Peter Hobbs - Devere Group
deVere Group stands as one of the world's largest independent financial advisory organisations, with more than $10 billion of funds under advice and administration, and over 80,000 clients around the world. In September this year, Peter Hobbs was named as Chairman after two years in a non-executive role on deVere Group's Board of Directors.
Will you tell our readers a little more about yourself and your role at deVere Group...
I have been in the insurance industry for over 38 years, starting in the life department of a UK insurer and working through the various areas of the business eventually rising to the post of AGM.
In 1991, I moved to an overseas specialist insurer, finally rising to the Head of Generali International and holding a board position there and at Generali Pan Europe, finally finishing at the Head Office of the Generali Group in Italy as Head of the Global Innovation Department before retiring from full time employment in 2013. However, retirement has turned out to be a ‘relative concept’.
Outside of work, my hobbies include European Social Economic history and occasional ski trips to the Alps.
My role as Chairman of deVere is to guide and provide leadership to the Board, support the CEO, Nigel Green, and management to achieve the goals of the business during my tenure and beyond.
How did you find yourself in the financial advisory?
Like a lot of young people in the 1970s in the UK, after finishing full time education I just applied for a couple of vacancies at local insurance companies and was fortunate to be accepted by one; it's as simple as that. Times were hard back then and many people like me were just grateful to find a job.
As one of the largest financial advisory companies in the world, what do you bring to the table for deVere?
I bring experience, broad business skills and balance. The combination of these skill sets have helped build successful businesses in the past and I hope will assist in doing the same at deVere.
What does it take to be an International Financial Adviser in today's fast paced world?
First you have to be brave and completely committed, it's a big and important job. Like many careers that have so many opportunities, you have to first decide geographically where you want to live and in which particular market you wish to specialise in. Then the hard work starts: you need to study and continue to progress via programmes such as Continuing Professional Development (CPD), you need to be ultra-disciplined in planning your route to meet your objectives and then be persistent in trying to achieve them. There are no easy routes in this business if you want to build a sustainable career
Two of the main problems for IFAs working in the international sector is to ensure that you don't become unfocussed from your primary objectives and to ensure you keep on top of the changes which can effect where and how you can do business.
What changes have you seen over the past two years on theroup's Board of Directors?
International advisory businesses that specialise in providing services to the growing expatriate population live in an environment of constant flux, it’s hard enough to ensure for example full alignment in one country to local laws and regulations; when operating across boarders this issue is magnified, let alone the other pressures of controlling costs.
Over the last two years the Board has spent a lot of time and effort responding to the way the market has evolved, and is continuing to evolve, especially strengthening the key areas of governance, financial control and compliance to ensure that the business is well balanced and can respond more effectively to the future challenges in the business environment in which it operates.
During your years working for Opportunity International and Generali Pan Europe, what developments did you see?
Both companies learnt two main things. The first was that they learned to focus more on selected markets that had the potential for stability and longevity rather than the broad brush approach. The second was that they started to concentrate on delivering services that did not just focus on the intermediary but also focussed on the most important person: the person paying the premiums.
Can you let us in on what's to come over the next quarter at deVere? If so, tell us about your plans at deVere and how you aim to shape the financial advisory sector?
In the very short term this company will strive to meets its agreed short term financial and business objectives for this year and I am happy to say it's on target. One reason for deVere success is that invests a lot in supporting its field personal, for example by way of efficient systems, general infrastructure, marketing and training. Others who do not follow this approach generally have no future and the Group is always flattered when other firms try follow on with this approach.
deVere is known for it's personalised management approach, what are the key factors in creating such a single-minded approach to clients' needs?
Often senior management in companies can sometimes become divorced from its staff and clients - and this is often a fatal error. At deVere, senior management led by Nigel Green, the chief executive, have never made this mistake, with both clients and staff recognising that Mr Green in particular leads by example in this area. For instance, he often speaks to clients and always makes sure that when he is visiting any of the 71 deVere offices worldwide that he is accessible to anyone and everyone.
Is this something you had much involvement in whilst on the board over the past two years?
The Board and myself are very focussed on the client. Clients are at the forefront of all we do. We all know that if a business is to thrive, knowing your customers is a prerequisite; it's the key area from where things like innovation flow.
With the financial services market changing at such a fast pace and the prudent deployment of future capital seeing companies advancing at a rate, deVere has never been a "corporate machine" - as a private company, do you think going public will ever be something of consideration?
All options are open and the Board often discuss all the potential future choices it could make.
