London’s newest private office has just opened its doors with heavyweight backing, reports Matthew Hardeman
City stalwarts Adam Wethered, William Drake and Andrew Wimble have teamed up to launch Owl Private Office – an ‘overarching’ advisory consultancy, serving wealthy families and endowments, entering a nascent space in wealth management that promises to join the dots for time-short UHNWs.
Opening its doors for its official launch in Smith Square, the firm offers to ‘assemble and coordinate’ a team of advisers, establish a dedicated single family office or simply help clients to ‘source, appoint and hold to account’ professional advisers and investment managers to suit specific needs. Critically, the firm tenders an overall ‘review of existing arrangements’ service, ‘with a sharp eye on quality and costs on the client’s behalf, and recommends the way forward’.
‘Owl helps wealthy families, trustees and individuals think through their long-term objectives, sitting on the same side of the table, guiding and representing their interests with external professional advisers,’ it said in a statement.
The group might be new, but its founders are anything but. Wethered spent 24 years at JP Morgan, where he ran its private banking and institutional client business across EMEA. In 2000 he co-founded Lord North Street with fellow former-barrister and wealth management guru William Drake (beginning in Wethered’s house of all places). The pair sold the firm to Sandaire in 2014, and in July 2016, they left to begin work on Owl. (As Spear’s devotees will know, Drake is also chairman of RFR – the property private office – not to mention a long-term presence in the top ten of the Spear’s UHNW Wealth Management Index.)
Joining forces with 30-year asset management veteran Andrew Wimble, the trio saw a need for a ‘conflict-free’ advisory service, one that assists with ‘the formulation of objectives, strategies and structures that need to be defined and effected before specialist professional advisers and asset managers are appointed’.
Unlike asset management firms, which base charges on the size of funds under management or advice, Owl relies on a ‘flat-fee’ model, ‘seeking the best possible terms and service [for clients] from wealth managers, private banks and external professional advisers’, while requiring that client assets are kept only with well-financed third parties (where needed, the firm will also provide a watching brief and client reporting).
In a statement, Wethered said that whereas previously families and trustees have relied upon ‘all-embracing and generalised’ advice from law firms and wealth managers, there has been a continuous move towards specialisation, thanks to an ever-increasing need for ‘deep expertise’ across law, tax and wealth management, encouraged by the increasing regulation of professional advice.
‘Many families do not have the time to examine and pursue their complex requirements. In our experience there is now a gaping absence in the very high end wealth advisory journey.’
Other advisers exist in the space: ranging from ‘one-man bands’ who, whilst ‘very good’, look after two or three families, to advisers such as Cambridge Associates which offers rather more technical services, but ‘rather less on the human side of things’ according to Drake. He’s naturally excited about the new venture – not least because in his view it addresses a real need, bringing clarity to a space where everyone paints and pitches a rosy picture: ‘One thing the wealth management industry is really good at is talking up its own ability,’ he says. ‘For someone who is coming at it for the first time or reviewing their existing arrangements, it is very confusing, because all the suppliers they go to will talk a good story. If you’re a hedge fund specialist they’re going to say that’s the route you should go, and if you go to someone who’s in the global bond market you’re going to end up with a lot of global bonds. [But] before you get to that point, you really need someone who hasn’t got an axe to grind, to explain what the jungle looks like.’
Certainly, it’s a more logical alternative to the beauty parades, presentation skills and chance referrals that still provide a chunk of new business in wealth management. Often the providers rarely start with proper understanding of what clients need, and the work of fund managers is becoming increasingly commoditised – even for the good ones, says Drake: ‘The execution of fund management is so regulated, for one thing, that all the providers pretty well have to give you the same asset allocation.
‘The world doesn’t need many more fund managers. What it needs is advisers who have no ties to fund management themselves, and who charge a very transparent flat fee for the advice.’
Matthew Hardeman is Deputy Head of the Spear's Research Unit