With Lockdown lifting and the stock markets – perhaps irrationally – well on the way to recovery, it seems appropriate to write one last Coronavirus blog post.
We are of course privileged to have a business that can run under Lockdown and for that I am extremely grateful. I know all the money we spent on amazing IT over recent years really helped, but fundamentally ‘giving advice’ is something that can be done remotely if necessary. There are so many businesses out there where this simply isn’t the case which must be heart-breaking for everyone concerned.
I have found the last couple of weeks to be very hard. Investment markets have rallied and the fear of seeing markets falling has passed, but we’ve been left with a massive amount of administration to do. Its taking up more and more hours and I’m not spending as much time as I would like with my son. I can see this happening, but don’t seem able to change my working pattern to free up time to spend with him. I will try harder again next week.
After my somewhat downbeat last post, I’m pleased to say I feel more positive this week.
Despite what I said earlier in the my posts, we are entitled to the small business grant (link) notwithstanding sub-letting a room via Regus. It took some effort to get hold of the council and after making no progress, I got my MP involved who helped expedite matters.
I have really felt the pressure of being under lockdown over the last few days.
The weekend was lovely, helped by the continued blue sky and sunshine. I was hoping this week would allow me to make some good progress on that long list of things to do, but it just hasn’t happened despite trying really hard.
We are now half way through April, and so far 2020 has flown by.
I’ve a real mixed bag of emotions to talk about today. Over the Easter weekend I spoke with several friends whose businesses are on their knees. There is no sign of the promised support from the Government, because it’s just taking so long to actually get the forms, or speak to someone or whatever is it that is actually needed to get the grant, or a loan. These are people who know what it is like to work hard and it’s heart breaking for them to sit on their sofa at home, wanting to get stuck in and rescue their business but not being allowed to. This stress then leads directly to a sudden loss of income whilst at the same time having to pay their business and personal bills is beyond words. All I can do is listen and try to keep their spirits up.
Several really nice things happened yesterday. Two clients got in touch out of the blue to check how WE were faring. Not the business, not their investments, but how my team & I were coping. What an absolutely lovely thing to do. We were chuffed to bits.
A fairly short one today.
We managed to complete the task of writing to every one of our fee paying clients with an update yesterday, which means it took 6 working days. The letter was on top of various other communications we’ve issued since the virus shook the financial markets in late February. We’re very pleased with that. We’ve also had some really nice feedback from clients too.
The lovely warm weather in Kent made Sunday in particular feel like it was a mid-August, and that we’d probably be whizzing off on holiday sometime soon. In fact we were supposed to have flown to The Highlands on Sunday for a week away from the usual day to day routine. Oh well, this time next year maybe?!
I managed to tune out of work over the weekend, which is a skill I have learned over the years otherwise as a business owner, you run the risk of being too immersed in the situation, losing sight of what’s really urgent and also seeing productivity drop as you become too mentally exhausted to function properly
As well as reacting to the economic turmoil, we have to carry on running Gibson Lamb too. It’s our business year end on 31st March so I’ve been getting the accounts in order, and one of our crucial (and obligatory) insurances – Professional Indemnity – comes up for renewal on 31st March as well.
My legs ache, which means the new exercise regime associated with ‘stay at home living’ is reaching areas not usually reached!
Yesterday was the busiest day since this crisis started, with every email answered seemingly generating two new emails. The phone was ringing a lot too, and occasionally I struggled with ‘bandwidth’ on the office phone via my PC, but I reverted to using my traditional home phone instead.
I’ve just been out to post a tax year end letter and go for a jog in the sunshine, with the former being urgent work as far as I’m concerned and the latter my ‘out the house exercise’. Did I make a strategic error there, combining the two?
Boris has announced the inevitable shutdown, so I’ve collected a few bits from the office to make my home set up slightly better but I’m lucky to have a pretty good configuration already. I will miss my standing desk though, so need to work on a way to replicate it in a home environment.
I’m not one for blogging every day or every week, but the world has been turned upside down in 2020 and I thought it might be cathartic to write about the challenges we face.
Our clients are worried about their health, their families and their investments. We are worried about these things too.
I am also worried about my business, the impact this could have on my family, my employees and the viability of the businesses that we rely on to support us.
Our office internet connection has just failed. I know it’s not “out fault” as other offices on the same floor are also down.
No big deal. I’ve turned on our mobile internet dongle which is basically a mobile phone pretending to be a WIFI connection and told the computers to look for that and not the “wired ethernet”. Once that is done, we connect to the VPN (a tool that gives us a secure connection to our database if we aren’t using the wired ethernet), and within 5 minutes we’re back up and running.
