Firing line  

‘We’re trying to take advantage of how the market is evolving’

‘We’re trying to take advantage of how the market is evolving’

Earlier this year, Alex Barry, head of UK sales at Legg Mason, started swimming lessons.

Before your head conjures up images of a grown adult splashing around in the deep end of the local lido, it should be noted that Mr Barry could already, impressively, swim two miles – he just wanted to do it faster.

The younger Mr Barry would never have even thought about seeking help and coaching to improve performance, because, in his words: “In the past I had the mindset that I knew everything.”

However, that all changed in May 2014 when Mr Barry, while working for JPMorgan Asset Management, was transferred to work in its New York office.

“A friend of mine said to me, ‘You’ll need to reinvent yourself’, to which I replied, ‘I don’t want to,’” Mr Barry says.

But after some back and forth, he conceded that his friend’s claims had some merit, and that working in a different environment, in a foreign country, would require adaptation in order to succeed.

Looking back, Mr Barry says this period had a profound effect on his personal development.

“I think I’m a very different person now.

“What it taught me was that you don’t actually know anything, in reality, and the moment you realise that, it’s fantastic.

“In the past I thought I knew everything, and so I was very loathe to try new things and do them differently.”

A student of politics at university, whose first job was at a political lobbying company, Mr Barry returned to the UK in 2017 after spending three years in New York and has tipped past the second year in his current role.

“What’s interesting about Legg Mason is that we have a number of different affiliates [and] asset managers.

“But recently, we’ve also invested in tech in other parts of the world and now in the UK as we’re trying to take advantage of how the market is evolving and the market is changing, and also become much more focused around retirement and decumulation.”

What this has also meant is that Mr Barry has experienced what the advice markets look like on both sides of the Atlantic, and there is one noticeable difference.

“In the US everything is bigger. I was looking after two of the big [companies] – Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo – and between them they had 30,000 financial advisers, which is more than the entire UK market.”

Mr Barry concedes, however, that the fundamental aspects of the advice process remain the same.

“Ultimately they’re looking to do the same thing, which is solve financial problems for their clients, and over there the tax regime is far more complex than it is here so quite a strong degree of financial planning comes into play as well.”