The first of Contemi Video Interview Series is brought to you remotely, featuring our guest Ian Clogg, chief operating office at Fiske Plc. Fiske Plc, established in 1973, is one of the few remaining independent stockbroking and investment management firms in London. They provide a range of services to private investors, trustees, charities, pension funds and institutional clients.
In this interview, Contemi’s William Rouse talks with Ian about how COVID-19 restrictions have changed work arrangements at Fiske, what have been the biggest challenge and learning from the lockdowns and new remote working environments, and how they’re navigating the crisis in the short-term while keeping an eye towards the “new normal” post Corona-Crunch.
During this discussion, you'll learn:
Ian Clogg highlighted, “A lot of what we're implementing now in terms of new strategies, we would've done it anyway, but before there was always something more important to do than improving these things. Things like digital signatures, we've had to embrace that very quickly and it works really well.”
Ian Clogg also highlighted, “These improvements that we're putting in place, we've got to make sure we carry them into this new world, because it will only improve things. I think even when these restrictions are relaxed, I don't think we'll ever go back to the way we were before. There's so many tools out there now that can make these things a lot easier and modern. I think we'll see a huge move towards that over the coming weeks, and months.”
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Host - William Rouse, Contemi: Five, four, three, two, one Hello, Ian.
Guest - Ian Clogg, COO at Fiske: Hello, Will. How are you?
William Rouse: Very well. Very well. Thank you very much for doing this. I really do appreciate it.
Just so everyone's aware of what we're doing, we're gonna be kicking off a series of interviews over the coming weeks just to really get a feel for how firms are coping throughout the Corona crunch and just seeing how firms like yourself in, I'll get an on what you're doing and where you see the market going forward, what impacts being had across the board, so on and so forth. So, I think it'd be a good starter really is if you could introduce yourself, Fiske, your role within Fisk and we'll go from there.
Ian Clogg: Fisk, fairly small, a traditional stockbroking firm. We offer a number of services to our clients, wealth management, discretionary, advisory execution only, relatively small player. But we've been around a number of years. In terms of my role there, I'm COO, so in a small company that actually involves wearing a number of hats. We have our own inhouse Clearing and we've got a nominee company on operations team, client money position, permissions, things like that. So, I've got oversight of that, a bit of IT, we actually outsource our IT, but it's only in that relationship and the strategy that goes with that, a bit of HR which is always interesting. It's just a whatever, wherever is needed really. It's just keeping the company running and moving forward.
William Rouse: Excellent. And you guys have been around since the seventies, right?
Ian Clogg: We have yeah, in 72 or three, I think.
William Rouse: Good stuff, still going strong. So yeah, really I think kind of making it more relevant to here now. Well the main crux of issues or what a lot of people are facing at the moment, but aside from the obvious, what would you say the biggest challenge that Fisk as an organization has faced over the last month now that we've been in lockdown?
Ian Clogg: So, obviously the biggest challenge has been move into this remote work environment. So just to take it back a step before the actual lockdown, we saw this coming. It was earlier sort of late February, one of our non-executive directors actually lives in Spain, which was obviously a couple of weeks ahead of us. We had a board meeting at the beginning of March where he said, look, this is coming to London. We need to be ready to get the inside business working from home because it's likely that London at least will be locked down. Now, at that point, we had a sort of core BCP team that were able to work remotely, but that was only two investment managers, one of the ops team, myself, our CFO and one from compliance. So running the business for any length of time and that amount of people would not have been possible. So we put a huge amount of effort and a huge push in the buildup to lock downs, getting absolutely everyone that we could, remote connectivity from home. We gave them devices, screens, whatever they needed. We worked with our IT company to get all this in place and make sure our connections were secure. We had about three weeks to do that and we ended up getting the vast majority of the people that we've got in the company working from home. So now all of our investment managers are working from home at three dealers. So that was, a huge challenge.
Mainly, there're two things around that. You rely on a third party firm to help you support that and they were obviously under a lot of pressure from their other clients at the time as well. There's obviously a lot of firms pushing through the same sort of project as we were and we found quite quickly the places of seven house Springs those sorts of things.
However, we got there and then I think the biggest challenge is since lockdown have been around just getting people used to a new normal. So we were quite a traditional firms and quite paper insensitive, I'd say the same way I guess a lot of wealth managers are. And obviously handling paper suddenly becomes impractical under this lockdown. So, you know, what do you do with posts, we actually had it redirected to one of our guy's house. He has to open it every day. The sending process is a challenge, you got a guy sitting there stuffing envelopes. So, you just have to get people used to a new way of embracing these things and new way of communicating with clients, which I think is ultimately where we were heading with this.
