Active at 20: the interview

We recently celebrated our 20th anniversary! From the launch in 2000 with Glyn Pemberton and just three employees, to our 28-strong team today, we catch up with our founder Glyn and two of our current directors Karl P & Paul to discuss how things have changed.

How was Active established?

GP: I had worked in the financial services industry 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, meaning the division would close.

Having looked after so many clients for so many years, what was I going to do next?  Find another job or start a business of my own? After a lot of soul searching, I made the decision to start a financial planning business of my own.

KP: I was 22 when this happened and was working at Yorkshire Bank. I clearly recall the stress this put on my family, in particular the financial pressures of re-mortgaging and ultimately ‘downsizing’ our family home as income levels reduced substantially.

GP: 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. My wife suggested the name Active, because this was the old days when people still used the Yellow Pages, and it would be right at the top of the list!

KP: Thankfully, Active was the name chosen, as today it resonates brilliantly with who we are and what we do. It is also now quite a pertinent word within financial services, as many investment portfolios are known to be ‘actively managed’.  Thankfully, we didn’t opt for Aardvark Financial to gain top spot in the directories. I don’t think it would work as well in today’s world.

GP: Yes, having ditched the idea of Aardvark Financial Planners, Active was born. 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: Twenty-four hours earlier he had been eating his Sunday dinner, but by Monday lunchtime he was on life support, where he remained for almost 3 months. We were initially told by the medical professionals that it was food poisoning, however, his bowel had burst, causing septicaemia, placing him in extreme danger.

It was a torturous time for the entire family. We didn’t know from one day to the next whether he would survive, because his body was literally shutting down, 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 and what would happen to the business.

It was a strange experience for both myself and my brother, because this was our first look ‘under the bonnet’ of the business so to speak, having only been involved from afar previously, knowing what we knew from what had been spoken about around the family dinner table.

How did client’s respond to this change?

KP: Dad’s loyal clients kept saying “it’s ok, we’ll just wait for your dad to come back before doing anything”. We just wanted to shout “nooo!” at them, because we needed them to continue using us, not waiting for him to come back. Like many businesses and households, bills and staff still needed to be paid. They couldn’t wait, and so income still needed to be generated.

GP: Yes, it was tough because they only wanted to deal with me, 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. Something had to change.

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 strength or energy to keep the business going on my own, I invited Karl to join the team in 2007. He left RBS, where he had only recently moved to, to head up further expansion and a restructure of the firm.

KP: I, fortunately, left the banking world just before the financial crisis of 2008. 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 to financial planning. Smaller family practices are often independent, extremely moral, personable, and client focused, which is brilliant, however they often struggled to develop a brand, or build processes and systems capable of attracting clients that use the larger providers, 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. It was a culture change from sales to customer experience, but I was ready for the challenge. 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 a premises that reflected the firm we had now become, and one that would ultimately allow us to develop and grow for years to come. Active House gave us a footprint equal to that of our peers in other business support services such as law firms and accountancy practices.

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.  Progressive thinkers allow you to instil great practices and procedures. 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, literally six months after our move to Active House, which further helped shape the future of the firm. 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: We invest in our staff and we take an interest in them. Everyone has a personal development plan, and we work with them to help them achieve their goals. In the past 12 months the team have gained a further 8 external qualifications, including our executive support manager, Rachel, achieving chartered status, our ninth to do so!

People are proud to work for our brand. That is something Karl and I took away from our time at Yorkshire Bank. They see a career progression and they feel like they are part of the business, which makes them loyal. You must invest in your people because they are your biggest asset. Better people give better advice, it is as simple as that.

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, not that this year has allowed me to get out and enjoy it, but 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. Our team already goes above and beyond to be the best, and we hope that, when the opportunity arises, we will be able to welcome some new stars on board.

KP: Our focus always has been, and always will be, to give quality advice, a great service and have a superior level of knowledge, achieved by hard work. We want to be the ‘go-to’ advisers in the region, and I think, to some extent, we already are.

The industry is always changing, and we want to be the leaders in that change, rather than being one that struggles to keep up. Many people sadly resist change, even if they know it’s for the best, but we aim to embrace it and get ahead of the curve. It has proven to work well for us after all of the challenges we have faced in our first 20 years, we’re confident that it will help us in our next 20.

#TheClearAdvantage

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Active Spirit

“Having been a client of Active for many many years and have always been given great advice and direction. I am now looked after by Andrew. He has given excellent advice and service, continuing on the great work this company has always offered me. Always cheerful and helpful; a great asset to Active. I have no problem recommending him to other people.

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