Celebrating IPM’s 20th birthday with our managing director
Back in 1999 smartphones were an idea from science fiction and David Cameron wasn’t even a Member of Parliament!
It was also the year that I.P.M. SIPP Administration Limited was established. Back in November 1999, we began trading with just five members of staff looking after 300 SIPP members from serviced offices in Ware, Hertfordshire.
To celebrate 20 years in financial services, we asked our Managing Director, David Sutcliffe, to share his thoughts about how IPM and the wider pensions and financial services industry has changed.
Excellent staff the key to IPM’s success
Back in 1999, SIPPs were very much a niche product, although their popularity was gaining momentum.
The day-to-day running of IPM in the early days involved keeping the existing referrers of business on board, developing new contacts, as well as promoting a new name in the SIPP sector.
David takes up the story: “It was a steep learning curve; not the administration of SIPPs, but the associated requirements of running all aspects of a business that, in a larger organisation, had previously been provided by ‘central services’.
“Our first office was 30 square meters, housing the staff and all files and equipment. Within a year we had outgrown this space and took a new office within the same building, treble the size. A couple of years later, we had doubled this.
“In 2003, we moved offices to Cintel House, still based in Ware, and finally bought our own building in Stevenage in 2010, from where we still operate.”
Over the last 20 years, IPM has gone from strength to strength, growing to a staff of 20 by the end of the fifth year and more than 30 today.
David cites excellent recruitment as critical to IPM’s success. “It’s fair to say that the continuity of staff has been key to the development of the business from day one, with staff turnover being almost non-existent throughout our 20 years of trading.
“At the end of our first 20 years we have 31 staff, over 20 of which have more than 10 years’ service, and they now administer around 5,000 SIPPs.
“The achievement of which I am most proud is the colleagues I have managed to surround myself with. Not only are they diligent and hard-working, but they are cohesive and supportive of one another.
“Without question, the success of IPM is attributable to the makeup of its employees.”
A high-quality, efficient and timely service
Over 20 years in business, the IPM philosophy has always been the same: to provide a high-quality, efficient and timely service for a fixed fee (wherever possible) and to work in conjunction with professional advisers and their clients.
David says: “We have never offered an advisory service, avoiding any conflict of interest between advice and administration, and between IPM and those who refer business to us. We have never been tempted to enter into relationships with non-regulated advisors, but instead, have focused on developing relationships with IFAs who are interested in providing a service to their clients.
“Our consistency is key, both in the level of service we provide and those staff providing it. We constantly strive to improve what we do and resist the temptation to enter into arrangements with other businesses or to sell our offering on the cheap in order to swell numbers quickly. Instead, we maintained steady growth with the emphasis on service.”
This expertise has continued to attract new clients to IPM. One particular area of strength is commercial property purchase within SIPPs; IPM now owns over 1,000 commercial properties on behalf of our clients and are currently at different stages of acquiring a further 60.
Regulation and A-Day: the major challenges
Back in 1999, the Ford Focus was the top-selling car and Casualty was BBC1’s prime-time Saturday entertainment. While it may then seem that little has changed, the truth is that financial services are constantly evolving, and this change comes in many forms.
David says: “Technology and product development result in a need to change. Running a business, the requirement is to consider how these changes can be introduced and managed within the resources available. It’s very easy to spend money so it’s important that developments occur in the right areas and with a positive outcome.”
Considering the huge changes in the financial services sector since Tony Blair was in power, it’s perhaps no surprise that regulatory developments have been among the biggest challenges IPM have faced during their 20 years.
“Undoubtedly, the most significant event over the past 20 years was the introduction of A-Day in April 2006”, says David. “It was the point at which pensions would become simple to understand and administer, although the reality is that we probably see more complexity than ever before.
“The industry has changed beyond recognition over the past 20 years. In most cases, this has been for the better, but the blurring of personal pensions and SIPPs has caused some consternation resulting in the regulator questioning the suitability of SIPPs for the masses.
“In the early years, SIPPs were very much a niche product for the benefit of the investor who wanted to control their own pension investments but was unable to establish a SSAS. Over time, the popularity of SIPPs surpassed that of the SSAS and opened an opportunity for self-investment to a much wider audience.
“The list of permitted investments was wide-reaching but defined. In my view, one of the negative developments was the removal of the permitted investment list, inviting the influx of non-regulated investments that have now caused major problems for SIPP members, advisors and operators and cast a shadow over the integrity of the SIPP industry.
“FCA regulation has had a huge impact on the industry and on the whole is something that we support. Regulation has had a far-reaching effect on not only how SIPPs are administered but also how SIPP operators run their businesses.”
Last two decades passed ‘in the blink of an eye’
Reflecting on the growth of the company, David says he has ‘personally loved’ his time at IPM.
“The past 20 years have passed like the blink of an eye and if I’d been asked to predict the future at our inception, the reality is that I wouldn’t have had a clue where it was going to be in 20 years’ time.
“Some of our competitors have grown much more quickly than we have, some have been swallowed up and some have failed. I’m very pleased that we have followed our own path of steady growth, providing a quality service for a fair and reasonable fee.”
And where will IPM be in 2039?
“As for the next 20 years, I see myself spending more time in the French Alps, happy in the knowledge that my long-term colleagues and friends have the same view as me for the development of the business, and the acumen with which to follow it through.”