By Next Wealth | 28 July 2022 | 4 minute read
Tech hitch was catalyst for thriving firm
When Nick Combes and Ed Holder set up their firm, Holder and Combes, it was a technical hitch that turned out to be the catalyst for them building the thriving business they run today.
Having previously worked together mainly on mortgages and protection, in 2008 the pair decided to join forces and launch their own IFA business.
The first piece of tech they felt they needed was a PDQ card reader machine, which would provide easy bookkeeping and sales reports.
Unfortunately, Barclays turned them down but a chance conversation at a Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) networking event led Nick to not only find a solution to securing a PDQ machine, it also opened the door to a steady stream of new clients.
As a result of Nick’s conversation, the FSB asked them to be the network’s go-to advisers in London, which eventually led the pair to advising employees of major organisations such as the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Tax Assist Accountancy franchise.
Army experience led to ‘build their own’
Before entering financial services, Nick’s background was in the British Army’s Intelligence Corps. The tech available at that time (1999-2002) was, unsurprisingly, highly sophisticated, even judged by what is readily available to civilians today.
Having been immersed in a job where technology was a major driver to success, Nick was disappointed with what was available off the shelf for IFA firms. This led him to develop bespoke solutions for many of the functions the business needed to carry out using Microsoft software to plug the gaps.
An example of this is when, pre-2012 when Holder & Combes was part of a network that used the Quay back-office system, Nick managed to precis down the 45-page fact find document so it suited his firm’s needs and also got approval from the network’s compliance team for the reduced-size form.
Following that, he developed a simple cash flow modelling form which is still used by the firm today.
More integration needed
In September 2012, Nick and Ed went Directly Authorised. Wanting a cloud-based server, they originally looked at SharePoint, then settled on Egnyte; they adopted the CURO CRM, becoming one of their first customers.
They chose CURO CRM from the outset because it had useful integrations with third party apps that increase efficiencies, like Xperido and Microsoft Excel/Word, as well as the promise of ongoing development and support from Time4Advice and Microsoft, as CURO runs on the MS dynamics platform.
They like the fact that the Curo team listens to the needs of advisers, although there is more that can be done to align the system closely with the needs of the firm. Nick says he is impressed with the direction Intelliflo has taken with the IO system and thinks they ‘get’ the advice business and have built their system accordingly, but they have no plans to switch to it in the near future.
Nick is frustrated that integration with platforms continues to be an issue across all back-office systems and working with life companies still takes up too much time, with too many inefficiencies that need to be ironed out.
In 2014, Holder & Combes switched their investment offering to PortfolioMetrix. Although Nick says the switch was a major upheaval for the firm, he believes it was the right decision and that their clients are accessing expert investment management from a team of highly experienced and motivated people.
Most useful new tech
The pandemic created the need to use Microsoft TEAMs and this is something that has now become a key tool for meeting with clients who are often too busy to want to meet face-to-face.
Microsoft Whiteboard and DocuSign are also well-used.
From an infra-structure point of view, Amazon Workspaces enabled them to function well throughout the pandemic and underpinned a complete rethink on how the working week operates.
From having an anti-work-from-home attitude pre-pandemic, Nick and Ed have now restructured to allow the 14-strong staff to work flexibly, with the office having hot desks only and most people coming into the office just two days a week.
It’s clear to see that Nick’s background working in the Army has provided him with a strong vision of how tech should work. His quest for efficiency means he is open to new ideas and innovations that will help the firm work smarter, not harder for many years to come.