As this year’s winner of ‘International Business of the Year’ at the Awards for Excellence, there has never been a more opportune time to reflect on our journey from small Manx investment firm serving a domestic market to a company competing across the globe.
Starting off small in a Castletown office in 1996 with just a handful of staff, it took a while for the business to get going. Like other start-ups there were many ups and downs in those early days including times when the future looked bleak. But the founders were determined to succeed and believed in what they were doing. Slowly but surely new clients came on board and a certain amount of momentum started to build. By 2009 the headcount had reached about 60 and the business needed to expand so moved from Castletown into our current Douglas headquarters in 2010 which today house over 120 employees. We now have four offices in total: two here on the island, one in Cape Town and another smaller office in Johannesburg that we opened earlier this year.
The expansion into a new continent was devised after discovering a gap in the market in South Africa. At the time, the majority of South African investment providers focused on opportunities within the country, denying clients access to regulated opportunities internationally during a period of economic and political instability. Alternatively, any offshore business was serviced by subsidiaries of South African institutions rather than truly offshore entities.
Having recognised the limitations South African investors were facing via many fly in visits over a number of years , in 2014 the Group created a one-stop-shop, open architecture platform providing a gateway for advisers and clients in South Africa to a world of offshore investments. The offshore platform is headquartered in the Isle of Man, so is truly outside of South Africa, and is complemented by our regulated presence and teams in Cape Town and Johannesburg. This means we are able to give South African investors local support and comfort which is important for those seeking to place their assets in a distant part of the world.
Setting up in South Africa, whilst proving a huge success for the Group, meant overcoming some logistical challenges. To grow without a known brand, to hire people to join a new business they haven’t heard of and to break through existing networks and relationships in a space dominated by large South African companies has been tough.
Between 2014 and 2016, we relied on organic growth as clients quickly grew to value and trust our offerings. These first few years were spent flying key staff to and from the Isle of Man to help establish networks and a new line of business. In a demonstration of commitment to the company, the Group’s Chairman, Anthony Long, moved to Cape Town with his family to build the brand and establish our culture in this new and exciting market.
We knew that in order to succeed without a brand presence, we had to offer the best possible service to financial advisors and investment managers in the country. We took the following measures to build our reputation:
Accounts open within 72 hours of the correctly completed paperwork being received, significantly beating the industry average.
An on the ground team with a frequent presence at industry conferences, roadshows and seminars.
Heavy investment in our technology and our people with very low staff turnover so that relationships can flourish over years.
Relationship staff in the South African office, for example, are required to pass the RE5, which is a Financial Advisory and Intermediary qualification. This ensures that our people can relate well to our advisors and deliver services that meet their needs and their clients’ needs.
Despite facing numerous challenges along the way, taking the leap and expanding into the South African Market has proven to be a tremendous success for the Group. The South African side of the business now accounts for almost 60% of our platform business revenues and has helped the Group achieve a 96% increase in profits over the last 3 years.
With plans to target new jurisdictions, expand our international presence and launch the island’s first new corporate bank in over 30 years, to say the next few years are going to be busy for us would be an understatement. However, one thing will never change and that is our passion to provide our clients with the best service experience and we continue to work hard every day to achieve that.