Brown Shipley boss: how business yoga and a sense of humour can help us through this crisis


ow did you cope with the first lockdown?

 Like many Bank CEOs – if you’d asked me in January if we could move wholesale to working from home and keep our clients happy – I’d have said ‘probably not’.  Of course we wouldn’t have chosen there to be a pandemic– but there is, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the impact it would have had if it had happened even ten years ago. The technology wouldn’t have allowed us to run the whole bank remotely and contact colleagues and clients so well via Microsoft Teams and Zoom.  Additionally, I’m acutely aware of the stress that Covid has placed on colleagues’ and clients’ mental health and wellbeing, using video communications has been one way which has helped to maintain our connectivity with one another.

 What about your clients?  What are they telling you they want from your services at this time?

 Clients are looking for solutions to help them achieve their long-term goals.  Most clients have acquired their wealth not because of a deep interest in managing their wealth – they’ve done it through other means.  They are looking for someone to help them simplify their finances, remove complexity and add insight.

 We are having conversations with our clients on two topics, especially.  One is a desire to invest in local businesses to support the economic recovery post COVID-19.  Our research shows that over half of those with wealth in London, for example, intend to do this.  Secondly – clients are now really focussed on sustainability.  Our clients don’t want their hard-earned money adding to the world’s problems – and this has increased through 2020.  This theme was of course a trend before COVID-19 – but it has no doubt been accelerated because of the pandemic.

What have you learnt from the pandemic and its impact on your business?

 COVID-19 has turbo boosted two trends in Wealth Management: greater digitalisation and flexible working.  As an industry we can’t unlearn the lessons we’ve learnt.  We must continue to adapt and evolve how we work and how we engage clients. Digital engagement had increased 7-10x during the crisis.

 When I arrived at Brown Shipley – two and half years ago – I was surprised at how far private banking was behind retail banking when it came to digital.  I would have expected it to be ahead, but it isn’t.  Clients and colleagues are using digital much more dynamically now – and often to facilitate ‘virtual’ face-to-face meetings. Our experience has proven that digital has no age boundary.  Clients in their 80s are using Zoom to engage with us.

 Our recent engagement survey told us many colleagues feel more productive working from home. I’ve always been an advocate of flexi-working and the days where everyone is in the office five days a week are now gone. The Wealth Management industry is behind the curve here as well. We need to adopt a flexible first approach blending the benefits of the office with home working.  

Increasing productivity and improving colleague welfare are two priorities for Brown Shipley as we move out of lockdown.  I don’t think we should talk about returning to normal.  This is the perfect moment to try for a better way to work.

As we manage lockdown two – what do you want to see from the Government and policymakers?

 To use a famous quote from a previous crisis – the Government needs to do ‘whatever it takes’ to protect lives and livelihoods.  It’s great that there’s positive news on a vaccine breakthrough, though there will need to be a full monetary and fiscal policy bridge to support the economy.  

At this time, the UK Government has focussed on measures that essentially put the economy in the deep freeze – as if we can take it out and defrost it when the time comes.  US policy makers took a different strategy – not furloughing workers, but vastly improving welfare.  Of course, we won’t know which strategy is the best approach for a while – but the US system may allow for a quicker redistribution of workers to industries that will thrive post COVID-19.

 And what is your focus for clients and colleagues?

I’ve always been a vocal advocate of flexible working and Brown Shipley’s experience of remote working has demonstrated that productivity and client service does not suffer and can actually improve in this environment. Not every company will follow the likes of Twitter and let everyone work from home for good. It’s about striking a balance. I believe it’s productive for colleagues to be in the office for at least part of the week as it aids creativity in finding solutions, is good for team culture and important for new joiners to pick up the ways of working – we learn so much from face to face observation. I also believe that social interaction in the office is good for mental wellbeing – it’s easier to share a fresh perspective and problem solve together.

I believe the pandemic has stolen some of our humour and camaraderie.  It is important for leaders to ensure these facets of working together remain strong in the new way of working.  Brown Shipley ran a Health Week in October – that included sessions on resilience, stress awareness and meditation.  We also held a live ‘business yoga’ session.  

 Clients want us to continue to demystify the situation and make it simple.  This is even more important now with pandemic and the confusion caused by Brexit.  We also have a new leader in the US to factor into our clients’ plans.