Okay, it’s a little slower, but it’s working!!
Time for a thank you to our IT Partners Advantage who helped us design and implement the system.
We are all becoming aware of climate change and we want to ensure our business is as responsible as practical.
We have no control over the energy tariff selected by our landlord, and therefore unlike our previous office, we cannot select energy generated from a sustainable source such as www.goodenergy.co.uk.
We are proud to announce that once again we have been awarded a Cyber Essentials Certification!
You will have heard me talk about Financial Express (FE) quite a lot, as they help us design and build our portfolios.
The other day we received an email from “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
This particular email came from a Savills email address with the subject “*********APPROVAL REQUIRED ACTION*********” and had asked me to download some attachments.
One of our key suppliers was upset because they have a client who they like but who is consistently paying late and doesn’t like to be reminded.
We’ve been using FE’s Analytics software since 2007 and have always found them friendly, cooperative and easy to deal with and we love their software. We refer to FE as our ‘investment research partner’ and over the last few months have been working on a new project which will bring our firms even closer together.
There’s a lot for investors to worry about.
High market valuations, rising interest rates, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and escalating trade tensions fuelled by Donald Trump all raise the likelihood of greater market volatility.
Gibson Lamb Owner and Advisor Dave Lamb answers a few questions about the Cyber Essentials Certification award and why we went for it!
How did you hear about this accreditation/certification?
Our external compliance firm, CATS who mentioned it in April this year.
There are plenty of ways to lose money to fraudsters. Keeping your money safe, especially online, is challenging when fraudsters use increasingly sophisticated ways to deceive investors.
Our regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has issued a new warning over the growing threat of loan fee scams which specifically target borrowers. According to the FCA, more than £3.5 million was lost to this form of fraud during the last year.
Gibson Lamb recognise that businesses can have a negative impact on the environment. We are committed to find ways in which we can reduce the impact of our work both in and out of the office.
I was listening to the radio on the train whilst commuting into London earlier today, hoping I wouldn’t reach the part of the journey where the signal drops out just as the news broke, but fortunately I was able to listen live to the speeches made by Jean-Claude Junker and Theresa May. The terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union have been agreed.
Gosh it’s November!
For those who don’t know, we are forty odd years old and over the years have helped thousands of individuals, some who remain active clients and some who do not.
I will confess I was finding it hard to understand why President Trump was so keen to change or replace the healthcare provision put in place by his predecessor President Obama. One of our clients has family in America so as we were chatting one day, I asked if he knew what was happening and why? Here’s his answer, which I thought I would share with you as I found it very interesting. Naturally I have changed our client’s name.
We really liked a post we received via email from one of our favourite managers, Troy Asset Management, about the snap general election. It’s a bit too long to repost in its entirety but here as an extract.
Change: definition: To make something different.
Gibson Lamb’s raison d’être is to help people achieve their personal goals and it is only right and proper that the owners and team follow their dreams and aspirations too.
This update initially started as a brief commentary following the US Federal Reserve’s decision to increase interest rates which was announced last week. However, we decided to provide a general update as well.
Financial advice is a fairly small profession and a relatively tiny proportion of an already small group choose to run their business as we run ours; on the whole what we do is all about getting you comfortable with your finances so that can enjoy not working anymore.
Just over a month has passed since the referendum result and I thought it might be interesting to reminisce about what it was like to co-own a small financial advisers during what has been the most incredible few weeks of my professional life to date.
I was reading the London Evening Standard on the train home recently and an article about residential property development in Battersea caught my eye, so a quick mention for Chris Blackhurst the author who penned the article.
As you know, we are big fans of recycling here at Gibson Lamb. We like to do our bit to help the environment.
We have been recycling for many years and are always surprised when Paper Round provide our yearly statistics every January.
The last 12 months have been exceptional and we thought we would share the results with you in the below infographic!
A key part of any long term financial planning is making sure you’re invested in the right things at the right time.
Gibson Lamb is a small, privately owned business (and we’d say that is a significant reason why we remain successful 40 plus years after we started) but what this does mean is that we don’t have the budget to have an in house investment expert with the sole job of reviewing the economic outlook and deciding what to buy, what to sell and what to hold.
George Osborne has delivered his annual Autumn Statement today which was combined with the latest Spending Review which delivered £12bn of welfare spending cuts and slashed departmental budgets across Whitehall.
I’m sure we all receive post that, open, think ‘I need to keep that’ and place it in a pile labelled ‘things I need to deal with/file later’.
