Secrets of Success: Karl Pemberton

What’s your company called and who is behind it ?
Active Financial Services Ltd, established in 2000 following an MBO by MD, Glyn Pemberton. Now owned equally between myself, Karl Pemberton, and Paul Gibson.

We are directly authorised with the FSA as fully Independent Financial Advisers and we are proud to offer holistic and ethical fee based advice.

What is your start-up story? How did you seize the opportunity you saw and what barriers did you have to overcome?
AFS was formed in 2000 by Glyn Pemberton. I joined the firm in 2007 having worked in various High Net Worth areas in the banking sector. Knowing the failings within banks it was my vision to use Active’s long standing history and reputation, but use the modern methods and marketing capabilities used by banks to create a prominent brand in the area that is known for good quality, ethical financial advice.

The market was full of small ‘one man band’ advisers which have the morals but not the pulling power, whereas the banks have it vice versa. There is no-one in the middle.

What products or services to you provide? What problem does your company solve? What is your USP?
We provide full holistic Independent Financial Advice. We therefore cover all financial needs such as mortgages, life assurance, investment and retirement planning and commercial finance.

Our USP is that we are ‘set-up’ like a commercial banking unit/law firm/accountancy practice. We have strength in depth with adviser numbers, all specialising in a different area of financial services. This means that in an ever changing legal and financial environment, the advice you will receive will be current and relevant.

What are your sales and marketing strategies? What do you think about using newer platforms such as social media etc to reach customers?
We very rarely advertise in the old fashioned sense. It just does not work. You do not invest £100,000 with a firm because they had a nice advert somewhere. We would rather target specific sectors and ‘sponsor’ events and use word of mouth referrals and social media to build up relationships. We actively use Twitter and Linkedin as a firm.

What is your attitude towards your competitors?
My views are mixed. Unfortunately our industry has been tarnished because of the immoral actions of some advisers. That therefore makes business harder before you even start. For those, I have no respect and I believe there should be even stricter controls and punishments.

Do you have any other thoughts about your market and how you operate in it?
I think you have be consistent, transparent and only deal with clients you can genuinely build up a long term working relationship. Anything short-term will not build stability within a business.

What about flexibility and product/service innovation?
Innovation is also vital. At a time when all our competitors cut back, we invested. We embraced new technology, we were active in the social market and we built up some great relationships when all else around retreated. That made us stand out and we are now reaping those rewards.

What have you done to make sure you get the right people with the right skills in place?
We always look for individuals that are either on a par, or better than what we have already got. That is not being disrespectful to others, but that’s the only way of improving. We have also invested heavily in training staff that want to succeed and progress, thus again giving us an unrivalled workforce.

Do you have any tips for managing suppliers, customers and other business relationships effectively?
Put simply, treat others how you would expect to be treated yourself. Be respectful and professional. Times are difficult, businesses need to make money, and don’t forget, people have long memories.

And finance and cash-flow tips?
Always try and maintain a healthy float, up to 3 months of cashflow. That’s easier said than done and is not always possible. Putting my former bank manager hat on, if you can plan 3 months in advance and see potential problems, costs, income etc, you are more likely to get the positive support you need from your financiers. Day to day or week to week planning is what makes the banks nervous. In short, live to your means and don’t draw everything out of the business. Lifestyle businesses are always the first to fail.

Any thoughts on the future of your company?
We obviously still aim to grow. We want slow, steady growth that is manageable. Growing too quick can also cause problems.

What are the most important things to remember when starting and running a company?
Know your market, know your USP and stick with it. Don’t diversify to options that generate ‘easy cash’ as that just devalues you, your brand and your company.

What new Government policies would help you run a business?
Lower corporation taxes if it can shown to be re-invested in a company by way of more staff, equipment, growth, etc.