the midlands. It is set to be a city that provides a fair chunk of the next generation of advisers and it might just give London, forgive the pun, a run for its money.

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By Bhavna Koli 06 Sep, 2017