Firing line 

Firing Line: Richard Romer-Lee

Firing Line: Richard Romer-Lee

It is not often the interviewer becomes the interviewee, but that is how the meeting starts with Richard Romer-Lee. 

The managing director of investment consulting and research firm Square Mile is full of energy as he paces the length of the meeting room asking questions about how I got into journalism.

He eventually sits down to answer questions about his business and the big issues that advisers deal with.

According to Mr Romer-Lee, the industry is in a golden age of advice, because responsibility for savings has transferred from companies and governments to individuals. As a result, the complexities of financial planning and tax advice has led to huge demand for advice.

Divergence

He is also seeing a greater divergence between  independent, owner-managed, local and regional advice firms that are the modern image of an independent advice firm and the bigger “more industrialised” restricted businesses.

 He said: “Basically, they are a wealth manager with a skill set in financial planning, building trust and confidence, being the clients’ financial conscience and helping with decision-making.”

Square Mile has increasingly found itself partnering with these independent and regional businesses. Its services range from arm’s length consulting – in which the firm tailors its knowledge to support a business but leaves them to control the decision-making – to running model portfolios on a discretionary basis.

Volatility and confusion about Mifid II remain the top issues that worry advisers, Mr Romer-Lee said. He added: “People are thinking about how they can access alternative asset classes, but you can encounter liquidity or access issues as well. These are challenges for us we are trying to solve.”

With Mifid II he welcomes the intention ofthe regulation, but also cautions about the unintended consequences that could come out it; for example, telling an investor their portfolio has fallen by 10 per cent could drive the wrong behaviour or reaction.

One of the trends Mr Romer-Lee sees is advisers exerting more control over their clients’ assets.

He said: “Financial advisers are the client’s agent. They determine where the client’s assets will go and they are exerting that control even more. Advisers now provide a greater service, but broadly maintain the overall level of the client’s fee by driving down pricing and administration.

“The larger adviser firms are creating their own products then handing out mandates to fund management companies, with the adviser firms setting the fee levels.”

Also, following the Financial Conduct Authority’s asset management review, Mr Romer-Lee said asset managers responded by moving to single fees and being more transparent about costs and objectives.

He added: “In the asset management market there are hundreds of asset managers, but there appear to have been obstacles and hurdles preventing proper competition.

“There are outcomes, objectives, and skill sets in asset management, and you need to be clear about what those are. But value for money is the most important thing. People will pay more for fund managers who are good at what they do.”