Earlier this month deVere UK reported on a sharp rise in revenues with a 51% increase for the year to 31 July, compared with the same period of 2014, claiming that this was due to an increasing client demand. Are there any other attributes, such as the UK's economy, that impacted this?
In addition to the buoyant sales environment, the Group is investing a lot of time and effort examining its current and future value chain opportunities and the first effects of this have started to positively affect the bottom line this year. Most of the business the Group transacts is targeted at medium to long term client objectives, so short term economic fluctuations rarely effect the Group that much.
deVere have continued in their award-winning streak; receiving many prestigious awards over the course of the year. With these and a rise in revenue under it's belt, are there any awards deVere would like to add to their trophy cabinet?
Being considered for awards is always very positive. But what really matters is the awards that our clients give us by staying and growing with us. As I said awards are nice, but clients are more important.
Currently with over 80,000 clients and demand continuing to rise on a global level, can you tell us more about deVere's plans to expand into Australia, Africa, Western Europe, Asia and North America?
The Group just does not pick places off the map, a lot of factors come into play. These include new client opportunities, the ease of market entry and, of course, cost. Our biggest investments are being made where there are the most opportunities linked to stable political and regulatory environments.
Nigel Green announced earlier this year plans to "aggressively expand" the groups presence in the UK, how will this impact employment and the need to meet existing and forecasted demand? Will there be any advances in technology that will ease such a grand expansion?
The UK is a key market with so many of our existing clients being returning expats so are larger presence and ongoing commitment into the UK is essential. We have recently acquired Workplace Solutions Ltd, a specialist advisory service provider, offering support to medium to large companies and their workforces with either DB or DC schemes. And there is currently more in the pipeline.
There have been reports of standalone brands focusing on mortgages after seeing increased demand; other than being set up to meet rising demand from overseas clients, what involvement have you had in this expansion?
This idea was already in the pipeline before my arrival, but it does form part of our overall diversification strategy.
Earlier this year pensioner property wealth reached an all-time high at £873.77bn; in your opinion what impact could this have on the government's rulings for pensions moving forward?
There have been a raft of changes to the pension landscape in recent years. Of course, these include the government’s landmark pension reforms, which included giving the over-55s the freedom to cash in their retirement pots. I suspect that these reforms are in some way largely due to the accelerated here and now tax raising needs of the government who directly benefit from people withdrawing cash early, this will have serious negative implications on the fabric of society in the future and these will have to be addressed sooner than the government thinks.
Similarly, RDR, which had the noble intentions of driving up industry standards, has had the result that much of ‘Middle England’ – some of the people who need it most – have been left abandoned without detailed financial advice. RDR has created an advice ‘black hole’ just at the time people need it the most. Again, this will, I believe, need to be addressed by the government.
What's the key to serving investors after solid returns on medium to long-term investments while thoroughly maintaining risk to check?
A well-diversified portfolio is key. This means having an investment portfolio that is suitably diversified across asset classes, geographical regions and industrial sectors. Also, a client’s risk appetite, personal needs and circumstances have to be carefully, thoroughly and individually analysed.
If the portfolio is well-diversified and regularly reviewed and the client’s risk tolerance and appetite are expertly assessed, managed and, again, continually reviewed, an adviser is then best placed to meet the reasonable expectations of their clients.
What's your vision for the financial industry over the next 3 years?
I am, as ever, optimistic for the financial services industry in the short, medium and long term.
I also hope that regulators and the industry work more closely together, to understand each other better – I believe we need less confrontation and more cooperation in this area. In addition, I hope that governments become more engaged with both regulators and the industry. We need all parties to adopt a more pro-business approach. In this way the focus will shift back to the needs and requirements of clients and it is they, the public, who will be able to benefit further from accessible affordable and solid financial advice. No industry knows more about risk than ours, our efforts to control risk are well known. The key is to understand it. Others should be reminded perhaps that to flourish risks need to be seen, examined and acknowledged, whilst the complete eradication of risk is a noble aspiration it’s often a commercial killer, of course. This point seems to have been lost in some quarters.
From a professional point of view, where do you see yourself by 2020?
I am a confirmed workaholic, so whilst I would say ‘retired’, I doubt I will ever truly retire. As such, I would like to continue to share my experience of the financial services industry – an industry I am passionate about for the tangible benefits and opportunities it can bring clients. I would also like to spend more time working on my charitable projects. I’m currently a member of the central finance board of the Methodist Church and I actively support Caring for the Carers in Guernsey.