16 October 2019

A view from overseas (and a broken elbow)

Visiting independent financial adviser Mathias Böttcher, founder of German financial advisory company TIMABO®, reflects on a few days spent knowledge-sharing at Carbon’s Edinburgh office.

Travel educates. During Spring 2019, I asked my Scottish friend and colleague Gordon Wilson if I could spend a few days at his company, Carbon, in Edinburgh. There were two good reasons: one, I love this city and Scotland in general; two, Gordon, whom I met ten years ago in Hamburg in a team meeting, has built something that I dream of and believe in – a transparent, inexpensive and evidence-based format for financial advice and planning.

In Britain, Gordon’s concept works well and Carbon wins one award after another. Hundreds of people are successfully investing hundreds of millions via an experienced team of 40 staff. Carbon has created a very good marketing strategy which helps to spread name awareness and gives clients and professional advisers alike the confidence to make recommendations. Success makes the company popular. And that’s exactly the type of experience I wanted to learn from for my own business in Germany.

Without a doubt, there are professionals at work here! Not only did a busy schedule await me, with various training sessions over the three days, but even a separate workstation with system access and my own email account.

First off, Operations Manager Julienne Christie-Henry led me through the office introducing me to the team. Next, I became familiar with fire safety and health and safety regulations – with a written examination included! And of course, we also had to do some formalities around privacy. For all kinds of things there were determined ‘policies’: from dress code to the values ​​and behaviours that are expected of everyone when dealing with colleagues and clients. Everyone in the company understands its ethos and what it stands for.

After a brief introduction to my computer, I had my first training session with Associate Director Matthew Duncan. Matt works as a financial planner and showed me the excellent FE analysis tool for funds and securities as well as the Voyant financial planning program for clients. I was especially impressed by the precision and transparency of their work. Voyant, in particular, inspired me. Matt easily moved through the sample cases given and designed solutions for realistic client scenarios. Examples were things such as: what is the earliest I can retire? How much inheritance tax will I need to pay? How much would a business owner need to sell for in order to have enough money to fund the retirement they want. Benefits, benefits, benefits.

The second day started with an investment meeting – no, the investment meeting. Under Technical Director John Bell’s direction, a team of specialists from different areas within the company discussed the quality of the Carbon fund portfolios and their benchmarks. The meeting also involved an assessment of possible new cooperation partners. The communication environment was great. Everyone spoke courteously and in a spirit of collaboration, and the whole table developed a highly creative blend of expertise, clearly enjoying the task in hand. In this respectful manner, concrete decisions were born with numerous new ‘Action Points’ made. (By the way, John led the meeting with a broken elbow and only afterwards went to the doctor for the necessary surgery. Attitude!)

The afternoon started with another session, this time with Financial Planner Iain Harper. Here, everything was about the high-quality annual report, the clients and their service fee. I loved Iain’s way of telling investors: “No market timINg but spend time IN the market”. English is so wonderful.

On the third day, Gary Wright, also a financial planner, spent time with me. In the morning, I learned all about the ideas behind the portfolios used by Carbon. There are six of them. They are qualitatively identical, which means the same individual funds are used; the only difference is the respective equity allocation. The whole thing is essentially evidence-based and therefore the funds of Dimensional play the central role. (They are based on academic research). Gary persuaded me to supplement these funds with other low-cost companies in two places: Vanguard and iShares. In particular, the admixture of the real estate asset class seemed to improve the risk-return result.

In the second part of training, Gary familiarised me with the free Carbon service ‘The Second Opinion’. This allows non-clients to have their investments audited for free by Carbon’s highly-skilled professionals. The focus here is on likely improvements in areas such as fees, taxes and diversification. The reports are of outstanding customer value.

Travelling really educates. I was able to get a taste of a company that is very close to my ideal in the finance industry. All in all, I took away with me the impression of a company with a high degree of professionalism and a tremendous motivation visible in every quarter. Carbon people are doing a good job for their clients, and they are doing so with pride.

TIMABO® is on the right track. This can be said as well. Our values, ideas and strategies are optimal in order to be able to enter a better age for investment and retirement provision even in Germany – maybe even as a real pioneer. Carbon Financial Partners and TIMABO® use many of the same tools for our work. That makes me a little proud. Ten years ago, Carbon was about where I am today. I look forward to a great future and invite people to join this successful path with their finances.

Special thanks to Gordon and his entire team at Carbon, and in particular to Julienne, Matthew, John, Iain and Gary for their generous time and invaluable contributions. Take care, guys!

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