You know, some of the regulatory issues around handling, checks and certificates and things like have been a bit of a challenge. I know the FCA have made some sort of vague moves to relax some of the rules, the 10% rule, for example. The time in relaxation actually means there's no real benefit. So the markets come up, most people reset their performance certainly in the March when they send their evaluations. So the things like, an example of a regulatory change would be the physical security reconciliation, now, luckily you only have to do that every six months. Hopefully we'll be back in the office before we have to do that again. But yeah, that would be a challenge for firms.
William Rouse: Okay. So, you kind of mentioned many different areas of the operations there. And obviously it is going to have a domino effect, but what area of the operation would you say has been hardest hit, and why?
Ian Clogg: I think there's been a number of big hits for different reasons, funnily enough. I think if you look at our dealings team, they've been quite majorly impacted. But that's been because we've seen quite high level of trading, comparatively to our normal levels while people try and take advantage of maybe low prices or you know, their portfolios need some quite careful management. So we've seen high level of dealings and the guys, they're all working from home, there's less screen, less for them so they have been impacted quite heavily.
In a different way the ops guys have been impacted. We've only managed to get three of them, so that's about half the team working from home. All the critical functions are covered, but it does put a lot of pressure on those guys. Now I mentioned earlier that we've got the post go in to the head of ops now so he's having to open the published, send contract notes to clients, insert, settle deals, do reconciliations, so it's a challenge for him. On top of that, some things you don't really think about like he's got two quite young children, they may not appreciate that he needs to be working. It's juggling a number of things and then compound that we actually hired a new starter who joined mid-March. Trying to train him up and make him useful monthly has been another challenge. I think the Deals guys and the ops side have been quiet heavily hit for different reasons.
Then it's I think the investment managers who are not technological minded guys, their strengths are investment management. Some of them have struggled a bit with integrates, not having anyone there really to support them on, I'd say. So I would say that they've been the key challenges, but I think overall we've adapted really well and very quickly and I think most of the industry has, to be fair really quick to this new normal. And I think things could be a lot worse than they actually are and we're managing all of the critical functions actually really well. I think we'll come out of this in a much better place than we went in.
William Rouse: It's one of those things, it's forcing the hand, isn't it? And I saw something the other day 'What's the key driver for your digital strategy going forward? Is it the CEO, COO or COVID 19? And that's certainly one thing that's getting a lot of people to rethink how they position themselves going forward.
Ian Clogg: It's a good thing because I think, a lot of what we're implementing now in terms of new strategies, we would have done anyway, but it has put these things to the forefront of our thinking whereas, before there was always something more important to do than, you know, to improve maybe things like like digital signatures. We've had to embrace that very quickly and it works really well and it's something that we want to be able to take into. When we got back into the office and back into the normal way of working, there has to be a completely new normal and some of these improvements that we're putting in place, we've got to make sure we carry them into this new world we return because it can only improve things.
William Rouse: You touched on digital signatures there and that's a client engagement element for your investment managers as well and obviously it's incredibly difficult for them. So, one thing I do want to ask and kind of get a clear understanding of is how has this impacted the way you engage with clients? You say you're a quite paper insensitive business as well. What else are you doing to overcome that?
Ian Clogg: Yeah, it was just completely changed and I think, again, this is something that will have to continue to change. I think even when these restrictions are relaxed and I don't think we'll ever go back to the way we were before. Think about client meetings in the office, you still go to want to do them, a client's still going to want to come to London, they still gonna want to get on public transport after all this? And so that kind of drives a new way of engaging with clients and a better way of doing it. Now there's a number of ways where we're moving forward and I still think we've got some way to go on this, but we're increasing the use of email for example. So rather than posting things to clients, emailing, electronic signatures, let me say for signing someone up, electronic signatures are perfectly acceptable.
We're trying to encourage clients to use the portal a lot more. We've actually got a reasonable portal that can store all of the clients valuations, CTVs, contract notes, things like that. So, encouraging clients to go on them.
They're more looking at the website, things like that. We've updated our website for the first time in a while just with some information about how we're handling the whole situation and contact details and encouraging people to communicate with our investment managers. I think there's another level to it as well because I think clients are now more nervous than they were before. I know we spoke briefly about this last week. I think there's communicating with clients in terms of their portfolio, the reporting that you have to do to them. But there's also another piece around just making sure that they're comfortable with the situation. We've had a number of clients get in touch just to make sure that their assets are still safe and there's no increased risk with this new situation.
And things like cyber security as well you know, we're obviously quite aware of the risks there but our clients, you know, I've seen, you probably have as well the increase in phishing emails, calls and things and texts and stuff like that and some of these looks pretty realistic now. So it's just making sure the clients are aware of that as well. There's a whole communication piece that you can do there just to almost put your arm around the clients and guide them through this.
