As Cunningham Coates marks 175 years in business this month, Director NI invited Jonathan Cunningham, Partner at Belfast’s longest standing investment management firm, to reflect on the secret of the firm’s longevity.
Jonathan, whose great-great-grandfather, Josias Cunningham, established the business in 1843, is (as ever) coy about the firm’s perceived success. He prefers to focus on what he believes are the reasons why his team has developed such trusted and longstanding relationships with their clients.
“Relationships are everything. Clients expect us to have the expertise. It’s our role to build confidence and trust. There is no precise job description for an individual to fit within our business because the skills required go beyond industry qualifications, it’s simply not as straightforward as that.
“You would think that after 175 years we would know the attributes to look for in an investment manager or financial planner. A background in economics maybe, business studies; a keen eye for a balance sheet or possibly a full chartered accountancy background with an aptitude for higher mathematics and the skills to interpret Black Scholes model or Fibonacci retracements? These are all useful skills to have and can be applied to aspects of the roles but there are other ‘softer’ attributes that are as important … or maybe more so.
“For an investment manager, an inquisitive and exploring mind to observe external events, assimilate information, consider the implications and project these into investment decisions is paramount.
“For a Financial Planner meanwhile, a thorough technical understanding of a range of complex factors such as taxation rules and pensions legislation is essential. This is where the distinction between the financial planner and the investment manager comes about.
“But common to both is an empathetic mindset, the ability to listen well and tease out clients’ objectives, aspirations, concerns and the ability to distil often complex individual financial situations into clear and effective strategies. To be able to pull together multiple factors from a client’s situation and to know how to listen is vital.”
Experience, expertise and access to a global outlook are also critical. This is where Cunningham Coates sets themselves apart. The firm is part of UK and International firm Smith and Williamson – and is therefore able to draw on significant resource to ensure that customers here in Northern Ireland get access to the very best support, across a wealth of specialities.
“The Smith and Williamson relationship definitely benefits our clients because it empowers our team with access to wider expertise. That said, in our business it is also critical to ‘know when you don’t know’ and when you should potentially seek further professional advice, whether internally or externally. Within the context of the firm, whether on the investment management or the financial planning side of the business, as a trusted advisor it is important that you know when to call on a specific skill set that is needed at the table. Your client will always benefit from the solidity that this approach can bring.
“As we celebrate our 175th anniversary, I am very conscious of maintaining the legacy and very much share the responsibility with everyone in our firm to ensure we remain at the cutting edge of our industry. We share core values with Smith and Williamson of trust, honesty and integrity and we put a huge value on these in the business. It has always been these ‘softer’ attributes that have underpinned our success throughout the last 175 years, and will be vital to our continued growth in the modern era.”
As Managing Partner of Cunningham Coates, Jonathan heads Smith & Williamson’s Investment Management team in Belfast. As well as managing investments for private clients he manages funds for a number of charities and trusts.
He holds a PhD from Durham University, an Executive MBA from Queen’s University in Belfast and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.
He is the fifth generation of the Cunningham family connected to Cunningham Coates.