When David Bellamy announced last month that he was stepping down as chief executive of St James’s Place after more than ten years at the helm, his departure made headlines across the financial press. And no wonder. With more than a quarter of a century at the company and a successful track record, people wanted to know what had prompted the decision.
“The stepping off has scared me in many ways as this has been my life for 26 years. But I’m 65 next year, we hit our 25th anniversary, I’ve been CEO for over ten years and so it felt that this was as good a time as any. I’m also proud of the team, the business is in better shape than it’s ever been, and if ever there was a right time, this feels like it.”
A leading wealth manager listed on the FTSE 100, St James’s Place’s share price has increased by more than 150% since Bellamy took over as chief executive in 2007. During that time, he has built on the firm’s reputation as a relationship-based financial adviser. In a world where digital is king, Bellamy says that clients value human interaction. “Clients say, what we value about St James’s Place is that you’re different, you’re personal, you’re bespoke and that makes me feel good and I’m prepared to pay for that.”
Bellamy believes that St James’s Place has the “best adviser community in the country” and is proud that the company has been compared to a family. Cornes wonders how that ethos and culture is preserved.
“It’s a challenge,” Bellamy admits. “We work at it, we care about it. Technology helps us to stay closer. I also think that technology and some of the ways we’ve maintained our business enables us to maintain more intimacy today than we’ve ever had...I think this organisation feels more intimate with 10,000 people than it did with 6,000. Fundamentally, the culture, the family feel is just something the management team and entire community has to keep working at.”
Meanwhile, Bellamy is optimistic about St James’s Place’s growth prospects. He says: “This is a great time to be in the business we’re in, in terms of helping people manage their wealth and prepare for the future. And there are fewer of us today than there’s ever been. So in terms of our growth prospects, they feel better today.”
He adds: “We have a progressive dividend policy, which is to grow the dividend in line with the growth in the business. The aspirations for our growth are 15 to 20% in top line and if we manage the business sensibly there’s no reason why that 15 to 20% growth does not find its way down into our dividend growth.”
However, St James’s Place has faced criticism for the cost of its products. Bellamy responds: “I don’t view what we sell as products. We sell a relationship, we sell a wealth management service where we help our clients invest their money efficiently and that’s about making the most of the tax wrappers, the tax opportunities; be that pension, unit trust, ISA, bond, onshore, offshore, in trust, out of trust…That costs, but that cost is not uncompetitive within the UK market.”
As for the future, once he steps down later this year, Bellamy will continue to work a couple of days a week at the company, spending time on the Asia business. Andrew Croft is taking over as CEO. Does Bellamy have any words of advice?
“Andy and I have worked together for 24 years. Andy has got to be Andy. He’s a really solid player, he knows this business, he knows the strategy. I would say to him, don’t break it…I’m sure he’ll be fine.”