Emelia Hamilton-Russell lunches with Netwealth founder Charlotte Ransom
A vegetarian, Charlotte Ransom is disgruntled at the lack of mixed grains on the menu. ‘The old-school banking culture of boozy lunches is definitely on the wane – and thank goodness,’ she muses as we search for a suitable alternative in Tom’s Kitchen’s spring menu. ‘I don’t know how anyone got anything done in the afternoons.’
I gingerly order ‘just a very small glass’ of rosé – although I have a feeling my afternoon schedule looks very different from hers. Our selection is heavy on asparagus, which we’re told is in season. Wavering between the baked and the roasted variety, we hedge our bets and get both.
The ex-Goldman Sachs partner is keen to crack on: ‘I got into finance because I was super-competitive,’ she recalls. ‘All the men on my modern languages course at Bristol were either going into finance or management consultancy. They were starting on what sounded like extraordinary base salaries, and the more “girly” jobs were barely paying anything. I wanted in.’
Petite and softly spoken, Ransom believes her competitive edge comes from growing up as a doctor’s daughter. Her mother – the doctor – was very much pulling her weight financially, and there was never any question about whether Ransom herself would have a serious career.
But did she choose finance, or did finance choose her? ‘I actually wanted to be a fashion designer originally,’ she confides as she spears some surprisingly delicious beetroot carpaccio. ‘I thought I might leave banking after a few years and start something else.’ Ransom was one of 14 women chosen for the JP Morgan graduate scheme, and then, around the same time as she got ‘the inevitable five-year itch’, she was head-hunted for Goldman’s.
‘I suppose you could say that I chose finance, and then finance chose me back. I really flourished in the American banks – they were totally multicultural, totally meritocratic, and it was such fun as a young woman to be in that sort of environment.’ Twenty years – and four children – later, ‘it had just reached a point where I wanted to strike out on my own.’
Ransom started her own firm, Netwealth, in 2015, and used herself as a guinea pig: ‘I was client number one, so the firm was partly born of necessity.’ She had never invested her own assets. ‘I just let it sit in a current account,’ she says. ‘But given what I knew about the industry, I just couldn’t bear to hand my money over.’
She’s not the only one to feel that way. Across the UK, around 70 per cent of investible assets are sitting in cash. Women are also much less likely to invest than men (‘an extremely worrying trend’), which, when combined with the gender pay gap, often means women end up with woefully depleted retirement pots.
Ransom’s aim is to make investing as painless and transparent as possible. ‘Our clients are pressed for time. They’re very often professionals somewhere between 40 and 60, so they’ve made some money, but they’re still very focused on making money and have high outgoings.’ Portfolios are created using passive funds and ETFs, so fees are low, and funds can be liquidated and accessed the same day.
When I press her to explain what Netwealth does differently, Ransom looks me steadily in the eye: ‘Personal finance is the only industry where you’re not given a bill for the job they do,’ she says gravely. ‘They tell you a percentage, but a percentage of what? Does it include trading costs? You never really know how much you’re being charged.’ She is up in arms about the fact that traditional wealth managers – ‘even though they knew full well that MiFID II was coming in’ – have been given an extra year to produce the reports for their current clients: ‘Because they can’t do it now?! I mean, it sounds utterly ridiculous to say, “I can’t actually tell you how much you’re paying.” No other profession works like that.’
‘We want people to be actively involved in their finances while still letting us do the heavy lifting,’ she enthuses. A sliver of nervous energy in her hot-pink shift, Ransom might seem an unlikely candidate for heavy lifting. But as we say goodbye I think of her aged 20, quietly outperforming bullish young men. She is a serious competitor, and if anyone looks set to disrupt a stagnant industry, it’s her.
Emelia Hamilton-Russell and Charlotte Ransom were lunching at Tom’s Kitchen, Chelsea