Signia Wealth managing director Carnegie Smyth is fascinated by entrepreneurs. It is a theme that runs through his professional life and one of the reasons why he has built a career in wealth management, having started out advising entrepreneurs at Deloitte’s private client tax management team, which he joined from university.
More recently, through his ambassadorial role at the British Olympic Association, he met the entrepreneur Sir Keith Mills, inventor of the Air Miles and Nectar loyalty card schemes.
This led to Smyth becoming a board trustee of Mills’ charity, Sported UK, for which he recently did a 10-day 1,000km cycle ride from Belfast to London.
He says: “It was a moment of madness – or weakness – but I enjoyed every day. Anyone in any industry gets so busy and caught up in their everyday routines, but just a couple of days doing something else allows you to reflect – to put into perspective what we do and why we do it.”
So what drew Smyth to wealth management? “I always wanted to run my own business. My interest in being an entrepreneur came from my father, who started a business in his late 40s,” he explains.
He admits to “getting a buzz” when successful entrepreneurs with relatively high profiles choose Signia to manage their money. “Every time I meet them, I want them to do the talking, not me.”
One of Smyth’s earliest memories is of discussing with his parents how to get a job when he was four or five. “I remember thinking ‘this doesn’t sound fun’. When I started my own business, my mum joked that it was always going to happen. I always had a passion to do something on my own.”
A glance at Smyth’s CV shows he is technically in his second spell at Signia Wealth, having first joined the firm from Deloitte in 2010. But his is not a story of someone leaving a firm as a stepping stone to getting a prized promotion on their return. Smyth left to start a business, Squared Investments, which he brought into Signia Wealth when he returned.
He feels the firm bears little resemblance to the one he left in 2014: “I don’t think I ‘came back’. But the decision was difficult as other people perceive that you are doing so.”
Smyth set up Squared Investments with former colleagues Etienne de Merlis sand Greg Malone to focus on advising entrepreneurs. They were building it at a faster rate than expected but soon realised that to progress further they needed scale and infrastructure.
In what could be seen as a twist of fate, changes were afoot at their former firm. The wave of departures that had started at Signia Wealth in early 2013 came to a dramatic conclusion with co-founder and chief executive Nathalie Dauriac-Stoebe’s sudden exit in January 2015.
This opened the door for Smyth, de Merlis and Malone to return and realise their ideas for Squared Investments on a bigger stage.
With the size and the client base of Signia, they knew it could accelerate what they had wanted to achieve at Squared Investments, while at the same time giving Signia the clear direction it needed.
“We have created something different and brought that back into the existing structure. I knew how talented the people here are and we have great clients. But I didn’t think about Signia when I left. The focus was on Squared Investments – the new thing. I didn’t think about what Signia needed, only about what we could use from it when we went back. I felt Signia could deliver some of our visions faster. What it needed was a clear strategy – a clear idea of what we do and who do we do it for.’
Meetings were held with clients, advisers and staff, where they were told: ‘This is our vision from Squared Investments. This is how we are utilising it for Signia. Do you want to be a part of the story?’
“We needed to ensure clients were comfortable with the way we invested money. We aren’t going to take on clients who want something we can’t deliver,” says Smyth.
Just over 18 months on, he is proud of what his team has achieved.
“Our type of business should be discreet. I don’t believe clients want me to discuss how much assets under management we have as these are big numbers – very large numbers per client. People are obsessed with assets under management as they believe its a measure of size, but I’m not sure that it is.”
He adds that some wealth management firms are all about volume and getting to a certain size, but that is not the case with Signia.
“The industry has to be transparent on central aspects of the business, such as where it generates revenue and how much clients are paying. We are a very transparent business – we have a published fee schedule and anyone asking for it is welcome to it. We are open about how much clients pay and where that fee is going.”
In Smyth’s view, wealth management is moving towards more tailored services. He says: “Lots of boutiques are coming up that allow more flexibility to give clients what they need, rather than putting them into a bracket or a bucket.
“They are seeing clients as individuals, as opposed to one or more buckets they might fall in.
“The big inefficiency is in the risk management side; monitoring portfolios and the impact of markets on portfolios – how movements are captured, controlled and communicated to clients. Some businesses still lack this for individual clients.”
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
It came from the boxing trainer Brendan Ingle, who said there is plenty of space at the top but the bottom is full. He meant aim high as there is a lot of space to be successful. That has stuck with me since I was 15 years old.
What keeps you awake at night?
Very little. I am not a worrier but if I do lie awake it is thinking of new creative ideas for the business.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Regulation – and it will continue to be regulation.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Set up a criminal division to come down on rogue advisors, and speed ip the application process for new businesses to become FCA regulated.
Any advice for new advisers?
Give the advice you would expect to receive.
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