How do you think working/training with PwC benefited your career?
Starting your career with an organisation of the quality of PwC is of immense benefit. Most fundamentally, you experience working in a top class culture, so “thinking big and acting big” is something that becomes imbued as entirely normal, regardless of the size of organisation or situation your career subsequently leads you into. The vast exposure you get to both clients and experienced colleagues provides you with a great opportunity to observe and learn, often sub-consciously, and this really stands to you throughout your career.
On a personal level, training and working with PwC brought me into contact with great people and formed the basis for many loyal and enduring friendships. This has been of invaluable benefit.
What has been the greatest highlight of your career since then?
Lodging the first pay cheque earned as “an entrepreneur”!
In what way do you benefit from being an alumnus of PwC?
Simple things like mentioning PwC in a bio give immediate credibility which helps to open doors. Many PwC partners have now become Aria’s clients which has been a great endorsement.
Does the networking opportunity help you in business?
Definitely. A huge amount of our business comes from referrals, and maintaining a strong network of relationships is key to this.
Business outlook & challenges
How is the recession impacting your company?
We have been incredibly fortunate. We launched in early 2008 just as the economy and financial markets started to go into meltdown. Perhaps ironically, our business model was based on eschewing many of the practices that contributed to this meltdown. We focused on independence, diversification, global relationships, capital preservation and diligent risk management, factors that have contributed to our ability to deliver positive returns in this year of heavily declining markets. As a result, pension scheme trustees, trustees of charities and private clients have been very receptive to our approach and business has grown strongly through the recession.
What changes do you see in your line of business as a result?
Much of the financial services industry has been utterly transformed (or suspended, depending on your perspective). For Aria, this has created opportunities and has allowed us to make competitive inroads that would not have been as readily achievable otherwise. Clients are giving much greater focus to risk management which is very welcome.
Where do you see the industry going?
From a provider perspective, I expect that we will see some consolidation and, unfortunately, some failures. A certain amount of change will inevitably be driven by regulators and regulation, perhaps belatedly. We are already seeing some opportunities emerging from this trend.
From a client perspective, there is a great opportunity to innovate the client offering, but old habits...
What is the most important focus for your company at the moment?
Our clients. We firmly believe that placing our clients first in our list of priorities and treating them with integrity and respect is key to commercial success.
What are the main challenges that you are facing in your industry?
The greatest challenges facing the segments of the financial services industry in which we operate are reputational. Clients, in general, have been poorly served by sales-driven organisations and there is a challenge for these organisations to change their culture, which can be almost impossibly difficult if it is deeply rooted in the organisational DNA because the culture change often necessitates a fundamental change to the business model. Even if they do succeed, there is a compounded challenge to convince clients of the merits of such change.
How do you think you will deal with them?
As previously mentioned, we have been incredibly lucky insofar as our business model pre-empted these challenges and we are able to leverage the industry’s difficulties to expand our business.
Are you optimistic about your company's future?
Very. If I wasn’t I don’t think I would be doing my job well. The more challenges we overcome the more robust our business becomes, so we meet challenges with relish.
What are the main challenges facing people at your level?
In a young organisation like Aria, necessity dictates that you serve both strategic and operational masters to perhaps a greater extent than is the case in more mature organisations. Making the time to do both effectively can be challenging.
Any career tips?
Grasp any opportunity to work with exceptional people and to gain exceptional experiences - you will benefit immeasurably, and nurture your relationships.
What skills have you found necessary at your level?
Portraying a positive disposition (regardless of how many times the children woke you the night before or how dismal the front page of the FT is!) is very rewarding when dealing with both colleagues and clients.
What lessons have you learned?
Most clients value your ability to listen more than your ability to talk.