And then, yeah, I think just increasing the client's awareness of things can't be as they were. So it's just making sure you get clients comfortable with the new way that we're going to be communicating with them. I know some firms have been doing webinars and webcasts for their clients, which I think is actually a great idea and we're not quite there yet. I know some firms have been using zoom for client meetings, which I think is something that we'll see a lot more of. There's so many tools out there now that can make these things a lot easier, a lot more modern and I think we'll see a huge move towards that over the coming weeks, months.
William Rouse: Yeah. So I think you talked about cybersecurity there and I've talked to quite a few COOs, CTOs and the thing at the top of their list is definitely around cyber security. So this is something I don't think clients are necessarily that savvy about. It's something that they need to be completely aware of is that they're definitely up for compromise there. So it's good to sort of know that you guys are doing something about that in terms of educating them.
Ian Clogg: So yeah, I think it's really important and I don't think enough is being done about it to be honest, and I don't think enough awareness of the risks around this. You know, you see adverts on the TV for the virus and things like that but I think more should be done in terms of the government putting it out there that this is a huge risk now.
William Rouse: Absolutely. Kind of brings me on to the next point as well, what would you say if you did you know, we're in a much better position now than we were a month ago, every day's a school day so we're learning something new every single day, today's genius is effectively tomorrow's idiot because we are learning so much. So what would you say your main lessons learned?
Ian Clogg: I think, like you say, every day is a school day so, we're learning all the time. I think one of the key things has been that we should never underestimate people's ability to adapt. You know, we said earlier how quickly things have changed and how quickly this has become a new normal and things are working really well. So it's quite easy to underestimate people's ability to change people are always very resistant to change. We've seen that, we always see that especially when people are forced into it because they can adapt pretty quick with that. I think that you should never be afraid to push forward with some challenge because you think people can't adapt? They will.
I think cybersecurity is a big one. You can never do enough around that, we learning that all the time. That's been a huge lesson, and there's so much more to do there. I think just communication now, I mean I'm being out in the office on one on one for walking around the office and talking to people, you know, face to face is generally how I like to do things. So, you know, reaching out to people, picking up the phone, email and um, sort of big. Just making sure people know that you're there and if there is anything they need, if there are already pain points they get in touch and just letting them know what you're working on to improve things for them. Where are their pain points and the work has been done in the background to improve things for them. And it's not that they're just sitting there going, gee, I wonder what this is, what's going on here? There's nothing's being done. So, I think communication just becomes more important than ever and you can never do enough of it. I think these are key lessons.
William Rouse: Okay. With more of now kind of a future focus, kind of going forward, you mentioned number of times now is we are going to be going into a very different world. But when you look at the longterm effects, not only for working life in wealth management, but from the client's perspective as well, what are the key changes that you're going to see from all of this coming into the new world?
Ian Clogg: Well, I think the way we engage with clients is going to be different. Are you really going to want clients coming in to the office for client meetings? So now this sort of thing that we're doing now I think will become far more common, not just for client meetings, but for any sort of meeting.
We saw pretty quickly actually, the firm we both involved with Goodacre, as soon as this happened, they started their online webinars, whereas normally we will go along to one of their place that they do these things. And you know, you get together and you listen to the presentations, but then they almost instantly changed that, online webinars, which I think worked really well when you've got really relevant content. So I think you'll start to see a lot more of that gatherings.
I think tech will become even more important than it is now. It's client portals, client engagement, communication with clients is going to change massively. And we need to have to embrace that and not just us embracing that but the clients embracing that as well because you change for them.
And I think there'll be a lot of handholding initially going through that, because you get clients of all different skill levels, all different levels of understanding so yeah, that will change hugely. Hopefully it'll expedite some of the talk that's been for years and years, getting rid of things like checks and certificates and stuff like that, pay for that is completely pointless in today's world. So hopefully we'll see some change around that.
I think this is another positive to come out of this whole situation. I think that will get pushed along quite nicely. So I think at the end in terms of the way we work I think you'll see a lot more remote working. We'll let the sort of nine to five, five day week return, probably not in the same form that we knew it before, you know. Social distance is going to have to stay around for certainly for the foreseeable future. There's a lot of talk at the moment of people having to wear masks when they're out and about. It's the way we work, we'll have to change. So I think it's difficult. So talking about longterm effects at the moment because things are changing so quickly, I think there is no doubt is that we'll see some fairly significant changes in both the way we work and the way we communicate plans.
William Rouse: Absolutely. Thank you very much for your time, sir. I know you're a very busy man, so I'll let you get on with the rest of your day. Really appreciate it. Thank you very much.