Rob Jones – Business Development 101
Written by Kate Williams
Photos supplied by Rob Jones
London and the big cities have their positive aspects, but meeting with Brewin Dolphin’s Business Development Manager, Rob Jones, has encouraged me to reflect on how lucky we are to live and work in this part of the world. Rob began his career in Devon and Cornwall, moved around to Bristol and London, to return to this area and is embracing what Exeter has to offer
He says it is like coming full circle. Rob Jones launched his career in wealth management in the Exeter area almost three decades ago and, after a life in London and Bristol, has now ‘come home’ to the Westcountry. Leaving the bright lights and commuter traffic to return to the open spaces and more relaxed atmosphere of the South West was an easy decision for Rob following a long career across the south of England.
“My career in this industry began in 1991 when John Major was still Prime Minister! I started with a life insurance company called LAS (Life Association of Scotland) which is now defunct. There was a big recession then in 1991, something like 20 applicants for every job. I was 23 and did an HND [Higher National Diploma] in business and finance, because I’d left school with not any qualifications at all really, gone into dead end jobs, then I went off to Australia – the classic to ‘find yourself’!”
What Rob did find was a lot of students who were coming back with degrees and going into good jobs and he realised that he could do that too.
“I did the HND in Swansea in business economics and because of the big recession, my Uncle Terry – who was a bit of a legend – had worked at Eagle Star and put in a good word for me, asked if they would see me, which they did, and I was offered a job. I think they were more interested to hear more stories about my Uncle Terry than anything!”
Initially, the job, training to be a ‘life inspector’, began in Bristol but an opportunity soon arose in the Devon and Cornwall areas. Rob transferred to the Exeter branch and covered a wide area, going out to insurance brokers and promoting products.
“So, it was like a sales rep really. It was before mobile phones, so I had a bleeper, which meant I had to call the office from a pay phone when it went off. I did enjoy it, I always thought I would be in sales. I enjoyed being out on the road, not stuck in the same four walls. I liked the fact that you had autonomy over your own agenda. LAS wasn’t a mainline insurance company and business was difficult, but it was a really good grounding.”
The company was taken over and Rob suffered redundancy in 1993 but quickly found a job in life insurance, organising Friends Provident in Bristol city centre, where he worked for five years.
“Then I was recruited to join what was Albert E Sharp which brought me into this side of the business – the wealth management side – which is a more specialist side to the industry. It helped me specialise in what I liked doing, which is investment. In 1999, when DFM [Discretionary Fund Management] services were being sold into IFA [Independent Financial Advisor] firms, which was quite niche then, Albert E Sharp was one of the first companies to do that. I’m the guy who goes out the IFA firms to try to get them to introduce the client to our company.”
Rob spent eight years with that firm, which traded under several names, ultimately Barclays Wealth, and covered South Wales, Bristol, Bath before leaving to join HSBC Asset Management, looking after the whole of the South West.
“Back then in 2007, HSBC had a large amount of IFAs, but they didn’t have anyone to go around to their branches where their advisors were based to help articulate how that proposition can benefit clients,” said Rob. “So, I worked internally, looking after their branch-based financial advisors. That was very fulfilling because then you are the person who knows a lot about a couple of things as opposed to somebody who is a ‘GP’, who knows a little about a lot. You become very much a specialist. It was more about education and learning, a coaching role, a more one-to-one arrangement.”
Rob went on,
“That was very enjoyable up until RDR [Retail Distribution Review] in 2012 which was when banks and insurance companies couldn’t pay commission. There was a big exodus because the IFAs earnings were changing dramatically. And the strategy of the bank changed around that time too so we, as a team, became more of a training and development team, so my role started to change. I became less specialist, more generic, training, sales skills, fact finding. I didn’t like it as it was pushed on me, plus I had some health issues around that time too so didn’t want to make a job change. I didn’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction just because things weren’t working out at that time.”
Following the changes, Rob’s career path at HSBC took him towards London, where he started to look after commercial advisors, so he moved there.
“Our regions shrunk, and I took the region of Central London, then moved from being in the car, travelling around, a lot of open space to commuting into London on the trains and the tubes,” Rob said.
“I enjoyed aspects of it. London is an exciting city, there’s lots to do, lots of socialising and corporate hospitality going on then but that got curtailed with the Bribery Act. Quite rightly though, I think far too much of that went on, for the wrong reasons. Although it was a great way of really getting to know people and build firm relationships – but it did get abused in the industry generally. Professionalism in the industry tightened though, which is a really good thing. People are more qualified – we all have had to raise our game and be better at what we do.”
After five years commuting in London, it was time for a change. Rob commented
“The role I was in at the bank wasn’t really what I was suited to. It wasn’t my expertise, which is being out in the field talking about concepts, benefits and features. I started to look for another opportunity. I’d looked at Brewin Dolphin because I liked the company. And who doesn’t like a dolphin? And the opportunity they had was in the South West.”
Brewin Dolphin plc is one of the largest British investment management and financial planning firms in the UK with 39 offices throughout the UK and Channel Islands. Last year, Rob took the role of Business Development Manager in the Exeter, Truro and Plymouth offices.
“Now, all these years later, I’ve come back to Devon and Cornwall which is where I started from. And it’s nice, getting towards the end of my career, I’ve come full circle. And there’s still some of those IFA firms around. It’s been nice to re-engage with a couple of firms which vaguely remember me – with a bit more hair back then! It’s refreshing, exciting, I like the fresh air, openness and the positivity of the people. London can be quite a bleak place in the sense of people.”
“The people here couldn’t be nicer, you get that frame of reference when you are around people who are in a positive frame of mind, who want to make things happen, who have an energy about them and there’s a real sense of that here. It’s very important to have that with people who you work with, you spend a lot of time with those people.”
Rob is positive about the future at Brewin Dolphin, stating,
“The environment is more challenging. There is a real squeeze on costs so trying to make it a viable proposition is the key, so you don’t end up with clients going into something which is just cost-driven as opposed to value-driven. That’s the challenge. One of the best tips someone gave me was, do what you say you’re going to do. If you say you are going to give them a call, give them a call. People don’t always necessarily remember what you say but they do remember how you made them feel. I think that goes a long way.”
Rob now goes out to meet with IFAs, giving them the overview of what Brewin Dolphin provides and the solutions it can offer. He explained,
“I ensure we get the right sort of business, what we are good at. And it’s back to having that autonomy again.”
Pleased to be back in the Westcountry, he concluded:
“Exeter is a beautiful place to live. Visually, it’s a nice city and the rush hour is just half-an-hour, not an hour-and-a-half, I’m very positive about that! It’s is attracting a lot of business and a lot of talent. We have Ikea, and Exeter Chiefs are doing amazingly well, that’s putting Exeter on the sporting calendar. People seem to have a different attitude here [the South West]. I don’t know if it’s more space, a better area, better quality of living that just makes people more relaxed. And my job is to create an environment where people want to excel, where you bring out the best in people. You can find what they’re good at. I’m very positive about what the future has to hold here.”