On 26th March 2019 Wren was featured on thewealthnet. Wren’s Chief Investment Officer, Michael Parsons, discussed Wren’s history, its ethos and the importance of building long term relationships with clients with journalist Alexandra Newlove:
Wren Investment Office takes flight
The investment office formed by a team of former Lord North Street advisers has grown its assets under management to more than £500 million in less than three years. But despite this, rapid growth really isn’t the goal at Wren Investment Office. Chief executive Michael Parsons and head of client relationships Drew McNeil spoke to Alexandra Newlove about their approach to serving super-wealthy families.
Among the first clients to join Wren Investment Office when it was set up in late 2016 were some who had worked with its founders for more than a decade prior – a vote of confidence if ever there was one.
And despite the relative youth of the team behind the independent multi-family office (chief executive Michael Parsons is in his mid-thirties) and trendy offices in London’s Victoria, the business’s core values are traditional: Be patient, establish long-term relationships with clients, maintain trust and independence, and deliver a highly personalised service.
The firm has been set up to ensure continuity of ownership: It cannot be sold except via a gradual management buy-out by the next generation of the firm’s leaders, and there is no dominant family pulling the strings – Wren is fully independent.
“When we set up the brand, we really wanted to build a firm that would be around for the long term,” Mr Parsons explains.
“We had just been through a process of being sold from Lord North Street to Sandaire, as had many clients. It’s disruptive for everybody. We wanted to build a business where clients had no fear we were building assets in order to sell [the business] in ten years’ time.
“We are not able to sell to a competitor, a bank, a private equity firm. We are only able to sell, when the time comes, to the next generation of management over time. It’s the philosophy of a partnership. If a client comes to us, we will be around for the next generation, for their widow, for the long term.”
Despite looking like a small London start-up on the surface, Wren is in fact part of a global alliance with WE Family Offices in New York and Miami, and Spain’s MdF Family Partners.
“The exciting aspect for us was creating what is really the first international alliance of family offices,” Mr Parsons says.
“Wealthy families are increasingly international… [and] we are not just a loose association sharing ideas occasionally, we have a joint investment process that is a resource shared across the three firms.”
The firms share an investment team of 20 people and an investment committee made of 10. Wren is comprised of five people in London, serving about a dozen clients, part of the global network of around 100 staff across the three offices.
“That joint team is really interesting because we have the perspective of looking at the world from onshore US, from within Europe, and the UK…that leads to a really interesting debate around the table.
“The alliance has been valuable because even though we are a small firm, we’ve been able to get up to scale quite quickly. That’s given us a real leg up as a new firm.”
Wren offers investment advice in house, but head of client relationships Drew McNeil describes its advisers as “expert generalists”, who refer clients to the firm’s network of specialist providers depending on their needs.
“No matter how sophisticated the client, we always go back to first principles around, ‘what is the purpose of the money’?”.
“This involves an iterative conversation that links purpose with the assets. Is the objective to protect, grow, or enjoy the wealth, or a combination of all three? We can translate those purposes into a long term investment plan that will fulfil that.”
This theme of getting the structure of wealth right first also ties into the firm’s name, which is eponymous with architect Sir Christopher Wren, the creator of City of London landmark St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“The analogy is with our role as the architect of a family’s overall wealth strategy and the emphasis we put on understanding the purpose and getting the long term plan right,” Mr Parsons says.
And Mr Parsons says his clients, especially the younger contingent, are now increasingly interested in the purpose of their wealth outside their families, as they ask more questions about impact and ESG investing.
“We’ve seen a wave of next gens who just want to do [impact], and we are scaling up for that.”
How to acquire and hold on to this next generation of wealth holders is a perpetual issue for larger competitors in the ultra-high net worth wealth market—one Wren has addressed by establishing relationships with families, rather than just the principal.
“We tend to have relationships with every generation of the family. Our youngest client, technically, is a one-year-old, but we do work with the family group, our fee structure is all-inclusive of the family relationship,” Mr Parsons says.
“The [clients] we have day-to-day are the more senior generation and the younger generation who are our age, the objectives can be very different from family member to family member.”
Managing complex family dynamics is an increasingly large part of the job for any wealth adviser, and it’s no different at Wren.
“We have a client we see where it’s usually a two-hour meeting and the first 30 minutes is spent on the investment portfolio,” Mr McNeil says.
“The next hour-and-a-half is spent entirely around their family issues, which they just need to talk about, and we become a conduit for that. It’s very important as it’s all about succession, handing assets over to the next generation, [and] other projects that aren’t investment related.”
These deep and rather personal relationships are what will form the backbone of the business as it grows, both directors say.
“When it comes to winning new clients, a lot comes through word of mouth of current clients, past clients, or intermediaries who we know well. We’re not after 100 clients a year, we’re after a few each year who we can really add value to,” Mr Parsons says.
Mr McNeil adds: “Winning business is a matter of building trust over a long period of time, and we’re not in a hurry.”
This article was originally published on thewealthnet