Now whilst I do not read every financial publication, I do like to scan the headlines in case anything of interest appears.
It had to happen one day. I was driving home from a meeting when my phone beeped to tell me the team in the office wanted to talk. My Windows Mobile phone screens calls for me when I’m driving so I’m not tempted to talk on Bluetooth unnecessarily, get distracted and thus caught speeding or worse.
A few miles up the road I pulled over and called them back.
One of the team had pressed the wrong button at the wrong time and our database was no longer working quite as intended.
‘No trouble’ I said, that’s what we have backups for.
Log a call with support and it’ll be easy to fix.
It wasn’t as easy to recover the data as we expected
I wont bore you with the details but it wasn’t quite as easy to fix as I’d hoped and with hindsight the software house have said their actions and process to recover the data were far from perfect. However, despite it taking longer than we expected, we were able to recover the data and carry on business as usual.
Nevertheless without our backups we would have faced some serious challenges. We have over 1,000,000 client related documents on our server – we’ve been using document management services since 1998 so we’ve built up a lot of information over that time.
How do we backup our data?
They say data isn’t backed up properly unless it’s in three separate places. Therefore we backup overnight using two separate systems (plus the original copy in the office making three copies in total). The first is www.depositit.com which is a cloud based backup. It’s easy to use and not particularly expensive. However it’s limited by the bandwidth of our internet connection so in practice we cannot backup everything to depositit each night.
We therefore also run an old fashioned but robust, reliable backup to tape. The tape is collected by the specialist data security firm Iron Mountain every morning which means a complete copy of our server, emails, databases etc are stored away from our premises by around 9:30am.
It turned out last week we had to fall back on both backups. Initially we recovered a small file from the cloud which worked fine. We had it ready for use within minutes. The software people however decided we needed a lot more files and this was impractical over broadband so we ‘called’ the previous night’s tape back from Iron Mountain which arrived within 2 hours.
The software people then set about rebuilding the system and soon enough everything was running perfectly again.
Test your Disaster Recovery programme
There is nothing quite like testing your Disaster Recovery programme for real. It’s a bit of a nerve shredder to be honest and we could have done without the hassle but all is well that ends well as they say.
Our backups cost us money but, as we have just proved, are an invaluable asset that you hope you never need.
Our advice therefore is not only to back up your data but also to test whether the backups are actually working. We may have been posting a somewhat different blog if we were not so well prepared.
Spending time wisely
We’ve run this business for a long time and have picked up that small business owners skill of ‘just knowing’ how much to charge for whatever it is we are doing.
We recently had lunch with a key supplier who runs a small administration based business not dissimilar to ours in many ways and we were talking about time management. Richard from The Paraplanners has used time logging software for around 10 years and they have refined their process considerably over that period. They now use getharvest.com which is a website and app that allows both the logging and the all-important analysis of the data.
Fortunately for us as well as an endorsement from a trusted business associate, Harvest have a Windows Phone app.
As the in house gadget lover, I am one the few who use the much underrated operating system and this allowed us to sign up to the trial version of the software.
It’s early days and to be honest we’re still setting it up and understanding how it works but we wanted to share with you why we are doing it.
What we don’t want to know<
We really don’t have any interest on whether someone checks Facebook or has three cups of tea in the morning. We trust our incredibly hard working staff absolutely and we know they use their time to the best of their ability. All the data logging in the world won’t change that at all.
What we do want to know
We are keen to establish how long certain tasks take us and, crucially, how much of our individual and collective time is spent on ‘billable’ work as opposed to ‘non billable’.
We reconcile our bank accounts every morning and consider this a very important task as cash flow is king for all businesses, small ones especially. It also allows us to spot any fraudulent activity very promptly which is also very important for anyone using online banking.
Our accounts are important but they are not billable time – clients do not pay us to reconcile our bank.
Billable time is therefore time spent working for clients directly. Preparing for and travelling to and from meetings, answering emails and processing transactions are all examples of billable time.
Once we get the hang of logging time accurately we will be able to analyse all sorts of very interesting things which reminds us of a possibly apocryphal story of another firm who offered clients a chauffeur driven limousine to meetings so that they could take place in London and avoid the need for the business owner to travel, thus saving more time than the cost of the posh taxi!
It will take time (ironically)
We are only just starting this process and we know that there will be challenges ahead not least of which is remembering to log everything we do. Harvest’s software is excellent and we are already better at using it.
We will keep you updated with progress!
Having worked in the Financial Services industry for 28 years, I have seen how technology has progressed and how beneficial it can be.
