Active Chartered Financial Planners is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Tees Business catches up with founder Glyn Pemberton and two of the current directors, Karl Pemberton and Paul Gibson, to discuss how things have changed.
How was Active established?
GP: I had worked in financial services for a long time and had been with my previous employer for 14 years by 2000. I was managing the financial advisory division of the firm when the owners decided they wanted to move away from that side of the business. After plenty of soul searching, I made the decision to start a financial planning business of my own. Luckily, I had a good relationship with the regulators at the time, so starting afresh felt like more of a transition than simply starting from scratch. It was just me and three employees in the early days, then we started to expand in 2002.
When did the business start to change?
GP: In 2004, I was extremely poorly, and I was out of the business for six or seven months. Karl and my oldest son, Mark, who is an accountant, stepped in to keep things running.
KP: It was a torturous time for the entire family. We didn’t know from one day to the next whether he would survive, and all we could do was be with him and watch. The agony was further compounded for my mum with the financial worry of how the bills would be paid. It was a strange experience for both myself and my brother, because this was our first look “under the bonnet” of the business, knowing what we knew from what had been spoken about around the family dinner table.
How did clients respond to this change?
KP: Dad’s loyal clients kept saying, “We’ll just wait for your dad to come back”. We just wanted to shout “No!” at them, because we needed them to continue using us, not waiting for him to come back.
GP: Yes, it was tough because they were used to me. I was the business. It was a real eye-opener, because it made me realise that if I needed to step down, the business would not be as valuable as I thought, and I didn’t want 20 years of hard work to be wasted.
When did Karl and Paul join Active?
GP: As you can tell by the fact I’m speaking to you now, I did recover from my illness, but I quickly realised that I didn’t have the energy to keep the business going on my own, I invited Karl to join the team in 2007. He left RBS, which he had only recently moved to, to head up further expansion and a restructure of the firm.
KP: It was a strange shift, but I had a vision of what I wanted to achieve with Active. I wanted to bring my knowledge from Yorkshire Bank and RBS to develop a “best of all worlds” approach. Smaller family practices are often independent, extremely moral, personable, and client-focused, which is brilliant. However, they often struggled to develop a brand, which was exactly the background I had been used to.
PG: I joined Active in late 2008/early 2009. It was a strange experience moving from the corporate world to a smaller business that was so client-focused. We had a business model we had faith in, which was tough considering what was happening in the financial sector at the time, and in the end it paid off!
When did you move to Active House?
KP: We moved here in late 2012. We wanted premises that reflected the firm we had now become and one that would ultimately allow us to develop and grow for years to come. With new premises came new people and we were able to invest in and grow our team even further.
PG: Attracting great people allows you to develop a great culture. Driven individuals always ensure knowledge and skills remain current and industry leading. I have always been passionate about training and development, and it was amazing to be able to recruit such talented people to join us.
KP: We had some key recruitment successes in 2013. Three more of our former bank colleagues joined us, including Karl Nendick as a director, who now heads up the regulatory and compliance side of the business.
Active has a reputation for developing and retaining its staff – how has that come about?
PG: Everyone has a personal development plan and we help them to achieve their goals. In the past 12 months, several members of our team have gained further external qualifications, including our executive support manager, Rachel, achieving chartered status, our ninth to do so! People are proud to work for our brand. They see a career progression and they feel like part of the business, which makes them loyal. Your people are your biggest asset.
Compared to 20 years ago, is Active where you thought it would be, and what does the future hold?
GP: I always expected the business to grow and I am very proud that it’s gone the way I hoped. I officially retired at Christmas 2019 and it is fantastic to see the business go from strength to strength.
PG: We are going to continue supporting our staff to train and develop and we hope that, when the opportunity arises, we will be able to welcome some new stars on board.
KP: Our focus has always been, and always will be, to give quality advice, a great service and have a superior level of knowledge, achieved by hard work. The industry is always changing and we want to be the leaders in that change, rather than being one that struggles to keep up. It has proven to work well for us after all of the challenges we have faced in our first 20 years, so we’re confident that it will help us in our next 20.
Find out more at activefinancialplanners.co.uk.