For a single-office adviser firm, Portal Financial has some pretty ambitious expansion plans that involve tapping into a growing mass-market client base with as little as £5,000 in investible assets and opening a UK-wide brand targeting high net worth investors.
On one hand, the plans Portal’s directors have for the future could be seen as an encouraging call to action for IFAs.
In a post-Retail Distribution Review world dominated by signs of firms moving up market and leaving exposed an ‘advice gap’ populated by small-pot savers, if successful the firm would demonstrate that there is a viable business at both ends of the value scale.
It would also show that offering advice to customers of all shapes and sizes that success is possible despite the challenges presented by costs of regulation after the RDR.
On the other hand, it could all be the sort of optimistic dreaming that is often in short supply in this sector, but is no more viable despite the laudable aims.
I’ll let you be the judge.
Currently Portal operates out of one office in Rochester, Kent. It’s not a measley operation: the firm’s bosses say it employs approximately 100 staff, but interestingly only six are full advisers and eight are paraplanners.
The firm serves around 2,000 clients holding a total of almost £100m in assets under management, meaning each client is worth roughly £50,000 to the business.
Andy Moore, Portal’s chairman, points out to me that there is no hard bottom when it comes to client assets and that the firm will not turn anyone away.
We’ve all heard of this saying they could serve clients with a low five-figure sum to invest, well Mr Moore says it has taken on clients with as little as £5,000 to invest.
“We are here to help everyone, we don’t turn anyone away. Our average case size is around £50-60,000 but we would do it right down to... £5,000. There might be a few people at the bottom who might not be profitable.”
Much of the work usually done by advisers is picked up by Portal’s eight paraplanners, each of which is diploma-level qualified. For the record the six advisers are all working towards attaining chartered status.
In fact, as the staffing bias towards those in support roles might suggest, Portal manages a large client bank including very small-pot clients by removing the burden on the most qualified members of staff - the advisers.
Portal has a kind of bubbling-upwards type of business model: the dozens of support staff will complete tasks for the paraplanners, who themselves will liaise with the client and do a lot of what is typically left for advisers.
The advisers then take what has been prepared by the paraplanners and deliver what they’re there to do, they make the regulated recommendations.
Moreover, a lot of this is done over the phone, which keeps costs down as well as travel and meeting time.