Looking back to when I first started work in 1987, there was no computer in the department I worked in and only two phones. Even in my second job we shared computers!
Nowadays I’d imagine this would be unheard of as we tend to take technology for granted.
Starting at Gibson Lamb in June this year, I didn’t enter as a complete newbie, having already worked in insurance and at another financial advisers in the City.
But coming into a new company that’s had all the same staff since before I even took my GCSEs has been a hugely enjoyable challenge; as eye-opening as it has been refreshing.
I think of it like learning a new language.
Everything is done in a very particular way; either slightly or, more often, extremely differently to the way I was used to.
As with any job there’s a ton of both industry and company-specific language unique to any company.
I had built up skills and habits that were transferable, and others that were simply incomprehensible to those around me. Learning which is which comes with practice.
The important thing to remember is that there’s also a structure and a reason behind everything we do. It isn’t always obvious, but as a firm these practices stem from both our history and our culture.
These are the things that come naturally to the others, that I am still building into habits
- Filing: It’s hard to imagine two systems designed to do essentially the same thing being as different as Adviser Office (used at the place I used to work) and CCD (used at Gibson Lamb). A lot of the crutches I could rely on with the old system to keep things structured are simply no longer there. And everything is now filed in an entirely different way.On the plus side, and from the client’s point of view, we have a handy way of keeping everything paperless and efficient with “Virtual Cabinet” and “Portal” – see Vicky’s blog on this very topic!
- Structuring client letters: Starting out, even things like making sure I formatted my letters with the various rules that Gibson Lamb have relied upon for decades could trip me up.This invariably takes more concentration and double-checking than anything I end up putting in the letter itself. I like to think it’s finally become second nature to me. We shall see!
- Meeting preparation: Luckily this didn’t take me as long to learn as I had relevant experience before. Gibson Lamb has over the years developed some sensible methods (including, of course, clever use of technology!) to make this take a lot less time than where I used to work.
Learning from experience
Training brings its own set of challenges for the existing team almost as much as me (at times) as they try to explain to me something that for them is as instinctive as riding a bike.
With this I’m lucky that everyone’s been so welcoming.
I’ve quickly came to see why Gibson Lamb has managed to hold on to both the same core team of staff for so long, as well as many of its clients for even longer.
At this early stage, I just like to think I’m starting to make their lives easier rather than harder (!) and on a personal level that I leave the office every day having learnt as much as I can. From there I can look to the future with a company that I already look forward to being with for many years to come.
[by Emma McMahon]
When I tell people I have worked for the same Company for over 17 years the most common response is “are you kidding me”?
I think the concept of working in the same place, for the same people, and for such a long period of time does not appeal to the masses.
George Osborne delivered the first Conservative Budget in almost 20 years and took decisive steps towards cutting a further £12bn from welfare spending.
This was positioned as a Budget for working people. It carried three main themes of higher wages, lower taxes and lower welfare spending.
The Government’s stance is clear: the best way out of poverty is through work. He delivered on the Conservative manifesto pledge of a higher inheritance tax threshold for family homes valued up to £1m, which will be funded by cutting the tax relief on pension contributions for higher earners.
This is our understanding of the main announcements as they relate to personal financial planning and, as always, the devil could well be in the detail which hasn’t actually been published yet.
Others have said we’re good at what we do which is providing advice and guidance about pensions, investments and finance in general.
We have a confession to make. We’re not quite such a polished act when it comes to recruiting people. There is a good reason for that; we don’t do it very often.
Fifteen years with the same team
Prior to last year we hadn’t needed to recruit anyone as our team had remain unchanged for 15 years or so but that had to end one day. Just before Christmas 2013 Lisa left on maternity leave and some months later Lisa confirmed that looking after baby Sammy was far more fun than a 5 day a week commute to London. Professionally we were disappointed as Lisa was a wonderful employee but as her friends we were delighted that being a mum was indeed more fun than working at Gibson Lamb.
Welcome to our blog
We are delighted that we have launched our new look website which we hope you like and find both interesting and informative. Naturally we couldn’t have done it without the help of the wonderful design team at Top Left Design and I’m hoping I can negotiate a discount with that blatant plug.
I have, of course, known the business which was set up by my dad and Andrew Gibson all my life. I remember my mum bringing me up on the train when smoking was allowed and being astonished to see commuters opening the ‘slam doors’ as we arrived in Charing Cross and jumping off whilst the train was still moving! As a kid I remember being so proud of my Dad and the team he had working with him. Some of the client names I became familiar all those years ago are still clients now and if you are one of those, thank you for your support over the years.