News Column

You have to invest your time

February 25, 2014

FROM financial planner to sports agent and"Young Guns" networker, Karl Pemberton wears quite a few hats these days. KELLEY PRICE met him.

IT'S seven years since Karl Pemberton left his career in banking to become a director with Active Financial Planning, and he's never looked back.

The company has grown in numbers from 12 to 20 since moving from its old home on Guisborough High Street to Teesside Industrial Estate in Thornaby, and it's now the largest chartered financial planning firm in the North-east.

"I've never known a year like this one," he says. "It's been very hard work but humbling and rewarding.

"In any business, there's usually a lag between putting in effort and getting results, and for the first time we're seeing little green buds on the trees."

Active Financial Services was formed in 2000 when Karl's father, Glyn, took over the Guisborough High Street business he'd worked at for 14 years.

He's still chair of the company but the day-today running is left to Karl and his business partner Paul Gibson.

Karl could have worked for his dad straight from college, but wanted to "go off and make it on my own merits". He'd worked with Yorkshire Bank and RBS for more than a decade by the time Glyn became seriously ill.

"I left banking in 2007 and I could say I knew what was on the horizon, but it was more fate than good planning - and I got out before everything started collapsing.

"The processes in some of the banks made me very uncomfortable. It was an easy decision.

"I'm a big believer in not doing things for doing's sake - if I don't understand why something needs to be done, and it's being duplicated I'll challenge it.

"I was given the best background I could wish for in banking, professional, corporate, with access to no-expense-spared training.

"My father's business was traditional, ethical and other bits that the banks weren't good at, so we brought it all together.

"If I hadn't learned what the big wide world was like, I wouldn't have been able to bring those strengths."

The company soon outgrew its Guisborough premises as more quality advisers came on board. Moving the business after 27 years was "the hardest decision, " claims Karl, but they'd outgrown it - and it paid off. Both turnover and profit has more than doubled in 18 months.

"The team is the reason we've got to where we are. When reputation is everything, it only takes one bad apple in the box to have a knock-on effect."

A swift response to sweeping changes by industry regulator the Financial Conduct Authority also served them well, he claims.

Last year the FCA increased the qualifications advisers needed and banned the taking of commission on financial services sold to customers, following a string of mis-selling scandals.

Active had started adapting back in 2008 when the changes were first announced.

"We turned the lights out the night before, and it was business as usual the next day. It was difficult in the recession to become fee-based but we knew we had to. It was supposed to stop people entering the industry on a whim to make a quick buck. Many competitors left it too late, and the banks were the worst culprits. They exited the market so spectacularly because they were taking commission until the last minute, and had no plan B. You can't change the model overnight.

"We've never deviated into any get-rich-quick schemes like some. That might seem dull and boring - but we're still here and they're not."

The company is also one of a select few - just 1% in the country - to become chartered last year.

"You have to prove you're above and beyond the standard. Every penny we've made, we've reinvested so our efforts aren't paying off financially just yet - but we are respected in a way we've always wanted to be."

Perhaps it's all that protocol that encouraged Karl to set up Young Guns, an alternative networking group with like-minded professionals who felt certain events on the Teesside corporate circuit were "like being at school."

"Some events are evangelical, a bit happy clappy - you pay your membership, give a whoop if someone passes on a lead."

The monthly get-togethers in Yarm have grown to 60 people. It's a "cheesy name", he laughs, but it's "made us feel young - we were allowed out on a Friday night under the pretence of work."

In fact, there's very little work talk but the trust and friendships built up is "something you wouldn't get from just exchanging business cards."

"Active's focus is on long-term relationshipbuilding," Karl claims, "people don't see us as a place for a one-off transaction."

It's the same skills that have led to the company setting up sports agency Active Elite Management.

Karl dealt with "quite a few professional players managers and coaches, from the Premiership down" in his previous life, and found they wanted to stay with him.

"I was quite humbled by that. It takes a long time to get people's trust.

"I'd get calls about which car to buy, sourcing new mobile phones, even marital problems. I had to keep reminding myself 'I'm the financial adviser, and all the out-of-hours stuff is what their agents get paid for."

They devised a feebased concept similar to financial services, and they all said they'd use us."

The company is licensed through FIFA and the FA and works for clubs including West Ham and Leeds on contract and sponsorship negotiations and sourcing clubs to the supply of boots and gloves.

"It's a slow burner - as with financial services, you have to invest time in building."

Factfile >>NAME: Karl Pemberton JOB: Director of Active Financial Planning LIVES: Ingleby Barwick FAMILY: Wife Becky. "If it wasn't for her, I'd have had a heart attack by now."Two sons - Henry is nearly nine and Finlay is ten.

DOWNTIME: Has spent the last six months working with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme at Leeds University Business School, after being chosen out of 25 businesses in the North to do a Masters equivalent in business. But it's come at a price. If I'm not at work, I'm with my boys - but I've missed a lot of time with them over the last six months," says Karl. "I'd encourage anyone to do the Goldman Sachs programme, there isn't a better programme to educate you in running a growing business. But I go to Leeds every week, and it's on the night I usually take the kids to kickboxing. It's nearly finished now - so I'll be able to take them again," he smiles.

BUSINESS MANTRA: "In this industry, it's the snowball effect - achieve what you did the year before, plus a little bit more - as long as it's slow, steady, consistent growth."

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Source: Evening Gazette (UK)

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