Sorbus Partners appear to be somewhat of a rare breed writes Eleanor Mahmoud. As possibly the only multi-family office outside London, are they simply bucking the trend or are they setting the precedent?
I’ll leave that decision up to you, however there’s no doubt that Sorbus Partners has settled into its Stafford home nicely. Having celebrated its 5th birthday last year, it suggests the environment in the Midlands is ripe for picking. Set up in 2012 by Max Thowless-Reeves and Tom Hall, the founders left the world of private banking to do something of their own.
Both previously at UBS Wealth Management in Birmingham, the pair chose to remain in the region. Partner at the firm, Susannah Maister-Gray, joined Sorbus in 2015 and explains their decision:
‘Setting up in Stafford was the obvious choice – there is less travel time for us so we have more time for clients. We are only an hour from Euston so we have immediate access to London. Business in Stafford runs as fast as London now and success here is down to your ability to breakthrough with technology. Infrastructure with broadband has improved massively.’
‘The advantage of being placed in London are minimal but the costs – especially in terms of staff time consumed in commuting – are significant.’
With plenty of good reason to set up in the region, I’m interested to understand how they deal with the inevitable challenge of finding talented staff within such close proximity to the capital. Maister-Gray admits that this is a part of the country where the talent doesn’t necessarily pool.
‘It can be difficult to locate the right people in the Midlands, it’s probably our biggest challenge. But equally there is a massive upside to it in that we are committed to training in house and developing our people.’
The team are evidently passionate about developing wealth management in the region and are unashamedly aiming to draw people away from the bright lights of London. Utilising the chance to work with local universities, they are actively working to pave career progression within the industry.
‘There is a massive opportunity with the education bodies that we have here and we are actively in discussions with some of the best, working to develop career paths in the region and attract high quality candidates here.’
Thowless-Reeves is a Visiting Teaching Fellow at Aston Business School on the finance masters/MBA programme and also helps with the CISI wealth management programme too. They are actively integrated with the education bodies and Maister-Gray explains why:
‘We are keen to be called a profession, but don’t necessarily have that clearly defined career path to follow,’ she says. ‘We should be attracting people to our business and in turn raising the bar for the standard of professionalism within the industry.’
With four partners and nine members of staff, the team are kept busy looking after their clients and maintaining relationships with them:
‘Sorbus work with a relatively small number of very wealthy people, our only focus is on providing them the highest service possible.’
This is, of course, not unusual. Maister-Gray therefore implies that they have a greater ability to focus on keeping existing clients happy because they do not have to keep external shareholders happy too.
With the nature of a multi-family office naturally comes a geographically dispersed clientele, as clients remain with them for generations. However, being located in the Midlands seems to have strengthened many of their relationships. Regional clients find them more accessible and as business grows, they are even attracting more clients from London.
‘Reputations, like trust, accumulate over time,’ Maister-Gray proudly says. ‘Our clients tend to come from referrals from people who know us and the quality of work we provide.’
Whilst the team want to grow, they won’t seek new business to the detriment of their existing clients, which Maister-Gray hints some other firms do. An exciting move in their story is their upcoming plans to move to a new office:
‘We are looking to grow, including acquiring some more office space in the foreseeable future. We have exceeded our expectations in terms of our growth hence we are reaching capacity in the office.’
Always interested in gathering opinions from independent firms in this highly competitive landscape, I ask Maister-Gray what the future looks like for wealth management and family offices.
‘I think we are used to seeing waves of aggregation and disaggregation within the industry and there seems to be quite a lot of boutiques popping up. We find this quite refreshing as its bucking the trend of moving towards gigantism.’
‘I feel that we are going to get this two sided element, where businesses are going to either seek boutique focus or seek scale. Our view has always been that boutiques are the optimal environment to maximise client service whereas those that seek scale are driven by the urge to maximise profits. We’ve nailed our colours to the mast on this – clients first always.’