Sand Aire’s almost austere offices on Wigmore Street are very deliberately not a marble-floored former palace; or a swanky floor in Berkeley Square trendily decorated with Damien Hirst spot paintings.
As with founding partner, Alexander Scott, 48, who set up Sand Aire in 1996 after selling his family’s Cumbria-based Provincial Insurance business, what you see is very much what you get. There is no highly polished 18th-century mahogany board-room table groaning with corporate silver.
The ethos of Sand Aire is focused more on building a superb reputation rather than being known for its art collection. Scott immediately strikes one as a no-nonsense, hands-on individual who clearly sees the successful management of wealth as being a more rounded and fulfilling challenge than merely being about fiscal performance and capital protection.
It is this personable, almost philosophical, approach to managing the expectations of his clients – most of whom have assets well in excess of £25 million – which has allowed Sand Aire to develop into a strong and highly respected niche player in the MFO sector.
Sand Aire is very much a family-orientated business where most of the clients tend to be multi-generational UK business families who – like Alexander Scott himself – have either sold their businesses, or at least have substantially monetised their businesses, and want to plan ahead for the long term by investing alongside the Scott family.
You won’t find a lot of flash Versace watch-wearing Russians, private jet-flying Indians or cigar-chomping non-dom Malaysian-Chinese who fit the Sand Aire mould. The firm’s core client base consists of successful British families that are discreet and discriminating and also share many of the same core ‘values’ and views on wealth as the Scott family.
Unlike some family offices which like to boast of giving UHNWs the chance to invest alongside founder families but actually – when you do closer research – it turns out that the founder family has its assets widely split and only a modest amount of the family fortune is under management, with the Scott family, you know that they have at least 90 per cent of their assets managed in-house.
The Scott family have long been innovators and entrepreneurs. Alexander is a fourth-generation descendant of Sir James Scott who founded Provincial Insurance in 1903.
The same uncompromising and prescient values that made Provincial so successful for over a century are very much in place at Sand Aire, which is notable for being the very first of the new breed of boutique multi-family offices to set up shop in London, following Scott’s personal research into the American MFO model.
Scott’s decision to sell the family business and start up a new MFO was driven partly by the fact that Alexander couldn’t find any MFO offices in the UK that suited his family’s needs (they didn’t exist in 1996).
His family’s insurance business had taken the investment side ‘extremely seriously’, so the idea of managing assets for other people ‘was in my blood stream, although our family were never bankers per se,’ says Scott.
Touring the States and talking with the partners of various MFO’s, Scott realised there was an opportunity to create something similar in London as it was starting to attract a new wave of wealth and he suspected that there were many other families, like his own, who wanted a more sophisticated and personal approach to family asset management than can be provided by a private bank.
‘What impressed me was the calibre and quality of the people working in family offices in the US,’ says Scott. ‘They were not seeing it as a dead-end place to retire. They were largely Wall Street veterans who moved out into the family-office movement. I wanted to be able to attract and retain high-calibre people. That was certainly a motivation.’
Scott wanted to replicate this approach in London. After a slowish start in the early years, Sand Aire has now attracted some of the most respected talent working in London today, not the least being the recent appointment of former HSBC Private bank CEO Marcus Gregson (winner of the Spear’s WMS 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award for wealth management) as deputy chairman. The appointment was widely seen by the industry as a major signal that Sand Aire is set for expansion.
Gregson is regarded as one of the most experienced, civilised and astute experts in the private-client sector today. ‘Alex has given birth to an extraordinarily interesting company,’ says Gregson. ‘What I am doing here is putting another shoulder behind the wheel and helping the business grow. This means two things: finding clients and building the infrastructure of talented people here.’
Although Scott was the very first to set up a wholly independent MFO in London (companies like Cambridge Associates, whom the Scott family used for a while, provided consultancy services, though little more) he admits that he could never have imagined quite the scale of wealth that has recently turned London into Switzerland-on-Thames.
‘Sand Aire represents a distinctive option for the wealthy,’ says Scott. ‘We offer privacy and personalisation in the context of a performance-orientated service that is very different from any traditional banking alternative.’
Sand Aire’s client base tend to be multi-generational, traditional business families whose values and objectives line up with those of the Scott family, and indeed Alexander himself. Scott still has strong family connections to the north of England, having been born in Cumbria, educated at the Lakes School, Windemere, before reading PPE at Oxford and completing an IMD at Lausanne in Switzerland.
His own experience of business – he has worked for Jardine Fleming in addition to running his family’s large insurance business – and the inherent challenges to families who make the transition from owning a business to selling it and then managing the family capital, make him uniquely well qualified to offer expertise in wealth management, as well as being a strong advocate for the need for family governance and having a family constitution (which he drafted and put in place for the 50-plus members of the Scott family whose wealth he manages).
‘The majority of our clients come here because they want to take a long-term and strategic view of their wealth’, says Scott. ‘I am talking about planning for 30 years out, which gives us tremendous freedom in the investment process’.